Navigating Your Child's Education: Grades 9-12

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Through My Lens: An Example of Christian Sportsmanship

Aug 22, 2019 7:00 PM

I have had the privilege of pacing the sidelines at hundreds of amateur sporting events, beginning in my high school days and continuing over the past 36 years. It has always been a delicate balancing act because in most cases, I usually have a vested interest in the game at hand as a player, a parent, a fan, or as a teacher. But I am also a professional photographer, and I have a job to do covering such games.

During my career as a photographer, I have seen the full gamut of sportsmanship and conduct, from noteworthy to notorious. I have witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly, sometimes even in the same night. But I have one particular experience that lifted my heart, blessed me beyond measure, and exemplified for me the essence and power of Christian sportsmanship.It was a two-day soccer tournament for boys and girls high school teams in Central Ohio. Both teams of the school where I work actually fell short of their goals. The girls team lost after a bizarre play in which a header intended as a defensive maneuver ricocheted backwards and sailed just over the desperately outstretched arms of our goalie, while the boys team fell in a sudden death shootout after a double overtime failed to resolve the matter.

But the real story there was not the result on the scoreboard. The real story was the character and camaraderie that was exhibited by the young men and women during that two-day stretch.

During the first night’s match, the stands were filled with students, including a rather boisterous section of boys soccer players cheering on the girls team. A sea of school colors buoyed the spirits and lifted the players who had battled the number one team in the state to a 2-2 halftime tie. This was a war, and there would be no prisoners taken. Cheers of "I believe that we will win" echoed across the field as an American Flag waved high behind the student cheering section.

Then came the moment. That moment. A freak goal. My heart sank.

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I watched as our keeper dropped to her knees, stunned and incredulous at the strange turn of events. Her eyes were filled with pain as she attempted to take the weight of an entire team on her shoulders. Invisible barriers formed, as if to blot out an expected audible barrage of criticism and blame that she felt convinced would surely and deservedly come from her teammates.

But their words would not compare to the ones she was likely saying to herself. She felt she had let her team down. "Maybe if I hadn't tried to deflect it, someone else would have?" or "Should I have jumped sooner?" may have raced through her head. Regardless of the rush of thoughts and emotions, for an instant, she felt isolated and alone.

But that is what makes truly Christian sportsmanship different. In those moments of despair, I did not hear blame or excuses coming from her teammates. What I heard was edification and encouragement. Words of support. Words of hope. Words of love. No blame. No excuses. No regrets. Her teammates put arms around her and reminded her that she was valuable, worthwhile and needed. They reassured her that their love for her had not changed nor had it abated. They validated and confirmed her. They assured her that they were in this together, winning or losing as a team.

As fate would have it, that would be the final score of the night, and their season was at its end. Tears were shed, hugs abounded and all the moments of that evening transitioned from the present into our collective memories. It was going to hurt for a while, but in God's plan, all things have purpose and so did this night.

Twenty-hours hours later, when I arrived at the local high school soccer field for the boys match, I took a moment to again take in my surroundings. I saw many of the same faces I had seen the previous night,  but the roles were reversed. Of particular note was a group of students wrapped in blankets and pressed against the front rails of the stands. It was the ladies soccer team, surrounded by the same student body that cheered them on the previous night. Gone were the long faces and tear-stained cheeks from the night before. In their stead, these girls were now living vicariously through the boys' team, funneling all their energy, cheers, encouragement and prayers in hopes that this night would bring a different result for their classmates.

After a quick score by our team, the opponent tied it up with a breakaway score. This was now a ground war. Back and forth they went, adrenaline pumping, muscles cramping and lungs straining to replenish oxygen. One more score would likely be enough to decide the match.

As the dust settled at the end of regulation, the battle on the field was very much unresolved. The single scores by each team stood like crimson bookends on the host scoreboard. The brisk night wind bristled at the chance to claim more casualties in the form of chapped lips and reddened cheeks. Even my own right hand had become somewhat numb, constantly exposed to the elements in order to accurately control the delicate settings on my camera. But it was going to overtime. "Just 15 more minutes," I told myself, "I can thaw out and we can go home with a win."

It played out like a Greek tragedy. After regulation, double-overtime and a shootout, the tournament road ended abruptly for the boys' team just like the girls the night before. Soccer is a game of inches at times, and so was the case that night. And like the night before, emotions flowed freely and unrestrained on the sidelines as the reality of the end of the season began to settle.

The catharsis of the moment, while seemingly overwhelming, was a joy to behold. As in the previous night, I did not hear or witness anger or blame...I only saw genuine agape love as teammates, coaches, fans and parents hugged, embraced, encouraged and edified one another. While I tried to stay neutral in my emotions so that I could concentrate on the photographic tasks at hand, I was caught off guard by the tears welling in my own eyes.

For a brief moment, I lowered the camera and just watched. As a member of the school staff, I have the privilege of interacting with this fine group of young men and women on a daily basis. At a time when it would have been easy for anyone to fall into finger-pointing and fault-finding, these athletes were lifting each other up.

I quickly regained my composure, wiping my own tears so that I could finish my task. I captured dozens of post-game images of folks being Jesus-in-the-flesh to each other. I saw players loving each other, coaches wrapping their arms around the seniors and parents embracing their players, reminding them they had worth on and off the field. I watched as God's Spirit moved in the relative quiet of that moment.

At times, the only sound I heard was one of fresh wounds beginning to scar.

The scene that was unfolding before me was one huge life lesson...even if the players didn't realize it yet. We know that God guides and directs our paths when we place our trust in Him. He carries us through the valleys and celebrates with us on the mountaintops. He teaches us through victory and through loss. He builds our character through adversity. And He refines us through our love for and service to each other. This is what I witnessed that night on the soccer field, and this is what those students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.



Brian Bayless
Written by Brian Bayless

With more than two decades of experience in professional photography, Brian worked at Worthington Christian School in various roles for eight years.