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- a team of outcasts. 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. They are pictured at the top, and yes- that is a very young me standing with them!
The White Team practiced separately from the other players, and slowly a team began to come together. Our guys practiced very hard each and every day- 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. It was all about helping them believe in each other. No one had to tell them they were outcasts. The hand-me-down jerseys said it all too well. 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 if you simply believe in each other. Over the years my groups didn't always have the most "popular" students, or the most jocks, or the most "beautiful" people. We had out share of outcasts. But we usually had amazing youth groups full of people who loved each other and who were seeking Jesus. We understood that Jesus has a thing for outcasts, and that gave us power greater than any popularity or skill set. 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,