Here in my twenty-first season of serving Saluki Football (American Football at Southern Illinois University – USA), I experienced the best day of my whole career. On 13 September we were all set to play the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks. They are a local rival for our team and we have enjoyed a history of competitive and interesting games the years. This year’s situation was quite unique and remarkable.
The Redhawks’ new head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator are all dear friends of mine and their team chaplain is my son. I have decades of relationship with these coaches and an obvious bond with my son. This is his first season of serving as team chaplain and he seems thrilled to be in the role.
As the day for this game approached I was flooded with mixed emotions and thoughts. I always want our team to win and to experience success, but I also want my dear friends and my son to do the same. It’s the nature of sport that when we meet, one will win and the other will lose. Game day arrived and I was suddenly freed of such internal conflicts.
My son and I consulted with each other about our chapel talks. We made plans to see each other during pregame warm up drills. I made plans to be on the field very early that day to soak it all in.
As I was on the field very early that afternoon, the head coach came in to do some radio interviews and we had some time for private conversation. I am so proud of him and how he has developed as a man who loves Jesus, a husband, a father, and as a football coach. I was able to encourage him for a little bit before the radio people were ready for him.
As pregame activities moved along, I spoke with the other coaches whom I have known for years. One played for our university and was a great competitor. Fourteen years ago, he and I prayed together for his mother as she had a cancerous brain tumor. I was at his wedding. I traveled to see him play in the Arena League and consulted with him numerous times as his coaching career has developed. The other coach and I also had a few moments to talk. He and I were roommates on road trips when he coached with us. We experienced some great and some terrible days of college football together. We celebrated his sobriety one afternoon as he reflected upon ten years free from drug and alcohol abuse. Warm hugs and pats on the back were the rule of the day. To stand with my son at midfield on a game day afternoon was rich and fulfilling.
Possibly the best part of the whole day was the way I finished each of these conversations. For me, this is the best part of sport. When one is privileged to have an opponent that is competent, respected, honorable, and loved elevates the sport to its best state. To look the coaches of our opponents for the day in the eye, to hug them strongly, and to say, “I love you and I am very proud of you,” is high privilege and made for my lifetime’s best experience in sport.
I would pray that each of us are so privileged, at least once, to have an experience in sport that is so full of love, respect, and honorable competition.
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