We lost…and won

Well, we lost the final game, 45-38. Trinity Christian School from Hialeah, Florida has won the 2006 FCAA state championship. They deserve it should be congratulated. It was a hard-fought game with several lead changes until the final few minutes. Our girls did not play nearly as well as they did the first 2 games, but they played much better than I coached.

If you have followed sports much you probably have seen some occasions where a good team was “overcoached” in a crucial game or situation. That is what happened to us. We have an experienced team–4 seniors, all of whom are starters–and they know how to play together very well. In retrospect (which is always clearer than prospect) I should have simply encouraged them to play our game on defense rather than trying to alter what we normally do in order to stop Trinity’s very talented guard. We might have done better against her had we not adjusted so much to contain her. That, combined with one of the poorest shooting games we have ever had, was simply too much to overcome. We hit only 1 three-point shot and no other shots more than 5 feet from the basket.

This game, and the whole tournament experience, highlights some of the great lessons that can be gleaned from sports. The whole range of human emotions can be experienced in athletics–you know, the “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” as well as everything in between. Life in a fallen world is filled with disappointment. Athletic competition gives you lots of opportunity to deal with disappointment on a relatively small scale. It also forces you to deal with issues of pride and humility, jealousy, frustration, anger, joy and sorrow. In this sense a state championship basketball game is really something like a labratory for life. The kinds of temptations, opportunities and pains that inevitably attend us in this life can be pressed on you in a microcosmic way in the span of 4 eight-minute quarters. Valuable lessons can be learned and those lessons can serve a person very well throughout life.

We learned–and will learn–some of those valuable lessons. Here are a few that occurred to me during a night filled with intermittent sleep.

  • The ball does not always bounce your way and your shots do not always fall, no matter how hard you practice or how badly you want it.
  • You do not always get the calls that you think you should get.
  • Despite your strongest resolve and determination, you are prone to doing things that you know are unwise.
  • It is possible not only to win to the glory of God but also to lose to His glory.
  • It is possible to play your best and yet not play well.
  • Disappointment is painful, but serves as a regular reminder that we were designed for something far better than life in a fallen world.
  • Basketball is really not that important. It is just a game; a great game! But a game, nevertheless.

This last lesson was driven home in a most poignant way to me just a few hours before the championship game. We received a phone call that one of the most gracious, gentle, godly men I have ever known had just “entered the land of the living” after a long bout with cancer. I had the great privilege of serving with Allen Harrison at Grace Baptist Church 2004-2005. He was our Associate Pastor. In the middle of that year he was diagnosed with cancer. His and his sweet wife, Roberta’s, testimony during his suffering has been a gracious gift to me and to countless others. They came to our games and always had encouraging words for our girls. Several girls on the team were very close to him. We didn’t tell them of his death until after the game. Life and death are real and forever. Basketball is just a game.

One final note, and forgive me for any improper pride that may be mixed in with the reporting of it. Every year the referees who call all the games in the tournament get together and decide which team should be given the “Christian Character” trophy. Their decision is based on attitude and demeanor that a team displays over the course of all the games. Our girls were awarded that trophy. The lead referee for the championship game pulled me aside after the game and said these words to me: “Coach, you have the classiest team in the tournament, boys or girls. They play with real class and are a great witness for Jesus Christ.” That, along with whatever other success or accomplishment we have enjoyed this year, is all because of God’s grace and all glory belongs to Him.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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