Yesterday, I had the privilege of witnessing an act of courage seldom seen in today’s sports. It not only was an example of good sportsmanship but of courage of standing up for what is right and for doing the right thing, no matter the cost.
This story starts last year during tryouts, when our team was looking for another middle hitter. On the second day of practice, I noticed a player I had not seen the day before during tryouts. She was waiting to hit but I didn’t want to wait and miss her attempt at hitting from the middle position so I pulled her aside and tossed her a couple of balls. Within 30 seconds, I knew she was exactly what our team needed. Little did I know the impact she would make on our team.
The club, for which I coach one of the 14’s teams, is not a faith based organization however, the director has been very gracious to allow me to conduct a voluntary prayer time before each practice and a devotional on Wednesdays before our practice. These opportunities to attend the prayer times and devotional times were made known to the parents prior to the tryouts. It was also made known to the parents and later to the players, that our team would play with honor – meaning that if a player touched a ball but the touch was not noticed by the referees or the line judges, the player would be expected, by the coaches, to call a touch and notify the officials. We have had players do this during our tournaments this season and every time it has happened, after the matches, the officials have commented on how unexpected and impressive it was to see a player call her own touch. I am so proud of our girls.
Yesterday, one of our players, Avery, made the hardest call of the season. Our team went into the Valentine’s tournament seeded first. Through the great effort of the players and the Lord’s blessing, our team was in the Gold Bracket Finals. We had won the first set and were in a very close second set. The score was 25 – 24. During the next rally, the opponent hit a ball that fell out of bounds. There was so much excitement as players, coaches and parents celebrated! As we went to the net to say “good game” to the other team, Avery turned to me and said, “Coach, I touched the ball” (Avery was playing the middle hitter position during the final volley). I said, “What?” and Avery confirmed what my ears really didn’t want to hear. “I touched the ball” were the words of honesty and integrity that came from Avery’s mouth. I told her to inform the Referee who had already stepped down from her stand. It took a few seconds for the referee to realize that Avery had called a touch on herself that no one else had seen and that a player called a touch on herself on match point. It took a minute to gather all the players back onto the court and restore order.
Our team ultimately won the match but it seemed that what happened after the touch call by Avery, paled in comparison to what everyone had witnessed — an 8th grader, with a mouth full of braces, who is still experiencing all the adventures of middle school, with the attendant pressures to conform, made a decision that few people with or without college degrees or doctorates would make.
Our team has been studying the teachings of Paul that are found in Romans 12, Philippians 4 and in Ephesians 1. Avery knew that her power, strength and peace came from our Lord. That Jesus is her source of peace. However, as many of us, who are older realize, it is one thing to know what is right but quite another thing to trust and believe God and to do the right thing. Avery did the right thing.
After the match, everyone I talked to had moisture in their eyes and lumps in their throats. It was though the light of the Lord’s truth was shown through a child. The courage, the integrity and whatever else you want to call it, that Avery demonstrated, cannot be adequately describe by this writer. I thank the Lord for Avery and for her teammates. Whether she realized it or not, Avery also trusted her teammates to expect her to do the right thing. I am so proud of each girl on our team. The fact that each of our players has made our team a “safe place” to be a teammate is simply amazing. Avery knew that her teammates would not be mad at her but proud of her for doing what was right.
Avery’s actions remind me of I Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
After the match, I told Avery that what she did will have a lasting impact, not only on her, but on those who were there and witnessed what she did. It already has.