October 15, 2017
Memories of walking the sidelines on Friday nights
Reliving precious memories of bygone days is one of the special privileges of growing old. In September and October my mind goes back to the good times I had for ten years, walking the sidelines of football games in Opelika.
When Spence McCracken became the head coach of the Opelika Bulldogs, he invited me to serve as his team chaplain. I loved doing it. From August to Thanksgiving was my favorite time of the year. My friend Doctor Jim Whatley was the team physician and the two of us walked many miles on the sidelines pulling for the Bulldogs. Those were good days.
Being a preacher I knew that Saint Paul admired the disciplined athletes of his day. He compared athletic competition to running the race as a Christian. Paul would have loved Spence McCracken. They would have been good friends.
Spence believed that victory comes with a price – hardnosed practice, strict discipline, team spirit and the perseverance to play when you are hurt. Paul would have said, “I know about playing when you are hurt!” The Apostle was beaten many times for proclaiming his faith but he was no quitter; he realized that the race belongs to those who persevere until the end.
I was surprised to discover that Coach McCracken taught his football players to love one another. I preached about love in church but was amazed to hear Spence telling his boys, “You cannot win unless you love each other!” And he set the example. He loved his kids and they knew he loved them. And he taught them more than how to play football; he taught them how to live as winners in the game of life
But he was not “soft” on them. He pushed them hard to reach for excellence. Tough, disciplined training was necessary for the boys to have more stamina than their opponents in the fourth quarter – when many games are decided. Spence taught his boys to want to win – and to expect to win.
The goal every year was to make it to Birmingham and play for the state championship. Spence kept telling his boys they would never get there unless they aimed to get there. Paul pushed Christians to reach for excellence in their faith journey. Seek a prize even greater than a football championship ring – the greatest prize of all, the gift of eternal life.
In these days, when I can no longer run and walking is difficult, I admire the attitude of the long distance runner who said, “As long as there is a race, I will be on the track. When I can no longer run, I will jog. When I can no longer jog, I will walk. When I can no longer walk, I will crawl. And when I die, I will die with my face toward the finish line.”
While such fierce commitment is to be admired, Paul and Spence would remind us that discipline and perseverance are not enough to win life’s race. Ultimately we will all need the grace of God to cross the finish line and we get that by trusting Christ as Lord.
Paul and Spence would agree that no matter how difficult the race, we must never give up! Not ever! Quit was not in either man’s vocabulary! I want that spirit in these days of my life. I need that spirit!
So on Friday nights in October my determination to stay in the race is renewed by recalling those special Friday nights on the sidelines, walking beside Coach McCracken and cheering the Bulldogs on to victory. Such memories fuel my hope for winning the most important game, the game of life. + + +