Altar Call –
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
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
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. + + +