The Cheering Section

23rd of March, 2017

During the last couple of years in Chicago I became friends with a man by the name of Brian “Boomer” Roberts. Boomer coaches basketball at Trinity International University in Deerfield, just north of Chicago. We attend the same church in neighboring Lincolnshire, and instantly became friends after talking one Sunday.

Boomer’s team has become like family to me and have helped me realize what it feels like to be a fan. I come to games, I yell, I scream, I harass the refs – you know, usual fan stuff. His team made the NAIA DII tournament for the first time in 10 years, and I, being a fan of this team I now call family, had to come support them. I thought it was the perfect set up. Our team playing the host school in the prime time game: us against the world. Things couldn’t have been primed for a better situation as a fan. But boy, was I wrong.

I entered the arena in my blue and white Trojan shirt, as one of about 30 fans who made the eight-hour drive (or four-hour flight from Dallas, in my case) to come support the team. We were surrounded by a sea of maroon. From college students, to faculty, to locals and even out-of-towners, no one gave us a chance. And my job, as small as it may have seemed, was to cheer as loud as humanly possible, and bring others along with me. I was ready for anything that the opposing fans had to give me. But it is what I WASN’T ready for that almost had me leaving the game early.

About five minutes into the first half, a Trojan fan came up from behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. “Can you please sit down?” he said. “People behind you can’t see.” I was so confused. The one reason I came was to cheer on the guys in the best way I knew how, and now, someone who was supposed to be on my team was telling me to stop.

“No,” I replied. “There are plenty of seats in front of me. If someone can’t see, that person can move to one of these seats.” Needless to say, the other Trojan fan wasn’t happy with my response. A few minutes later, ANOTHER Trojan fan came up and asked me the same thing. “Please, if you don’t want to sit down, at least move to the front so we can see.”

Anyone that knows me knows that this kind of thing goes against every fiber in my being. We are FANS – you know, FANATICS. In other words, our job – especially in this single-elimination tournament – is to stand and cheer, not sit and watch. My reply was the same, “Sir, there’s an entire student section for the other team standing up and cheering. One of the players’ family members is standing and cheering. I’m not going to sit down. I’m here to cheer for my team.”

In the middle of our conversation, a SECURITY GUARD comes over and asks the guy I’m speaking with if there are any issues. Even the security guard, though he acknowledged my right to stand, asked if I would move to a different seat. This situation made no sense to me. I came to the game, waited in line, paid for my ticket – and in my opinion, I had every right to stand and cheer, no matter who else said otherwise.

I was starting to get a little perturbed and, quite frankly, a little bit angry. But it wasn’t until a gentle word from the person sitting next to me that I changed my approach. “Hey,” she said. “I’m totally with you. But this is such a great moment for the boys, let’s not let anything detract from that. How about this, if you move, I’ll move with you. That way, this doesn’t keep going on. Sometimes you have to take one for the team.”

She was right. This game was not about me, nor was it about the person behind me. It was about the team and everything they were trying to accomplish. They had come this far, and my emotions and frustrations had no place at the table that night. So subtly, but humbly, I moved. I went to a side of the stands where I wasn’t in anyone’s way and cheered my socks off for the Trinity International Trojans.

Sometimes, it was just me. Other times, the other Trojan fans joined in. But I made sure that our voice was heard and our presence was felt. The team went on to win that night and advance in the tournament. Though my pride took a blow, I knew I did the right thing when the players came up to me after and thanked me for yelling.

“We felt you out there, bro. Thank you for coming.”

Those are the ten words every fan wants to hear. Thanks guys, and Go Trojans!

#LFG

Why I’m a Trojans Fan

13th of March, 2017

These past few months have been a blast. Want to know why? It’s because of Trinity International University basketball.

TIU is well known in some circles for its notable alumni, including authors and leaders like Ravi Zacharias, Bill Hybels, and many others. But as a NAIA Division II school, it’s not quite as well known for its sports teams. Translation: it’s near the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to the scholarships it can give, the talent it can attract, and the opportunities to build a championship program.

But don’t tell that to Boomer Roberts, the 30-year-old head coach of TIU’s men’s basketball team. Boomer and I became friends during my time in Chicago and I’ve watched him turn this “bottom of the totem pole” team to a national title contender.

It’s true. His team just set a school record for wins, beating teams it has never beat before, making it all the way to the semifinals – the furthest the school has ever been in the NAIA DII tournament. And while the team had set its sights on winning it all, no one can deny the magnitude of their accomplishment.

Boomer’s team is led by a young man named Grant Corsi. Grant may not be the leading scorer, or a first team All-American (he’s second team), but ask anyone and they’ll tell you: he’s the heart and soul of the Trojans. Grant is a natural-born leader. He and I developed a pretty cool relationship as well, and I’ve watched him mature over the past year from a junior who “wanted it” to a senior who was going to help his team go and get it. Grant and I attend church together and we had a conversation before his senior season. The dedication in his eyes was unmatched. We also had a conversation right before the tournament. He was sharing his heart for his teammates and his desire to see them grow as men. Not bad for a 22-year-old.

Then there is his teammate, Zach Kirschbaum. Zach IS an All-American and happens to be league MVP. None of that is by accident. Zach is as talented as they come, but he is surrounded by a coach who pushes him, teammates who motivate him, and a family who loves him. And don’t let his 6’10” frame fool you – Zach is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, at least off the court.

Behind him is Henry French, the spark. People usually come to games just to watch him light up an arena with one of his gravity-defying dunks. He’s actually in the NAIA dunk contest, which takes place on March 18 during the NAIA DI championship game. Behind them is a host of playmakers, talented in their own right: Jeremy and Greg Carlyle (twins from Compton), Luke Mead (aka “Grandpa”), plus so many other great players like Sean, TJ, Will, DJ, Nate, Sam, Rick, Mark, and Nate. Each one of these guys brings something unique to the table, and each one of them plays a unique role on the team. But the reason they win is not because of talent. They win because they love each other. They love each other with a true, genuine love that is hard to come by in sports.

So hard to come by, in fact, that when you see it, you take note. And that’s what makes this team so special. It’s evident. Their love for each other emanates from the court and the bench. I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve even been in the locker room postgame and seen – win or lose – how these men stand together as brothers who do not criticize but compliment each other’s play. They build each other up. They care for one another. They see each other as more important than themselves.

As a professional athlete who is also a Christian, this is so refreshing for me. Jesus talks about us being the salt of the earth, to help preserve things that are good. This team is doing just that. Jesus also talks about us being the light of the world, and a city on a hill that can’t be hidden. This team exemplifies that better than I’ve ever seen.

So keep shining, boys. I know the season didn’t end the way you may have wanted, but what God did through you made more of an impact than any game ever could. Much love my brothers.

#LFG