It was after the first day of class when it happened. I was a freshman at Cal Poly Pomona. She called me over by name. “Oh my gosh,” I thought. “She knows my name! This is it!”
“Chris, I’m looking for a Team Manager and I’m wondering if you’re interested.” Coach May said, the winningest coach in NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball. “You’d be at practice every day and on the bench every game. You’d help us with getting set up for practice and make sure we have all the equipment we need. We might even be able to take you on the road with us.”
My eyes must have been as big as saucers. “Yeah… yeah, Coach. Sure.” I swallowed hard trying to keep from bursting into tears. “Yes! That would be great!”
As a high school student I had been obsessed. I lived, breathed, and dreamed about one day playing for the Cal Poly Women’s Basketball team. From the moment I saw my first game at the age of 14, I was determined that some day that would be me. I would proudly wear #10 in green and gold. I went to every home game, practiced constantly, and played in every pick-up game I could.
To some of you readers, this may not seem all that unusual. Perhaps you can relate to your own dreams and aspirations from your high school days. What makes my story slightly unique is that when I was 14 years old I was 4’11” and about 96 lbs. soaking wet. I looked more like a gymnast than a basketball player. Not only that but Cal Poly Pomona had one of the highest ranking teams in NCAA Division II history at the time and was under the leadership of one of the most successful coaches, Darlene May. But I was determined. By the time I signed up for her activity class as a freshman I had grown to a whopping 5’0″ and gained perhaps a pound or two.
I was over the moon the day that she asked me to be Team Manager. It wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for but I was one step closer to realizing my dream. Surely if she saw me in practice every day I was positive, at some point, she’d ask me to be on her team. My pursuit for my dream was hardly hindered. This was just the stepping stone I needed, an in between step I never thought of but was willing to do to get where I wanted to go. Never mind the fact that I had made fun of the team managers she had before… those wanna-be’s, not good enough to play. This will be a great opportunity to get me where I want to be.
I served as Team Manager for two years. My freshman year we won the NCAA Division II Championship. And through the generosity of my parents I got to fly with my team to Springfield, Massachusetts. Through the generosity of my teammates I even got to cut down a piece of the net after the game. My sophomore year we lost the Championship game, but I was there for that one too and had the privilege in sharing in the heartbreak of that loss with my teammates.
I would love to tell you that I just loved every minute of the great privilege I had been given over those two years, but that wouldn’t be the truth. While I do have great memories of those years and love the people I met and the places I was able to go, they were two very painful years. I had become so determined to fulfill my will and my plan that I was miserable every day that I didn’t see that plan coming to fruition. I wanted it so badly and thought that sheer determination would bring it about. I prayed about it, so I was involving God. Surely He knew me and loved me enough to give me this dream. It was all I really ever wanted.
By the end of my second year I realized it was never going to happen and I was devastated. I was invited to stay but I decided to leave. It was painful but I felt it was necessary. In my mind I had become that “wanna-be loser” that I had always made fun of and I couldn’t deny it any longer. My identity had always been in my athletic ability and to have to face every day knowing that was no longer my reality was just too painful. If I was off the team I was a nobody, but at least I wasn’t a wanna be.
It took several years to get over I’m embarrassed to say. But now looking back at it I can see God’s hand in my life. I can see the provision and His plan in ways that He is still revealing to me more than 25 years later. I can see the utter depravity of putting my hope in myself instead of in the Lord and His plan. What He did in those two years was to prepare me for a life He had already designed. My vision at that time was short sighted (no pun intended) and focused on me and my glory. His plan was about Him and His glory and His desire to include me in that plan.
Soon after leaving the team, I had the opportunity to coach girl’s basketball at my high school alma matter. I had learned as a Team Manager to know every position on offense and defense. I had to be able to stand in for any player at any time during practice. Had I played for Coach May I’d have only been focused on my position. I’d have never been able to see the whole floor. And He gave me the privilege of working under one of the finest basketball coaches on the planet. His plan was for me to be a coach. His plan was to make me a leader long before I was probably ready to lead. And His plan was to allow me to have influence in the lives of young women and to be blessed by having them in my life. My plan would not have led me to this.
He also prepared me to anticipate needs. Coach May was very demanding and disciplined. She was a tough lady to work for and to play for. By the end of the two years with her I was anticipating her needs and wants before she even had them. It was a skill and a gift that God has planted in me. He gave me the experience as an 18 and 19 year old college student to hone that skill and put it to work. An now, many, many years later I use that skill every day. As an Emergency Manager I think and plan and prepare for disasters every day. I anticipate people’s needs and try to respond before those needs become needs. His plan was for me to see people’s needs and respond in anticipation. His plan was to allow me to experience the joy of serving at a very young age. And His plan was for me to see the value of supporting a person of leadership in a behind the scenes role that was just as rewarding as being in the limelight.
As I said, I wish I could say that those were two glorious years that I relished every minute of. They weren’t. I hadn’t learned yet the importance of yielding my will to His, accepting His plan over my own. I thought I knew better. I thought my dreams were all that mattered. God put that dream in my heart, but He used it in a way that was far greater than I could have imagined. I was blind then, but now I see. Do I still wish that I could have worn #10 in the green and gold? …maybe, on some days. But I would never trade what God has done in my life or the plan He has had for a polyester jersey. I love serving HIM. I love being able to bring Him glory with the gifts He has given me to use. I still have much to learn, but I trust more in Him now than I do myself. And when I stray, He brings me back to Himself so that I can learn once again that His ways are not my ways… they’re way better.
Lord, thank you for having a plan for us. Forgive us for the times we can’t see it and insist that our plan is better. I’m thankful you know what’s best. Help us to see your hand in our lives and trust your ways not our own.
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AWESOME!!!! I was a basketball trainer too. I can really relate to your story…it’s a great reminder that God has other things planned for us. Suck it up and serve, right?