Dear Parents and Guardians,
First off, allow me to say thank you for such a wonderful season. I frequently hear of nightmare situations where parents really take a lot of the enjoyable experience out of youth sports. I can honestly say that coaching this season has been one of the most delightful experiences I have ever had coaching. I have coached 3 years of football, 2 years too many of soccer, and 3 years of baseball. This will go down as one of my most memorable seasons for various reasons but it really starts with the flexibility and pleasant attitude of you all. So again I say thank you for the opportunity and trust you have placed in me to work with your young men.
Another reason this season will be one of the most memorable is because it almost didn’t happen. To be honest when my son went down with his arm injury and we were unsure of how long he would be unable to play, I seriously considered passing this responsibility on to someone else should they be willing to step up. After all, one of my top priorities in coaching was to spend time with my son. However, I was reminded by my mother why we moved from participating in the Freedom Football League in Milledgeville to the PCRD League and that is what I wanted to share with you in this letter.
If I can share just a portion of my story very quickly with you, it may help shine light on the reason this season may be my most important yet. As a young child I was often bullied and somewhat neglected. We were poor and didn’t have much in means of material possessions. I was just a small white kid born to a teacher and mechanic. Even within my own family I often questioned the very importance of my existence. But at age 11 I started playing this game of football. My first year I was awful! I got penalties for lining up incorrectly, I couldn’t tackle, I couldn’t block, and I couldn’t run. Needless to say, I was that kid that the coach probably tolerated because he had no choice. (I am lucky I don’t have any of those on our team.) However, Coach Shep still invested time in me. The second year I progressed under Coach Baggerly and played a more important role because he believed in me as I played tight end and defensive end and made the All-Star team. The third year I played, I started at middle linebacker and tailback. That season we went undefeated while actually playing in the Putnam-Baldwin County league under Coach Baggerly again. It was through these years that I fell in love with the sport and would continue playing and progressing under my coaches until I graduated high school. Football gave my life purpose but it was only because these men invested their time with me and in me. Football taught me so much about life, but there was still something missing.
While during the seasons I played, life had meaning and purpose. But what happened in the off season and when I was unable to continue my career? Life again had little purpose to the point where I considered whether I should continue living. I lived with witnessing my abusive father beating and threatening my mother. I lived with being verbally and physically abused as well. So while football was an escape from reality, reality was always there to greet me after football was over. There was yet one other man who would invest time in me. At age 15, I was sent to live with my uncle in New Mexico for about 12 weeks. He knew nothing about football, but he knew a lot about the love of Christ. While my mother was a solid rock and loved the Lord greatly, I never knew what it meant to be accepted and loved just as I was from a male figure. It was that summer that my life truly found purpose in that love of Christ. That is the purpose I wanted to briefly share with you.
As our season comes to an end I hope that I have allowed the love of Christ to shine through me. I know I have failed in many ways to live up to the standard your boys deserved but I can truthfully say that I have grown to care for each of them very much. I have not shared that I also pastor a church here in Eatonton up to this point. For one I didn’t want you to get a bad impression of the church because I act like an idiot sometimes with football. I have found that while I have the heart of Mark Richt, I often have the enthusiasm, attitude, and demeanor of Steve Spurrier. I just don’t make anywhere near the money they do and know very little about football compared to them. But I also didn’t say anything because I didn’t want the church to make me look bad either. I must admit the church in general has done a really good job at religion and rejection instead of its true purpose of redemption and recovery. It is for this purpose that I so passionately wish to invest in these boy’s lives. My desire was not to push a form of religion or set of beliefs down their throats, but because I never want them to forget they have purpose and that they are loved.
You may have heard me either fuss or praise them by name. It isn’t because I want to call them out or embarrass them. It’s because their name is special and their names matter. They are not some number on my team. In fact, when discussing with friends or family about the games if they ask what number is the kid I am talking about, I have no clue! I don’t see them as a number, a position, or what they can bring to our team. I see them as young men who have the potential to change this world. I see them as people that I care about deeply. I want no one to go unlooked or feel unloved. It is for this reason that this season is my most memorable and enjoyable experience yet. I had an opportunity to come back to Putnam County Rec Department where I found this love for the game of football as a child. More importantly I had an opportunity to hopefully speak love, compassion, and purpose into their lives. These boys deserve the most this world has to offer and if I can be anywhere near as meaningful in their lives as my coaches were in youth sports then I continue that purpose I found at age 15 when I met Christ. I so fiercely wanted to make the playoffs and continue on not just because winning is fun but because I wanted to spend as much time with these young men as possible. I simply wasn’t ready for the season to be over. It hit me when I bumped into NiDavion recently at McDonald’s that I am going to really miss these boys after the season. I won’t miss practice and the work that goes into football, but I will definitely miss the joy they have brought to my life, even those times I wanted to make them run for not paying attention.
So in conclusion, if there is any way I can continue investing in them, please know I would be more than blessed for that opportunity. I don’t want you to think I only did this to get people to come to my church. It really is because that is the best way I know of being able to continue seeing and spending time with your boys. I am so grateful I made the decision to continue on with these guys. They have blessed my life in so many ways. I am even more grateful for your dedication and grace you have shown me as I learn how to be a better coach, person, pastor, and father. You have made this a very enjoyable experience for me and my family.
As a disclosure, allow me to say I originally wrote this letter prior to our first playoff game. I had no idea at the time that we would continue to win out and bring home a championship. I am adding this to let you know that I was very much prepared to lose our first playoff game when playing the undefeated #1 seed team and would have still cared about them as much. I care not because of what they do but because of who they are. This is not a letter because we won; it is a letter because we played. It’s a letter because we grew and worked hard. And because we played and did things the right way, God allowed us to bring home that championship. For many reasons I will never forget this EPIC season!
Love in Christ,