Tommy Presley is one of those teachers who makes you want to learn. If life was a 1990s sitcom, he would throw the book in the trash and sit on the edge of his desk, teaching students about faith, sports and everything in between.
As a former Huntsville police officer, Tommy knows a lot about life, and the skills he teaches in his theology classes and sports at Grace Lutheran are the things kids today need to know — lessons like how to be a good friend and teammate, how to talk to people you don’t have anything in common with, and even how to be a good sport when you lose.
But what about the kids who aren’t blessed athletically? Or the ones who aren’t old enough to have Tommy in class just yet. Or those who just aren’t interested in sports? Will those kids miss out on social skills just because they have different interests?
Not if Tommy Presley has anything to do with it.
A few months back, he started a gaming club for kids who were more interested in boardgames — like Pokémon cards and Dungeons and Dragons — to make sure they get the same social skills as kids who play sports. And Tommy wants to get to know these students even before they come into his class. Strong role models are one of those things kids can’t have enough of.
To get things going, he enlisted the help of one special teen, his 17-year-old daughter, Lexi.
“My dad had come to me asking about if it would be a good idea because it was his idea in the first place, and I was on board because I thought it would be a way for kids who don’t really get into athletics to be able to bond with kids who share interests with them and to develop those social skills,” Lexi said.
The Presleys are a big gaming family that bonds over dice, cards and boards. Plus, they don’t mind if you compare them to the characters on “Big Bang Theory” when they get excited talking about a particular game of DND — that’s what the cool kids call Dungeons and Dragons.
The major difference between the games at the Grace Lutheran Gaming Club and the ones other preteens play is that this club is a way to get them away from the screens.
“Video games … can still be fun to play, but boardgames get you more involved, so you’re not staring at a screen,” Lexi said. “It’s less technology-based and more getting you involved with people around you.”
Boardgames tend to be less violent than video games, but then again, there’s no telling what will happen if a game of Monopoly gets out of hand.
Pokémon and Poké(women)
Tommy got the idea for a game club when he saw a middle school student playing Pokémon cards. It was at an after-school function, and the boy was so wrapped up in the game that it peaked Tommy’s curiosity. The boy taught Tommy how to play that day.
Most of the time, Tommy is tied up with his coaching responsibilities — he currently heads the girls basketball, cheerleading and soccer teams — but he noticed that a there were a group of kids who didn’t sign up for sports.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be involved in the athletics is to connect to kids and be able to help them learn the life lessons out of athletics,” Tommy said. “You get so much more than just winning or losing in a game. There are so many things you learn. And to connect with them from a spiritual sense — to be able to have discussions of the Scripture and be able to impart that basis to them — I noticed that I didn’t have that connection with this group of kids who didn’t play athletics.”
While he was brainstorming a way to reach the kids who weren’t in sports, Tommy remembered the boy who taught him Pokémon, and he reached out to see if he thought a gaming club would be a good idea.
“I thought it would be good to be able to connect with those kids who I couldn’t connect with because they didn’t play sports,” Tommy said. “I could connect with them through this gaming club.”
Right now there are 13 middle-schoolers who come to the gaming club, but Tommy hopes it grows to include more.
There’s a certain appeal to some of these games because a lot of the concepts aren’t things we find in every day life. You don’t see dragons walking down Memorial Parkway or Pokémon flying around Bridge Street. Still, there was a time when supernatural things did happen, and it’s all written down in the Bible.
For example, take the story in 2 Kings, when God sent horses and chariots of fire to protect someone, or the parting of the Red Sea.
“It’s exciting to read an actual account of something that most people might consider just mystical in nature,” Tommy said. “It’s actually the Word of God, so there’s a connection there.”
Or what about the fact that there’s one Pokémon who made all the others and one who was good, but now he’s bad. Sound familiar?
Tommy uses these opportunities to talk to the students about their faith.
“It’s interesting how the Pokémon world derives some of its ideas from the concept of the Bible,” Tommy said. “We’re able to talk about those discussions, and I was able to share scripture that I’m not sure any one of them had ever heard before.”
As for Dungeons and Dragons, Tommy recognizes it used to be controversial from a Christian point of view. Today, it’s all what you — or the Dungeon Master — make it. Even that game plays an important role in his efforts to teach kids about Jesus.
“It’s just a game, and that’s the way it should be treated,” Tommy said. “It’s simply a game, and it’s when the individuals start taking the game — and the game becomes their focus — that (it) then becomes their idol, which goes against the teachings of Christ. So you have this opportunity to teach someone to have fun fellowship with other people, other Christians, but still keeping God and Christ at the center of everything you do.”
With the school year winding down, parents are thinking about new opportunities for their kids. If you’re thinking about a school change, we encourage you to head over to Grace Lutheran. And if your child loves games, there’s a great place for him or her in the newly established gaming club.
The Community Journal is dedicated to sharing the good news in our community. We believe when we focus on good, more good happens.
Do you know a good-news story that should be on the Community Journal? Send it to us by clicking here.
We are looking for video storytellers. Do you know how to use Facebook Live? Are you a storyteller or aspiring journalist? Would you like to be a part of our team? Contact us at [email protected]
We also want to invite you to join our new community, AUTHENTIK.city. We firmly believe people don’t hate each other as much as we’ve been led to believe, so we’ve created a community of people who want to be a part of the solution—a social platform based on real stories; a community grounded in respect and love for others. No bullies. No trolling. No ads. No judgment.
Click here for your invitation to join.