Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The White Team

My Dad began coaching little league football in the early 1970's with the Guilford College Steelers in Greensboro, NC.  The Steelers were a "county" team who played in the powerful Greensboro city league, and in the early years they were doormats.  Dad transformed them into consistent winners at the 8-10 year old level, and I always enjoyed helping him.  As their success increased so did the number of kids coming out to play.  There was a limit (35, I think) of how many players a team could carry.  And to make sure all of those players got to play the city instituted a great program.  Regular games were on weeknights, and all of your players were eligible for those.  Then on Saturday mornings there was another game- but your top 15 players could not participate!  So Saturday morning was the game for the back-ups.  On a powerhouse team like the Steelers, that Saturday morning team was very good.

One particular season (the year escapes me) we had over 50 kids come out to play for the Steelers.  Dad would not cut anyone, and he wanted everyone to play, so he came to me with an idea.  Would I be willing to coach a third team- one that didn't even dress on weeknights, but that played as a second Steeler team on Saturday mornings?  This would be a team full of kids who had not played organized football before; full of the smallest kids and the slowest kids and even some who didn't know their left from their right.  In short, it was going to be a bad team.  But it seemed like a challenge to me (not being a very bright young man!) so I said yes.  Not wanting to call it the "C Team" or the third string, we settled on The White Team, because they would wear the white jerseys abandoned by the "real" Steelers a few years earlier.

The White Team practiced separately from the other players, and slowly a team began to come together.  Eddie Pope became our quarterback because he could remember the plays.  Kevin Morris, who came out to late to make the other roster, was our ringer- he was talented and very fast. And our guys practiced very hard- but we also had lots of fun.  We would run trick plays every day just to break things up.  When the starting defense needed to hit some people, I would play quarterback for a make-shift offense, and they could hit me all they wanted to.  The team progressed, and played well in our first game- but lost 7-6.  No could believe we had been that close, but still, everyone feared for us- game two would be against Lewis Center.

Lewis Center was the power program in Greensboro city football.  They annually played for the city championship at a least one age level, and they had been doing this for years.  The general assumption was that their Saturday morning team could make the playoffs in the regular league!  And The White Team was about to take them on.  My Dad was worried that we would be beaten so badly that it would humiliate the kids.  I secretly worried the same thing.  But we showed up anyway- and the game was amazing.  They drove the ball down the field, and we stopped them inside the 10.  This pattern repeated itself all game long.  We never came close to scoring, but we kept fighting.  The game ended in a scoreless tie, which, of course, was a major victory for us.  My Dad often said over the years, as he was winning city championships with the Steelers, that The White Team performance that Saturday morning was the greatest game he ever saw a Steeler team play.  And I wouldn't argue...

My experiences with that team were full of great lessons that I carried with me into my years in student ministry.  I learned the value of mixing working hard with playing hard.  I learned that building bonds between myself and the students I worked with could lead to results that seemed miraculous.  But the big lesson was this- a team (or a group) can be so much greater than the sum of its' parts.  Over the years my groups didn't always have the most "popular" students, or the most jocks, or the most "beautiful" people.  But we usually had amazing youth groups full of people who loved each other and who were seeking Jesus.  And just like with The White Team, some of the individuals drew on their experiences to become stars later on.  Many of those students are still out there playing, raising families, seeking God and "shining their lights" for others.  I thank God for them everyday.

I am  seriously considering trying to get the team back together and challenge my Tampa Bay Bucs...I think we could take 'em!

Because of Jesus,


  1. Was your quarterback Eddie Pope the same kid who later played soccer for Team USA in the World Cup?

  2. No, he was not THAT Eddie Pope! I did see the soccer playing Eddie Pope play in high school when he was at Southwest Guilford and I had youth playing for Trinity High. That Eddie Pope would have made the REAL Steelers, I suppose!


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