Belhaven football’s two seasons – story I shared in chapel

This morning I had the joy of preaching in our first chapel of the school year, using as my text, our theme verse of the year:  Ecclesiastics 3:1  To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.

Illustrating how we need to learn to adjust to the seasons, I told this story about our 2006 football season. I had several requests for the story, so posting it here.

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It’s football season!  Around the world that means soccer – where football is played with your feet. But for our 82 international students, you need to know the goal of North American football is to just stay on your feet.

In the United States, if there is one well-defined season for many, it is football season, because this game is so unique to our culture.

But did you know that in 2006, our Belhaven football team played two seasons?  It was one of the most remarkable things I’d ever seen.

That year I did something I’ve never done, before or since, as a college president – I asked a coach if I could talk to their team about their season.  I trust our coaches and so my job is to support them and stay out of their way.

But that year, in the middle of the week after the fifth straight loss of our football team, I happen to be speaking for a luncheon event, and our coach was in the audience to be supportive.  But I could see his mind was elsewhere, and if I was facing his problems, my body would have been elsewhere.

He was facing many challenges at the same time – at home, with his wife diagnosed with a rare life-threatening disease, they had brand new baby, and he was taking on his first season as head coach.

So when I saw him that day, he looked like he just needed someone to lean on.  So I broke one of my golden rules of administration and asked to talk to his team.

Though the years I’ve gotten used to making a speech on a moments notice on about almost any topic, but that day I really didn’t know what I was going to say when I saw them on the practice field that afternoon.

And you know, when you stand in the middle of 100 sweaty big football players in full pads, it is an intimidating place to be and I just prayed for God to give a word that might help.

And as I looked into their eyes, I didn’t see football players we watch on Saturday, but I saw guys who will become husbands, fathers, men who will be employees and employers, football players who will soon be community and church members – and I said something like this:

“Guys, this season is no longer about football, instead, it is about the rest of your lives.  What you do with the second half of this season will set your course.  You can place blame for a bad season, you can get mad, you can call it unfair, you can give up, and make excuses for this frustrating season.

Or you can pull together, look ahead with hope, do well what you’re trained to do, dig down deep to make a fresh start to overcome the tough circumstances, and commit it in a fresh way to God.

Because how you adjust, right now, to this tough season, is going to determine how you deal with the rest of your life when other tough times come.”

And I went on to suggest they consider that day the start of a new season, and begin that Saturday with a 0-0 record for the season.

Now after a speech like that, you’d think they would have lifted me on their shoulders….or thrown me in the lake.

But instead, there was no reaction – zero.  The coach said break, and they broke, and I walked off the field thinking, don’t ever break one of your golden rules of administration again.

I don’t know what the coaches did after that, but that Saturday, they beat Union by 3 points, and I heard one of our players on the radio say after the game that they were approaching this game like the first game of a new season.

The next week ran over West Virginia Tech, and the third week the solidly beat Lambuth who has gotten the best of us too many times.

By the start of the forth week, they were a team on fire.

But when you’re playing an away game, down by 4 points with only 20 seconds left and 62 yards between you and the goal line, you’ve got to believe God smiled on us for three games, and that’s good enough.

But when our desperation pass bounces off one player and into the arms of our fastest receiver ….

This is on our forever highlight reel . . . (video here)

By the fifth game, our team had gone from the lowest of the lows to the highest of the highs.  But they found themselves low again as they were down by 15 points going into the fourth quarter and we assumed the run of winning was over.

But 20 of our unanswered points in the final 15 minutes are more than just good play calling.

And at the end of the final game, which was homecoming, it was a great time of celebration as the team held up their “undefeated second season” shirts after an easy win.

Good seasons and bad seasons are part of life – in football, careers, relationships, finances, opportunities, and even faith.  There are times when it just seems to be going our way, and other times when we feel like too much is stacked against us.

So learning to not just accept the seasons, but adjust our outlook in the seasons is critical – because, the scripture says, there is a time and a purpose under heaven.

When you see a tough season as a time to grow, rather than just a time to gripe, God will use it to strengthen you and prepare you to be used of Him in ways far greater than you can imagine.

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