James went missing one month ago today. I miss him so much, and think about him all of the time. Tonight was a celebration though. We attended the Wildcat Football Banquet along with his teammates, other parents, coaches and boosters. It was a great event, and I know James would have loved it. James won the Howard Bridges Scholastic Award for the highest GPA on the team. He had a 3.95 GPA. It was so good to see so many of his good friends, including Jay, Yontell, and Zach, win awards as well. James loved being a Wildcat and loved his teammates.
When James was thinking about playing football and baseball, I would tell him that you learn so much from sports, because it's so much like life. You win, you lose, you learn to work with others, you suffer together, you celebrate together, and you accomplish things as a team you never thought possible. A big part of learning those life lessons is having the right men, the right coaches, to help you along that path. James was blessed to have good men, good coaches, to help him along that path. David Pipken mentioned tonight that God puts good people in our lives to help us along the way. James was blessed to have outstanding coaches, and men who made a difference in his life through sports. Coaches Rance Gillespie, Ashley Henderson, Alan Rodemaker, Taz Dixon and others all impacted James this year through football. Bart Shuman, Mark Kirksey, Adam Haire and others impacted James through baseball. James also thought a great deal of Coach Rick Tomberlin. I’ve preached all of my adult life that sports help develop character and prepare young men for life. These coaches helped do that, and helped mold James into the young man he was. They encouraged him. Much like Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."
Good coaches set an example and mold young men to become leaders and contributors to their community.
I had coaches that I still look back on as mentors, men that I respected, and that I would ask for advice now. I could actually approach them for help, and ask questions without fear of reprisal or being made fun of. James was blessed to have the same type of men as coaches. Men who inspired him to be better. I have a friend who coaches a group of fifth graders in Cincinnati. These are youngsters who were cut by their school teams, definitely a group of Bad News Bears. My friend took them and worked with them, and has coached them to the final four of the district tournament. He didn’t do this by beating them down, but by coaching them to be better, by encouraging them. That’s not to say athletes don’t get yelled at. They do, and coaches need to know that fine line. James' coaches knew that line, and balanced criticism with instruction and encouragement. During my freshman year at the Air Force Academy, we were required to learn quotations by famous military leaders. One that was hammered home was part of General John M. Schofield’s graduation address at West Point in 1879. He said, “The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than make an army. It is possible to impart instructions and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests disrespect toward others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”
I thank God that James was blessed to have men impact his life through the sports he so dearly loved. They inspired him to do his very best. James is now part of the greatest team of all, and being instructed by the greatest coach of all.