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  • Reverend James Squire


I have been watching football today. North Carolina State, Vicki’s school, was playing against Clemson. I was working at the computer at the same time looking up at the TV from time to time. During the course of the game, my head snapped up as I heard two disturbing comments. First, Georgia who Is ranked second in the nation beat Vanderbilt 62 – 0. Second, I thought I heard the announcer say that a Division One team recruited and signed a sixth-grade student who could throw a forty-yard touchdown pass. I didn’t believe it. I must have heard that incorrectly. I went online and it turned out to be true. Ty Simpson, an Alabama recruit, showcased his brother, Graham, on a video which went viral. Oregon saw the video and made him an offer.

No, I am not someone who doesn’t like winning nor am a someone who doesn’t get very excited about what Middle School athletes can do. When I was coaching a Middle School Football Team at EA, I had such a player who could throw a winner forty yards down the field. When I indicated this with unbounded excitement to one of our varsity football coaches to tell him what he had in the pipeline, he asked just one pertinent question, “Coach, the question is do you have someone who can catch it?” I could only coach a few years as demands of schedule took over, but I loved the short opportunity. Is playing a sport important to kids? When I run into some of my former players even now, that is one of the things that they loved about our school. Their sentences began with, ‘Do you remember when…? This brings me to the reason for my concern. Sports are very important to kids. It was important to me when I was their age.

Nelson Mandela had it right when he said, “Sport has the power to change the world.” A sports team is a model of diversity as a team brings together diverse people with a shared purpose. They are communities in a unique way which is why I am concerned about winning in such a way that you are humiliating a team such as Georgia, ranked second, did to Vanderbilt. There is nothing redeeming in that. There is no opportunity to reveal the character of the players. In fact, there is an opportunity to develop that feeling that winning is all that matters. It doesn’t matter how anyone else feels. Somehow, I hear the footsteps of Donald Trump and his comment, “You are going to get tired of winning when I am elected.”

I have been working with very talented athletes for many years. Some of those have been recruited early, but not at sixth grade. Some have gone on to further glory. We had two former athletes go on to this past summer’s Olympics, one of whom was a student spiritual leader of our school. Others have gone on to the ranks of the professionals, even to the Super Bowl. But there have been too many who have been overwhelmed by that kind of early recruiting. Can you imagine the expectations that a young person has to deal with when they get that much early recognition? The expectation on themselves is extraordinary. Expectations are high from others. I know this because those are the students that are part of a challenging counseling ministry that I had to get them to a better place and bring them back from the precipice.

They are collateral damage for schools that have forgotten that sports are fun and they should build and reveal character. I have a good friend who is a major donor to his university that has a high-powered athletic program. He heard that a coach had recruited an eighth-grade girl to his team. When he encountered the coach on a visit to his university, he asked the coach if he was worried that her skill level would not improve. He was stunned by the coach’s response: “No not really, she could start for me right now!”

One of the Stripes (values) of EA is sportsmanship. It is a stripe because of such an attitude of Nelson Mandala that sport has the power to change the world. The Duke of Wellington commented that the Battle of Waterloo was won “on the playing fields of Eton.” I have stood on those fields. They extend to as far as the eye can see. You can almost hear the footsteps of those who ran there down through the ages to develop courage and grit found in sport.

We need to go back to the original reason that we shook hands after an athletic context. It was to thank our opponents for the opportunity to play.

N. C. State won in a second overtime tonight in a low scoring game. The State place kicker had three missed field goals. You could see the coach look the kicker in the eye when he missed the third one and say, “You are better than that.” I think that is what the field goal kicker needed to hear at that time. The coach had not given up on him. It will be a good evening for the Wolfpack fans! Vicki’s sorority sisters will have a lot to talk about this coming week in their weekly zoom call as a good many were at the game.

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