Thursday, March 7, 2013

That One Person

The last day of Passion 2012 the host Pastor, Lou Giglio talked about what one person could do. He spoke of how easy it is to sit back and say, "God will do it with or without me." I lack the answer to that but I do know that one person changed the course of my life by taking a chance on me.

It was late afternoon in early March and I was standing outside the fence of the Little League Baseball field that I played on as a youth and served as an assistant to my old coach one summer when I was fifteen.

The day had been so warm early that I was still clothed in shorts and a tee shirt. As the sun got lower I got cold and started to leave many times but I clung to that fence watching "Coach" conduct tryouts for a new group of kids.

Why was I even watching? I went with no goal in mind. This was during the days when kids had to tryout for a team. The coaches drafted players and the practice time and place for each team was printed in the newspaper. Ironically I had noticed this and for some odd reason I drove to the field that day.

I was nineteen and I had chosen about every wrong path a boy could. There was nothing positive in my life. I was not in school and I was not working. I had a nice criminal record already for marijuana distribution. "Coach" knew this because he came to visit me when I was waiting for trial. That is how it was with him. You played ball for him but regardless of age you remained one of his kids.

He noticed me and had walked over a couple of times and spoken. The practice was nearing the end and he walked over one last time. This voice inside of me mustered up enough courage to humbly ask, "Do you need any help coach?"

The most amazing thing happened. This man, probably 60 years old at the time, with his buzz cut and the boy standing in front of him with a criminal record and hair past his shoulders.  I will never forget his immediate response.

"Coach" had a gruff no nonsense manner of speaking. "You want to help me? Be at the school tomorrow at four o'clock." He turned and abruptly walked away.

I am certain he heard about his decision to allow me to help with the kids from the Optimist dignitaries who ruled with an iron fist and often a narrowness of mind. I never heard any of it. I was one of his kids and I believe that was all that mattered to him.

Why such a crossroad? Did I immediately turn from the party lifestyle I was living? No, but slowly changes happened. I loved sports and I loved being around those kids. I still had ideas of getting back to my illegal business activities. My dad who I rarely paid attention too said to me, "It sure would be a shame if you got into trouble again after the chance he has taken on you."

Ouch, I tried to dismiss that with my usual rationalization. I could not do it. He had gone out on a limb for me. He had given me a positive outlet when I had nothing positive.

I don't know where I would be if not for "Coach." Maybe arrested again like my partners who all suffered serious consequences within that year. Prison, or maybe death from the lifestyle. I was saved later by Jesus Christ, but only after I was rescued by an old ball coach.

I helped "Coach" for four more years and then I became head coach of a basketball team. The boys I coached were the same ages, ten to twelve. Every practice and game I took what I learned from "Coach."

One young man I coached was the grandson of "Coach's" brother, Doc. There is one moment in those 20 years of coaching that stand out as a true full circle moment. It is 1994 and my team is standing in the hallway celebrating winning the Tournament Championship.  Kevin, my former point guard, was now in college, and was helping me just as I had my old "Coach." Doc's grandson was on that team and he brought his brother, my "Coach" to the game. It was trophy presentation time and Kevin came up to receive his trophy. I said, "Just as I will always be "Coach's" boy. Kevin will always be my boy."  One thing I am certain of is that moment does not happen without "Coach."

I enjoyed great relationships with many kids. I am blessed to be in contact with some of them today fifteen years after coaching my last game. Ironically, when I communicate with them and though they are men with their families. I hope that they think it OK that I still view them as my kids. And if some of them think half as much of me as I do my old "Coach," and mentor Ed Wilson, then I am a blessed man beyond anything I could have hoped to derive from standing in the cold watching a man teach the art of baseball and so very much more. I love you Coach always, and I can never repay you for what you did for me.