It was an uncharacteristically hot day in San Diego, but with high school tennis finally in full swing (pun fully intended), sweat was simply a byproduct of success. And I hadn’t exactly paid attention to the changing scenery as just hours earlier we had driven for quite some time into Central California.
By the time I pulled my head out of a textbook in the third row of our tennis team’s transit van, the palm trees seemed to have been so rudely replaced by an unwelcome heat and a spattering of run-down barns.
At last, after warming up and trying in vain to cool off, the time came to represent the “Cathedral Catholic High School” name plastered across my chest. We headed to our courts, established I would serve first, and began.
Or rather, we almost began. The ball was actually in the air when I heard the noise for the first time. Technically, the awful sound that a goat makes is referred to as a “bleat.” I caught the ten-nis ball I had tossed into the air only moments earlier, and turned to stare at the origin of the noise.
Both farmer and goat stared straight back at me from the other side of the chainlink fence, one I now saw was effectively to separate a tennis court from a goat farm. And seemingly straight out of a Google Images search for “farmer,” in his plain overalls and work boots, this man then re-sumed milking his goat while at the same time never severing our eye contact.
I didn’t lose many matches that year. I lost that one, thanks to the fact that a bleating goat de-cided to vocalize how very much it enjoyed the milking process. But California abnormalities notwithstanding, sports are unique, unparalleled in their ability to bring together unique de-mographics under the excuse of athletic participation.
The recently-concluded Olympics embody this unity, where, despite political or social incongrui-ties, our world may celebrate the glory of athletic achievement. Franciscan University’s own Di-vision III men’s tennis team, one which does not offer athletic scholarships and which boasts a budget the size of some tennis teams’ change purses, nonetheless introduces myself and my fel-low teammates to individuals and to places I know will never be forgotten.
So long as the goal of each and every dedicated Christian is the spread of the Gospel, athletes are gifted an opportunity that their sport alone could never afford them. Sports unify, and unity facil-itates a welcoming environment for the Gospel to thrive. The pedestal upon which athletes stand necessitates our understanding of the role we serve. We do not and we cannot play for ourselves.
If athletes identify by the racket in their hands, or by the basketball in their palms, then as the game goes, so goes their self-worth. An athlete who identifies by sport instead of by the God for which they compete serves to fully sell himself short of the purpose of everything he seeks to ac-complish. God wants more for us than a dunk, or an ace, or a goal, or a try.
“Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24