Following last night's fall athletic banquet, I was thinking about the role of athletics at a Classical Christian school. To a large percentage of people, athletic experiences were (are) the pinnacle of their school career. While we all know the right words to say when asked to rank the important parts of getting an education (academic preparation for college, social training for the "real" world, organization, obedience, spiritual development for Christian school kids, etc.), many of us would have to admit that sports are what really gets us excited. I have found myself living vicariously through my own kids on several occasions, dreaming of the professional sports career that I never achieved, or thinking of the thousands of dollars they will save me with their impending college scholarship. No doubt that we live in a world where sports can be our god, a delicate balance that many Christians struggle with.
But, when listening to the HCA coaches talking about their teams and seasons, I was reminded that school sports can be used for the greater purpose of the gospel when approached properly. Everyone would agree that HCA is in a position to positively influence the community around us, but we rarely pinpoint athletics as being the way to do this, even though it is by far the most frequent way by which we encounter those from other places. In other words, a Christian school athlete can be a missionary who takes about ten short-term missionary trips per season to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ to strangers who are watching him intently. The reputation of HCA, Christian education, and Christian people in general is reinforced each time these athletes get on a bus to travel to another school.
A couple weeks ago, our varsity soccer team played at Trinity Christian School in Durham in the 1-A state playoffs. The game was very tight and competitive the entire time, and eventually went into overtime. There was a point where our guys scored in the overtime, only to have the goal erased by a controversial offsides call. We eventually lost a heart-breaker, and the season was suddenly over. If there was ever a time to sulk, fuss, and complain, this was it. However, our "missionaries" did just the opposite. The next day, I received the following letter from a parent from the opposing team, describing the moment from the eyes of someone who doesn't even know any of our names. I wanted to share this letter with you as a testimony for our team, but even more as a rallying cry for HCA to continue to promote Christ-likeness above all else. May EVERYTHING we do bring glory to the Father. Remember, the world is watching us.
Dear Tracy and Toby,
My son plays for Trinity's soccer team. We just played your soccer team this afternoon in the second round of the State playoffs. It was an even, hard-fought game, the type of game that you hate to see anyone lose. There was a disputed call or two, the sort of call that is really difficult if you're on the tough end of the call/game, which you were.
We didn't know much about your school or team, given that Hickory is a tad west of the Triangle and we play in different conferences. We know a lot more about your school and kids now.
Your team played with such class and intensity. Their character and the chemistry of your team were evident from the onset. We play in some rough games, as I'm sure you do. I've surmised that the attitude on the field flows down from the top. For example: a recent match was full of trash talking and dirty play. After the game the boys told me that the other team's coach was leading the charge from their bench, both in attitude and language. It is no surprise things unfolded on the field as they did.
So when a team plays this way it not only reflects on the players, but the coaches and ultimately the headmaster and parents. Actually it reflects Christ.
I would like to say that every Christian school plays this way, but this is not the case. So when encounters a team like this, for the first time, it makes quite a statement.
I speak for the parents around me: you are an impressive lot, both athletically as a soccer team and also, more importantly, in character. It was a tender scene watching your team huddle up together afterwards. I then watched as parents applauded their sons and strolled out on the field to console them. But honestly, by that time, both of these were exactly what I expected to see from your school. If you stop to think it, a response like this in a loss is clearly stunning. There are ample reasons to be mad, sad, and bitter, and I'm sure this loss was really hard after your championship last year, but despite the disappointment what flowed from the scene tonight seemed to be love, pride, and a sense of community. It is, I suspect, the miracle of the gospel at work through the coaches, families, school, and kids.
I hope we see you in various competitions in different sports around the state. We serve a beautiful Christ together. Thanks for helping us see some of Him at work in you all this afternoon.
To whom much is given, much is required. Thank you to everyone at HCA for keeping the standard high.