Preteens aren’t exactly known to excel at conflict resolution. That’s why it was such a nice—although not totally unexpected—moment when Grace Lutheran’s athletic director Tommy Presley saw one of the girls he coached in basketball step in to stop a fight between two of the other players. One of the girls was competitive by nature. The other wasn’t. When an argument broke out on the basketball court, Kaelyn Thompson intervened and said, “Guys, we’re on a team, and we’re not supposed to act like that.”
Kaelyn had been trained for exactly that moment. Her teachers and coaches had spent years shaping her into a young woman with distinguishable character.
That’s what sports are all about at Grace Lutheran. Every student gets the opportunity to play since there are no try outs. Instead of cut-throat competition, players are taught how to be better people on and off the courts. Faith and sports have always been linked in some ways—we’re looking at you, Tim Tebow—but the coaches at Grace Lutheran take it up a notch.
“Everyone likes to win,” Tommy said. “However, we go beyond that. There is so much more you can learn from sports. You learn to be a leader among your peers. You learn how to apply Christian characteristics and Christian beliefs inside these sports systems.”
Tommy took over as athletic director in 2016 after serving as a Huntsville Police Department officer for more than 20 years. He’s not new to Grace Lutheran, though. He has been going to the adjoining church for years, and his daughters went through the school.
Students from grades prekindergarten to eighth grade can play any number of sports including volleyball, soccer, cheerleading, basketball, track and t-ball. In the coming year, they will be adding flag football and golf.
Do Your Best
Not every child is destined for sports greatness, and not every student will see those scholarship offers roll in during their senior year—sorry parents. What’s more important to the Grace Lutheran staff is that these students spend their sports-playing years learning where to focus their efforts.
“We’re looking for you doing your best for the glory of God,” Tommy said. “That’s who you’re giving your glory back to. By doing so, that same mentality transitions over to the classroom. Being disciplined inside the classroom, following the rules, doing your homework and doing the best you can on the work you do inside the classroom [are] the same concept. You just shift it from the sports field to the classroom.”
It goes both ways. There was one girl, a fourth grader named Hannah, who Tommy knew from church. It wasn’t until she came out for the first day of conditioning that he recognized the discipline she was learning in Grace Lutheran classes would transfer back to the gym.
“She is very focused and determined,” Tommy said. “She wants to do her best for God. I saw the transition in reverse. What I saw in her at church and in the classroom is now something I see in her athletics.”
After The Buzzer
Grace Lutheran’s sports program’s main focus is on developing the students, but this isn’t one of those no-keeping-score operations. Winning is still important—Grace Lutheran is in the Huntsville Independent School League with other small private schools—but they also focus on what happens when the Grace Lutheran Crusaders fall to an opponent. One of the core philosophies behind Grace Lutheran sports is to have students learn acceptance of victory and defeat.
“The way you act and the way you are and how you carry yourself, whether you win or lose, is critically important,” Tommy said. “Your character needs to reflect not being a poor sport about being disappointed or laying blame somewhere else…How you respond to something you’re unhappy about or something that did not go your way or something you’re sad about [are all] part of that sportsmanship. If you win, it’s about how you treat the other team.”
All of the coaches at Grace Lutheran strive to prepare the players to move ahead in their classrooms and then in their jobs. That’s why one of the key things they focus on is leadership and dealing with other people, even when times get stressful. Add to that an emphasis on discipline, and you have a strong combination of traits that will make the future business people of America ready to go to work.
Grace Lutheran coaches also want students to develop their skills and passions as servants by learning to work as a team. When these kids eventually graduate and go on to college and the workforce, their company and coworkers will take the place of the team, Tommy said.
“We teach our players that the rules are there for a reason—to protect them and to protect others and so they can be successful,” Tommy said. “The transition is that the same rules are applied in school. Your conduct and your actions are a direct reflection of who you are.”
There’s the kicker. It’s all about who they are as real, little, can’t-drive-yet, still-need-a-curfew people. Character education starts young at Grace Lutheran, so the world isn’t full of unethical adults in 20 years.
We thank them for that.