Sometime back I issued a challenge to the city of Watertown. I challenged the city to go to a basketball game. Not only was that challenge accepted, I feel like that night changed my life forever. In a small gym packed with around 800+ people, I believe I found my spirituality and faith. I know for certain my faith in humanity was restored.
For those of you not familiar with the challenge, allow me to summarize. Around the end of January I received an email from a friend of mine. He asked me to write about how Great Plains Lutheran, or GPL, didn’t get any fan support from the local community. Not knowing much about the school, I went to a couple practices, watched a few games, talked to people, asked a few questions, & finally put words to screen.
The first GPL game I attended had roughly 30 people there. There was something different about those 30 people though. My friend who asked me to write the post said to me “You won’t sit by yourself long. Someone will come and sit next to you and start visiting”. Sure enough, I wasn’t “alone” long before I was sitting with a group of people. They made me feel welcomed. They were honestly happy that I was at their basketball game. I knew within minutes that I belonged there with these incredibly genuine people. I regress though.
So, the challenge was issued on February 2nd with the game being February 13th. I posted the challenge to my blog around 11:30 am. By 5:00 pm, it had been shared on the Facebook over 600 times. It had surpassed 3,000 views within hours. The GPL community, and the local area seemed to band together to support the kids. The days leading up to the game were nerve wracking for me. The anticipation of not knowing if 1 extra person would show up or 100 was agonizing for me. Expectations were high and I didn’t want to let those kids down.
Game day arrives. I get to the gym around 4:30 to a familiar scene. A basketball game in the middle and students, parents, and staff walking around watching it. It’s early though. I walked around with the varsity boys coach as he gave me a tour of the facility. He told me his future plans for his program, how he admired his players, and how he wanted the absolute best for his players. The sense of pride radiates off him when he’s talking about his players. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of them, he’s blessed to work with them. They’re a special group.
As I sit on the bleacher wearing my button up shirt, dress pants, and loafers, I’m feeling nervous as more and more people start showing up. I’m also feeling a little overdressed to be at a basketball game. Luckily a group of GPL basketball kids had my back. A group of 5 or 6 approached me with a bag, handshakes, smiles, kind words, and a heart filled action. They all thanked me for the post and then handed me my very own Great Plains Lutheran Panther sweatshirt! It took everything I had not to tear up. The gesture was selfless and shows the character of these kids. I called my bride and told her what had just happened. My voice cracked as the words spilled out of my mouth. That was such a special moment for me. It still resonates with me as I think back on it. Those few minutes I sat there with that group of young men, will be a memory that will be with me forever. Truth is, I should be thanking them. During my visits with that school and those kids, they helped me on a spiritual journey that got me on a path I’d never thought I’d take. They enlightened me to a whole new world and I’m forever grateful.
The girls varsity game is about to start. I’m sitting with my favorite people; my bride and all four of my children. My in laws came to watch as well. Apparently people are having to park roughly a mile away due to the parking lot being full. There are Watertown police officers outside directing traffic and parking. People are filling in, crowding the concourse area. Glasses are fogged over while rosy cheeks are prominent around the gym as the frozen weather made the trek inside difficult. Both sides of the gym are packed. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. What happened next proved to me that hockey players aren’t so “tough”
As I glance around the gym and watch the atmosphere turn from quiet to somewhat rowdy, I’m reminded by the power of good will. As much as we complain about this or that, there is still kind hearted people out there. People who put your wants or needs in front of their own. People like the Watertown Laker hockey team. I’m focused in on the game as my beautiful bride nudges me and says “look”. I glance over and see black jackets and yellow hats. I had challenged the Watertown Laker hockey players to come support the GPL kids and they accepted in a BIG way!! I made my way through a gaggle of hockey kids, shaking hands and thanking them. I run across one whom I’ve only known for a short time and he picks me up, gives me a big hug, and smiles at me as he puts me down and shakes my hand. I thank the coach and go back to my seat. A break in the game allows the Lakers to travel from one end of the gym to the other where their seats are. A man at the top of the bleachers yells out “Go Lakers! Yay Lakers!!” The entire gym erupts with a standing ovation. The coach sacrificed ice time to come support the GPL kids. Pretty special moment.
As the night progressed I felt a sense of pride. I knew my life had just changed. I was proud because I was smart enough to realize that I was around something special. Not only was I around a group of kids, parents, and staff that would give me direction to a newfound faith, I was around the community of Watertown. The Watertown community took action and made that night about someone else. They left their excuses at the door of their homes. “it’s too cold” “I have to work early” “I’m 6 months pregnant :)” or “I’ve had a long day” were excuses I didn’t hear. The good of the community shined that night. It shined on a group of kids who deserve it.
4 basketball games were played that night. According to the scoreboard there was a winner and a “loser”. I feel like anyone who was there that night was a winner. We all got to experience great basketball and phenomenal kids. Personally, the night is up there in “Sam’s favorite days of all time”. Those kids and that gym is where my journey to find my faith officially begun. Funny how a 33 year old man can learn so much from 14-18 year old kids.
Tucked away behind some trees on 14th ave is a little school called Great Plains Lutheran. Inside you’ll find kids and staff with unquestioned character and kindness. I decided to accept a challenge from a friend and it changed my life. The community of Watertown decided to accept a challenge from some weirdo writing some silly blog and it gave those kids a night they won’t forget.
For those of you that showed up that night, I thank you. For those of you that thought about showing up but didn’t, I thank you. For those of you that read “A challenge to to the city of Watertown”, I thank you. To the head coach of the GPL boys varsity team, I thank you. To the Watertown Laker hockey team, I thank you. To the kids at GPL, I thank you. To the community, I thank you. Thank you for being part of these kids lives. For giving them that one night that they can forever hold onto. Thank you for showing me that the our community is amazing. I’m humbled by everyone who was, and is involved.
I issued a challenge and it was accepted in a big, BIG way. Never did I think my faith would be restored by my community. Never did I think a basketball program would bring me to church. At times I go to my closet and I rifle through my shirts. I pass on this one, that one is too “something”. I grab one and put it on and think “Nah, I don’t want this one”. I snatch another and lay it on the bed and glance over it thinking that’s the one. Turns out I never really did feel comfortable in that shirt. After countless tries I run across my GPL sweatshirt. I take it off the hanger and put it on and as the the cloth rubs against my face, I feel a smile coming on. This one fits perfect. This one I feel comfortable with. This is the one I can face my day with. Funny how a “sweatshirt” can make you feel that way.