Coach of the Year

for the week of March 26, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

I'd have missed the story, if Larry hadn't been kind enough to fax it to me. It ran in the Indianapolis Star of February 15, 2001. It told of one man's example of decency and grace in the high-pressure world of intercollegiate sports.

Homer Drew coaches men's basketball for Valparaiso University. He and his team befriended the driver of their charter bus and the driver's grandson, Donnie. They invited Donnie to ride the team bus, attend practice, eat a pregame meal with them, and sit on the Valparaiso bench during a game. The Valpo Crusaders lost the game, but they gave Donnie an autographed basketball.

Two years earlier, little Donnie had seen his sister die in a car accident. That event had changed his life. His schoolwork suffered. He pulled inside himself. Life just got too burdensome for a little boy to handle.

Donnie's grandfather says things began to change for him after that day with the Valpo basketball team. The little boy began to come out of his shell. He took the signed ball to show-and-tell. And he started smiling more often.

When bus driver Dale Allen wrote a letter to the university's president about this sequence of events, Drew and his team were taken aback. They didn't know about the little boy's sadness. They weren't being nice as part of a strategy to help him. To quote Bill Benner's article, "They were nice just to be nice."

Coach Drew apparently thinks he has a responsibility to teach athletes something more than jump shooting and aggressive defense. He even appears to have a goal larger than winning games. It seems that he wants to teach and model manhood of the sort that is greater than trash-talking and bad attitude.

There is someone in your world today who carries a significant wound inflicted by life. Death and disease, depression and discouragement they invade the lives of people all around you. Not one of them needs to be made someone's "project." Each of them does, however, need space, time, and genuine kindness from other human beings. Perhaps God has positioned you to be one of the providers of healing for someone before this day ends.

The Crusaders of Valparaiso University won't be in this year's Final Four. But they did something more significant than winning games and cutting down nets. They made a difference in a little boy's life.

The round-ballers from Valparaiso are champions at a higher level than the NCAA tournament, and Homer Drew is my candidate for Coach of the Year.




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