Walking into Wisner Stadium last night for the Parkway Football District Final brought back many great memories. I remember, what seemed like yesterday, my high school playing at that stadium, it was our home field. The stadium is much different than it used to be, but the memories of those days are still fresh in my mind. However, like the changes in the stadium so too has athletics at the high school level changed.
As we prepare for the upcoming winter sports season I found myself asking students if they were planning on participating in the winter sports. Some were very excited, but some said no, they wanted to focus on one sport, or they didn’t think they were good enough to play. What has happened? Studies continue to show the downside of specializing in one sport and the great benefit students who participate in athletics gain. Somewhere along the way we lost track of what high school athletics is about. About the experiences it brings. Somewhere we got in our mind that playing sports is for those that have a great athletic gift. Somewhere along the line we forgot that our God expects us to utilize our talents and abilities no matter how great or how small.
At Parkway Christian we need to be a school in which students play multiple sports. A school in which each student recognizes that they are needed to help others achieve their goals and maximize their gifts. We talk about cultivating gifts, but each student has the responsibility to help cultivate the gift of other students. For athletics, we need to be a school in which students play all sports, and if they want to specialize, specialize on the one, but still play all. Imagine if every student-athlete only played the sport they were specializing in. We would have no football team, there would be no basketball team or volleyball team. At Parkway Christian students are needed to play sports, maybe for the only purpose to help others achieve their goals. Sometimes to achieve our goal, we have to help others achieve theirs, or as the Apostle Paul put it “we are many parts but one body”.
I frequently hear from those students that don’t play a sport “I am not that good.” How sad that statement is. When did we measure the value we can bring to a team based solely on “how good we are.” When did high school athletics become only for the elite players? Sometimes the most rewarding experience is one in which you had to work hard to get “good” at something. When does God give us a gift that is already at its full potential?
I often tell the story of my oldest son who was not very sports inclined. It was 7th grade, and he didn’t want to play a sport, but I was the 7th grade basketball coach and told him he was playing. He was not a starter, he was probably the number 11 of 12 players. I remember a particular game in which we were winning handily and he was at the end of the bench talking and laughing with his friend. I turned to him and said “go in.” He said “Dad, I’m fine”. After the game, I asked him why he didn’t want to go in, he said he’s was not very good at basketball. I suspected he didn’t want to embarrass himself. My response was “How do you know how good you can be? You really never tried. You have assumed that because it doesn’t come easy, you are not good at it. What are you going to do in life when something doesn’t come easy to you?” In any situation, there is always something you can bring, you can choose to sit on the sideline, sit in your comfort zone, or dare to step out and be part of something bigger than yourself. My son decided to try, decided to work at it, and soon fell in love with basketball. Today my son is very successful, he graduated college with honors, has a great job, and recently purchased a house. He works hard at what he does, and I believe a part of that came from him working hard at something that was not a natural gift for him. Talk to him, and many of his fondest memories are playing basketball for his school. He never became a star player, but he played and he gave what he had to offer to the team. His gift wasn’t necessarily noticeable, but it was there, and it was needed. He was faithful in the little gift that God had given him, and has been rewarded.
So as we turn towards our winter sports season, I want to challenge every parent to encourage their son or daughter to take up a sport. I challenge every student, to try out for a team. You may not be a starter, you may not get a lot of playing time, but I promise you that you will create memories and friendships, and bonds that will stay with you for your life.
As I exited Wisner stadium last night, I considered myself blessed for the opportunities that I have been given, the opportunities I took, and the privilege I have to be at Parkway Christian. A smile came over my face as I left, for the memories of the past, but even a greater smile for the memories that will stay with me from this season. Not the memories of the bone crushing hits and in your face spikes. Not the memories of the bicycle kicks and kickoff returns for touchdowns. Not the memories of the dive save preventing a goal and the diving digs to keep the play alive. Those will fade from my memory. But I will remember the pride I feel for a group of young men and women who chose to represent their school. Who worked hard, overcame challenges, and gave their best all for their team and their school, who chose to be part of something bigger than themselves. Who in the face of victory and defeat demonstrated grace; showing faithfulness in a talent, whether large or small, knowing that our God will reward them for their faithfulness. That I will remember.