I grew up in Marietta, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. We lived in North Cobb County. Back then it was still considered the “country”. It was a great place for a kid to grow up. My neighborhood had lots of kids in it. If you have seen the movie “Sandlot” (“You’re killing me smalls”), my childhood was very similar. We were like a gang. We played army, explored “the woods” around the neighborhood, built forts and tree houses, and played sports. We played basketball, soccer, football, baseball, equestrian (horse riding), etc. A couple of parents in the neighborhood had horses, including my dad, and they played polo at the Atlanta polo club. They also fox hunted. My sister was a show jumper for a couple of years. I feel very blessed and fortunate to have had such a great childhood. I have great memories.
Sports were a big deal for me. I followed everything college and pro. I loved football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, golf, and wrestling. My dad took me to high school, college and pro sports games. I collected sports cards, helmets, jerseys, hats, and more. I watched sports on TV. I knew all the stats: yards gained, number of hits and home runs, batting average, points per game, and on and on. I ate, drank, and slept sports. My whole world revolved around it. I was a fanatic.
My first experience playing an organized sport, on a real team, was soccer. I played in the Marietta YMCA league. Eventually, I would play organized basketball in youth leagues, and at Marietta Christian School, but soccer was probably my favorite sport to play. I was getting pretty good too. By the time I was about 12, I was one of the best players in the league. It was the one time in my life that I really could have been great at something. But that all came to screeching halt, when a series of events ended my soccer career.
Due to a sudden growth spurt when I was about 12, I developed a knee condition called Osgood-Schlatter disease, which is common among adolescents. It is an inflammation of the area just below the knee where the tendon from the kneecap attaches to the shinbone. It was pretty painful. So much so that my dad made me stop playing sports for a little while. It was heart breaking and disappointing.
If that wasn’t enough, I was infected with mononucleosis. You know the “kissing disease”. Mono eventually led to tonsillitis at around the same time, and I had to have my tonsils taken out. Mono kept me out of action for an entire summer. If you know anything about mono, you have to rest or it keeps coming back. I was basically housebound for an entire summer. Sound familiar? I spent the whole summer watching TV (black and white), building model airplanes, drawing, playing with my train set and army men, collecting baseball cards, etc.
In spite of these setbacks it didn’t deter my passion for sports. I relentlessly and passionately petitioned my parents to set me free from house arrest so I could play sports again. I know I drove them crazy, especially the summer of Mono.
But that’s not all, wait for it…at around the same time, my dad decided that we were going to move. Yay! Atlanta was growing and quickly swallowing up our rural paradise. My dad was tired of dealing with traffic and the rat race of the big city. Plus, I think he was having a bit of a mid-life crisis. Maybe, he was looking to get back to his roots of small town West Virginia. I’m not sure, but move we did. The “Green Acres” TV show theme song is coming to mind. “Green Acres is the place to be, farm living is the life for me.” Where did we move did you ask? I know you did. I heard you. BLAIRSVILLE, GEORGIA. You know that great metropolis just south of Murphy.
Well, back in 19 and 79, it wasn’t so metropolitan. In fact we only had one traffic light, and the only fast food place was the Tastee Freeze. Also, NO SOCCER!!! None. Nada. Zilch. I was crushed, and devastated that my soccer career was over. I still had basketball, but my basketball skills weren’t as far along as soccer. My opportunities to get playing time would be minimal. So, the summer before my sophomore year, I decided to try football.
Football was probably my favorite sport to watch, but I never played on a team. Sure I played “two hand touch” football in the neighborhood, which was more like playing “tag”. But, I didn’t like playing full contact “tackle” football. It was violent and emotional. I was not a confrontational person or aggressive. I just liked it for the athleticism. Football is, by nature, confrontational and aggressive. But in spite of my reservations and fear of playing such a violent sport, I did it anyway.
At the time I only weighed about 135. I was not built for football. I know, it’s hard to believe. I was hoping to play wide receiver, defensive back, kicker, or punter so I wouldn’t get hit as much. But, they stuck me at linebacker on the first day, right in the middle of all the action. It wasn’t pretty. I was being thrown around like a rag doll. I’m sure there were parents watching from the sideline wondering, “who is that kid that keeps flying around in the air and rolling around on the ground.” I got run over, stepped on, mashed, and mangled. One day it was so bad that I was actually crying under my helmet, big crocodile tears running down my face. Thankfully, my facemask hid my tears. It was brutal.
Every morning when I would wake up I would be covered in new bruises. There were bruises on top of bruises. It was not fun. Sports are supposed to be fun, right? Well, this seemed more like medieval torture. I thought about it, but I DIDN’T QUIT! I’m not sure why. Maybe stupidity.
Then one day after practice, one of the seniors pointed at me in the locker room and said in front of the rest of the team, “Hey Morris! You can take a hit, man” or something to that effect. I think the Rocky theme song started playing in my head. My endurance had paid off. I had finally earned some respect. It was a great feeling. It didn’t make practice any easier, make me a starter, or make my bruises disappear, but it did change my perspective. It gave me a huge confidence boost.
I got really serious about lifting weights, so I got bigger and stronger. Eventually I would go on to earn a starting spot playing several different positions my junior and senior year. I wasn’t a star or the best player, but I had come a long way. I ended up playing at Mars Hill College for a couple of years.
Football was a “crucible” or situation of severe trial for me. It pushed me to the limit physically and emotionally. It was probably very similar to the military in many ways, and my ex-marine football coach worked very hard to make it that way. Whatever my reasoning was for choosing and continuing to play football, I’m glad that I stuck with it. Being forged in the fire of battle gave me strength for future trials.
In James 1:2-4 it says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
I don’t know what kind of “crucible” or trial you’re facing right now. You may feel bruised and broken from the battle. You’re not sure your body and mind can take anymore. Like you, I often wonder what God is doing. Where is He? But, I have to keep reminding myself that He’s there with me. I just keep pushing myself to move forward even if I have to crawl.
My football coach used to call football “the game of life.’ I always thought it was a stupid comparison, but since then it has made more sense. It was definitely a literal “school of hard knocks”, and it taught me a lot.
Every time I got knocked down in football practice I got back up. When I had tears streaming down my face and knew that I was going to get hit and knocked down again, I lined up in my position and did it again. I did it over and over and over again, until perseverance paid off. I stopped getting knocked down as much. In fact, I started knocking other people down. I know it’s not Christ like, but it was a sport so it’s okay, right? (Sarcasm Alert!)
Lord, please help me to keep getting back up every time life knocks me down. Amen.
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator