Wednesday, November 26, 2014

College Road Trip

Obviously, I am way too old to take another one of those cool college road trips but God, in His amazing way with which He opens doors, allowed me to travel with the Johnson Royals basketball team on a 1300 mile round trip serving in my role as assistant coach. I continue to marvel at the surprises that God has in store for me when I know clearly that it is a blessing that I truly don't deserve. I get to learn more about the game I love and be involved in it in ways that I never would have imagined. Also, in small ways I can live out what God has put on my heart, being involved in peoples' lives hopefully mentoring them and serving them. It's quite joy and one with which I'm sure in many ways I need to grow more in.

Our first stop was to play the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA. Better known as VMI, this is a NCAA Division 1 program with all of the support and talent that comes with a program like this. For a small non-scholarship school like ours, this is known as a "money" game. Teams from higher levels pay the school for us to play to obviously help them in working on their game. For our guys, it's a chance to do something only a few people get: play basketball at the D1 level. I marvel at the fact that I myself can now claim that I have coached a D1 game. The talent gap was quite obvious, the crowd was energetic and it was blowout. I hope that this game was one that each of the players can savor - not for the score but for the opportunity. Having the right perspective and learning how to deal with great adversity is good for character building. They even gave us Gatorade and pizza from a local restaurant after the game. That was a nice gift.


The next nice surprise was that the team was offered free lodging at an alumnus' house in town. To call it a house would be an understatement. It was more like a lodge or even a small palace (eight bedrooms, a man cave, large dining room and a master bathroom larger than my condo). The Thomas' were beyond generous hosts who not only provided housing, but that evening gave us an early Thanksgiving meal. With Turkey and all of the trimmings, it was a nice gift. I felt so blessed to meet such generous people. They had the wisdom to know that God has blessed them so that they could be a blessing to others. An added blessing for me was they had two fluffy white dogs that I couldn't get enough time to enjoy. It was like having two Mazies (my Great Pyrenees).

"The Load-Out" by Jackson Browne
And these towns all look the same
We just pass the time in our hotel rooms
And wander 'round backstage
Till those lights come up and we hear that crowd
And we remember why we came...

We got time to think of the ones we love
While the miles roll away
But the only time that seems too short
Is the time that we get to play

The bus: our home away from home.

Lots of time sitting around.

Game film at the hotel dining area.

Part of the life is finding time to wash uniforms between games.

A youth football team doing their game film.

To say that college basketball is all glamour and ease would be false. I'm not complaining in the least, but  small college athletics involves riding on a bus; very long rides. From Knoxville to Lexington was a good five hours and another five or so hours was required to make it to our next destination: Valley Forge, PA. Having college aged men requires frequent stops for food as well. Passing time can be a challenge so I resorted to sleeping, watching movies on my tablet and texting friends. I find it very interesting that in these days of smartphones, the players found ample ways to pass the time.

A road trip is not complete without some unforeseen "challenge". For this trip, we were not directly involved. The women's team bus hit a deer. Thankfully, nobody was hurt with the unlucky deer. Their bus on the other hand, had front end damage and needed to have the radiator replaced. This meant that we ended up sharing the bus we were travelling in while we were in Valley Forge. Before the trip, we had hoped to make it to Philadelphia and possibly New York City. Although we tried various ways to work around the bus sharing, it didn't work out. We were fortunate enough to be across the street from the King Of Prussia Mall which is the second largest mall in the US. That ended up being our down time entertainment for the stay.

I would like to say that our team fared well but sadly the outcomes weren't what we hoped for. I do see improvement. I appreciate their team first attitude. They're a young team (one Junior and the rest are sophomores and freshmen) so growing pains are evident. We challenged them to give it their all and I believe they responded well. We are close to getting to where we need to be. I know that can be said for me as a coach as well.

With our last game played, it was loading the bus at 9PM and driving all night back to Knoxville. Trying to get as much sleep as possible is the goal for us not driving. It's not the most glamorous life but one that I never thought I'd live out. The strange part was that the next day we were right back on the court for a game at another local college. It seems like the mantra is always "hurry up and wait".
Right back at it the next night after 13 hours on the bus.
The interesting thing for me is that I am still amazed that even at middle age, God is still teaching and revealing things to me. I have new adventures to live out and more that I must grow in. I'm thankful for a group of young men who are sharing a small part of their lives with me.

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