Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Makes a Champion?

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of cheering on our hometown team as they finished off their football season as State Champs. It has been an exciting year with a write up almost daily in the local newspaper detailing their stats, past opponents and undefeated season leading up to the big game.  This season has been especially exciting for me for a few reasons. First, my brother in law, Pete Jr., is one of the coaches and his 2 sons are on the team.  Brad is a Sophomore and Ryan is a Senior.  Second, when I was growing up no one in my family played or even watched sports, so this is a brand new experience for me. Third, I watched these same boys play in the playoff game last year....and lose. 
Photo by Jodi Peck

It was absolutely heartbreaking for me to watch them stand on that field, tears in their eyes, knowing the season was over.  I particularly remember going down onto the field after the game & watching in amazement as my nephew, Ryan, gave a few minutes for an interview with one of the local reporters.  His teammates were huddled around with family and friends, heartbreak written all over their faces while he choked back tears and politely and precisely answered the questions of his interviewer with all the grace and class of a professional.  I wondered then if they would be back next year, fighting for first place once again, but I knew either way that they were champs. He had just proved it. His actions were nothing more than an extension of his team & coaches and the way they approach the game. I believe you could have put any player in his position that day and the same scene would have played out.  Like I said, champs.

Fast forward to 2011, the season went by in a blur of shut-outs and running clocks. The excitement of playoffs grew after every game.  Before I knew it, we were standing at a football field in Cottage Grove getting ready to watch Ryan, a Senior, play his last High School football game ever.  I felt silly that day, being so emotional but I remembered. I remembered last year. I knew these kids were champions and I wanted them to have the trophy to prove it.  I wanted Pete to share the thrill of victory with his 2 boys. You see, the last time The Hornets won a State Championship game was in 1990 and he was on that team.  So, I watched and I cheered. I sat freezing cold, surrounded by friends & family and watched as our team finished the game 66-22 and were told something I already knew, they were Champions. 
Brad & Pete Jr.
Photo by Jodi Peck

It was an incredible season and I am so thankful that I was part of it.  I have thought a lot about that game this week.  Remembering the emotions of the day, the pride I saw on the faces of fathers & grandfathers.  The tears of a mother realizing that this was just another 'last' for her oldest son.  A grandmother wondering out loud how she will ever make it through the graduation of her oldest grandchild.  Brothers celebrating together in victory. It was a beautiful day, one I think I will always remember.  But it got me thinking.....what makes a champion?  Is it just the winning, or is it the way we win? Or is it really about winning at all?

The conclusion I have come to is that, in the game of life at least, a champ is made by the way he plays.  Brad and Ryan are champs because their dad is. Not because he won a championship, but because everyday he lives his life for Christ. He isn't a preacher. He has no soapbox or sermon for you, but he lives what he believes and he teaches his sons how to be champions as well. He loves their mother, he works hard, he honors his parents, he is honest and steadfast.  He reflects the life of his earthly father (My amazing father-in-law) & the love of his Heavenly Father.  These boys are champions alright, it's in their blood.  So while I am thankful they were able to walk away with a win and some great memories, I am even more excited to see all the 'Championship' moments they will live out in the future. 
Left: Pete Jr. with his sons, Brad & Ryan
Center: Pete Sr.'s uncle, Jerry
Right: Pete Sr. with sons Scott & Eric (My Champion)
Photo by Darla Foster

I have been blessed to witness some already during these past 5 years.  I have seen Ryan ask his parents for advice and truly consider it, even if he doesn't agree. He trusts them.  He sees the beauty in the Christ-like attributes of his mother and desires them in a future wife.  Brad is humble in his accomplishments, determined, resourceful and talented. He works hard and his hands are rarely idle.  I was honored to be at his baptism this summer, the humility and maturity he showed that day were incomparable.  I am excited to see these boys continue to grow and be leaders for their own families some day. Until then, I pray that they will follow Christ and the example set by their father.  I know that if they do, December 3, 2011 will be just one of the many moments in their lives that they are reminded of what I already know....they are Champions.
Photo by Jodi Peck

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