Thursday, March 22, 2018

Doane Mind If We Do

This week, my high school coach, Dale Neal, led his Freed-Hardeman Lady Lions to the NAIA national championship AND was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame!. Many of my best memories involve Coach Neal and YHS basketball. This is about one of my favorite memories. It's from January 27, 2014.

Every morning when I get up, I have the first of several cups of coffee and check the Internet before my daily devotional and Bible reading. After Facebook and school e-mail, I click on the link for the York News-Times website, my home town newspaper in Nebraska. I won't lie- the first two things I check are the obituaries and the sports section. This past Saturday morning, I saw my alma mater, the York High Dukes, put a whipping on the Fairbury Jeffs. (If you're wondering, Jeffs is short for Jeffersons, as in the name of the county.) Fortunes have changed. When I was a senior in high school, we were good but Fairbury was better. They were the # 1 ranked team in the state in Class B and would win the state championship, led by Bob Siegel, the best player in Nebraska. We played them in York that year and got off to a 15-2 lead before reality set in and we lost by nine points. We ended up ranked sixth in the polls ourselves but I was sure we would win the title that Fairbury would earn. It was a crushing blow. 

Still, we had an amazing season with a core of eight seniors; we had played together since 8th grade and got better every year. I was never as excited about anything in my life as basketball that year. We dealt with injury problems but so does every other team. Our biggest problem, though, was our district. There were eight teams and only one would advance to the state tournament in Lincoln. The aforementioned Fairbury was in it as well as # 2 ranked Crete and # 4 rated Seward. In any other district, we might have been the favorite. As fate would have it, our first game was with arch rival Seward, a team we had never beaten in anything. Every small town has a nemesis, a community you despise for no apparent reason and Seward was ours. I had become acquainted with their players at the University of Nebraska camp the previous summer and discovered, shockingly, they were pretty much the same as my teammates and myself, and I even developed some friendships. Seward had beaten us in overtime in our regular season contest but I was sure it would be different in the district tournament, played at the huge (to us) Fuhrer Fieldhouse at Doane College in Crete. But as sometimes happens when kids play, the game took a very strange twist.

Every team has two sets of uniforms, home and away. Our student manager mistakenly brought the wrong uniforms, bringing the blue set instead of the home whites we were supposed to wear. Dale Neal, our coach, asked the Doane coaching staff if we could borrow their jerseys to go with our blue shorts. They kindly agreed so we took the floor wearing Doane's white tops. There were two issues. One, they were too big and two, they said DOANE in orange and black lettering. Still, the game went on and for us, it was almost transformative. We played the best two quarters of the season and jumped off to a nice lead. Our own white uniforms had arrived by half time but Coach Neal, perhaps letting superstition guide his coaching, refused to let us change. We went on to post a nine point win and the sweetest victory I ever was part of as a player came wearing an over-sized college jersey. Two nights later, decked out in our normal Buff and Blue (how the school handbook defined our colors) gear, we lost to Crete High and the high school careers of eight York Dukes ended. It was a sudden and heartbreaking finish for me.

Looking back, I'm glad the uniform switch turned out like it did. The incident was repeated in the Omaha newspaper and that's a big deal to small town kids. Anybody can win but in some other team's gear? That's not an everyday occurrence. Beating our biggest rival, that made it memorable. You know, I always try to make some spiritual applications to these stories but there is really not one tonight. It seems funny now- I wish I remember how we reacted when we found out about the uniforms or how Coach Neal reacted. I just remember the unbelievable elation after the final buzzer that any of us feel very few times in our lives. For our bonus today on our memory verse, I had my students tell me someone who needs prayers and why they are in need of God's intervention. Their responses reinforced my sense that we are surrounded by real heartache in the world and not the type which comes from losing a basketball game. The Lord allows us to enjoy and remember good things, I think, to remind us of His love and what a blessing that is on days when we mourn. Go Dukes- ONWARD TO VICTORY!

Applicable quote of the day:
“We old athletes carry the disfigurements and markings of contests remembered only by us and no one else. Nothing is more lost than a forgotten game.”
Pat Conroy

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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