My mind is a-flutter as I write this, so bear with me.
Last night was the girls’ soccer banquet which capped off yet another tremendous season. The way these girls work year after year to get to their high level is amazing. When I started shooting for the team, I took it for granted the way the organization operated. Once I started talking to other people who were a part of other soccer organizations, I started to fully realize how special the Clear Fork program truly is.
I’ve just finished my third full season with this team, and it has gone by quickly. It seemed like just a few weeks ago we were starting summer practices, and I was running around gathering up equipment for the coaches and introducing myself to new players. And now it’s done.
Some of you know my story. My good friend, Katie (who was one of the assistant coaches at the time), asked me to shoot some photos to raise some money for our mission trip at the end of the 2009 season. What started as casually shooting a few games turned into a desire to use my talents and passions to their fullest extent. See, I’m a natural-born sidekick. I thrive on being one who can make someone else’s visions come to life. About 10 or so years ago while in college, I started hanging out with some friends in Wooster at their youth group. God churned up a desire to help in that youth group, and I became the youth minister’s right-hand man. That experience helped me to realize what a) my faith was really about and b) what service was about. Joe, the youth minister, would come up with ideas and plans, and I was able to see where I could fit into the plan and contribute to achieve the end goal. And we were blessed by it.
Since junior high, I’ve been one to do everything I can to encourage a person. Encouragement comes naturally to me. I don’t always have the words to say, especially since I’m an introvert (no, really, this is a true statement), but I do all I can think of in attempt to keep that person built up. I graduated from Lexington. I spent 4 years in the marching band, and in Lexington, the band is like family. I absolutely loved to come back to football games and competitions in the years following graduation to holler for my fellow band mates. I remembered what it felt like to have someone cheering for me, so I wanted to do that for the others.
So, let’s come back to 2009. Katie asks me to shoot. I decide, “Hey, I can do this,” and I start coming to games. I figure this is safe for me…the sociable introvert can hang out, share his photography talent, and do his thing. But then I got the idea for making cookies, so I got the recipe Mom taught me and started bringing cookies to games. Then, I couldn’t help reaching out to give high fives on substitutions. I started to learn names.
They got to the District semi-final against Mansfield Christian. I was booked to do a family shoot in Columbus, and I had to leave within the last 5 minutes of the game to make it on time. They weren’t going to win that game, and it just about killed me to leave before the end. I felt like I was abandoning them after a mere 5 games.
I’m sure most of that team doesn’t remember I was even on the sidelines for those 5 games, but that’s ok. That’s not the point. That desire had stirred up in my heart and soul again, and I knew I wanted to be back on the sidelines. I ran into Coach Bechtel at Coach Laux’s daughter’s graduation party. I had to work up the nerve to talk to her because a) I didn’t know her outside of the 5 games, and she seemed pretty serious to me, and b) I’m an introvert, remember? I have to talk myself into talking to ANYONE I don’t know. 🙂 This is more or less how the conversation went:
Me: “Hi, Coach, I’m Jon Cole…the photographer.”
Coach: “Oh yeah!”
Me: “Would it be cool if I came back next season and did photos for the team?”
Coach: “That would be fine. You did a good job, and the girls seemed to like you.”
So, on comes the 2010 season, and I was on the sidelines. It was a bit nerve-wracking for me…I know what society in general is like. I knew I had to make sure people knew why I was there. I also had to figure out really how welcome I was to be there. I got my answer the night we took on Mansfield Christian in the tournament (See: An Open Letter to the 2010 Clear Fork Girls Soccer Team). 2010 was the year I got inspired to put my video experience to work to make a highlights film of sorts. So much fun!
2011 came along, and they let me come back again. This time, I was invited to go on the bus trips along with them. Status. 🙂 After the 2011 season ended, I was at loss of sorts of what to do with my new-found free time. It didn’t take me long to miss being around the team. I follow some of them on Twitter and Facebook, but it’s not the same sharing the personal experience in real life. I found out what time their indoor game in Lodi was when that season started, so I skipped youth group to go see the team.
I sat with some of the parents, and I cheered the only way I know how: loud and proud. I can still see some of their faces in my mind when I hollered the first time. They thought it was pretty funny I brought the outdoor game inside. 🙂 One of the parents made it a point to tell me, “In case no one else says this to you, I want to be sure you know we, as parents, appreciate what you do for our girls, and I know they do as well.”
I drove home that night thinking about those words. I had struggled with my life purpose in recent weeks. I had previously wondered if what I did really mattered to people outside of the moment. I felt good on the drive home. I felt better than I had in the weeks since outdoor season ended. My prayers changed from, “God, what do You want me to do?” to “God, I’d like to do more of what I did tonight. I don’t know what that is, but I know I liked being there for the girls, and I want to be able to do more of that kind of thing.”
I get copied on emails the coaches send to the girls throughout the year so I can keep track of what’s going on. One of the emails sent out had their Futsal information. The varsity girls were given their instructions, then the JV girls got theirs: they didn’t have a coach, and if someone didn’t volunteer to coach them, they were going to have to manage the games themselves. I got that nervous rush in my gut that I get when I believe God is telling me something. It said, “that’s you, foo’.”
I’m pretty sure that’s how God talks. Don’t judge me. 😛
My initial response was, “No, no, come on. Really? I don’t have the experience…it would be cool, but they’re not going to want me to do that. But, really, that sounds fun.” So, I emailed Coach Bechtel about it:
This may sound crazy, but depending on what you need done, I can help with Team White. Sunday afternoons work great with my schedule right now. Let me know what you think.”
I was preparing myself for “Nahhh you stick to photography,” and instead got a, “Yes we could always use you!” So, me and my limited soccer experience and zero coaching experience took to Wooster, and I managed a Futsal team for a couple of months.
And I LOVED it!
A couple of weeks later, I had been away doing something only to return home to find a curious envelope stuck to my door. Someone had cut out letters from a magazine to spell out “JON COLE” like it was a ransom note. I chuckled, and I wondered what some prankster was up to. I took it inside and opened it. It nearly dropped me to my knees. There was a gift inside and a simple message:
All I could do was cry and thank Jesus. I may never know who sent that, but I was completely blessed by it. At this point, I was pretty much convinced I was on the path God wanted me to be on.
Coach Bechtel and Coach Laux let me know that I was welcome at any of the team functions, so I decided when summer practices started, I was going to be at everything I could attend. I absolutely thrived on being the gopher for the coaches, assisting with drills, and even jumping in a drill when there was an odd number. And I even impressed one of my juniors with my speed on Internationals Day. 🙂 Exact quotes: “Holy crap!” and “How are you beating me? Oh, no offense!” Made my day!
All of the work I do with my photos, the sleep lost trying to keep up, and the hours spent on the end-of-season video can be exhausting. There have been nights where I’ve wondered if I needed to give up the effort and do something else with my life. But on the nights I feel that way, I tend to get encouragement out of the blue from people, be it via Facebook, Twitter, a text, a phone call, or running into someone at Wal-Mart with a story to tell.
I’ve gotten frustrated over the past few years because I’ve not had much luck in finding the right woman to marry. But I always end up reminding myself that in the meantime, because I don’t have a family of my own to be responsible for and take care of, I can pour my heart and energy into these students and their friends and families. I’m not in this for the money. Yeah, I like people buying stuff from me so I can maintain my camera gear and put gas in my car, but I honestly wish I could just do all this and not have to worry about money at all. If I could just do my thing for everyone in the program for free and still stay on top of my tech, I would. I love these students like I love my sister and my nieces, and I am blessed that some of them has trusted me as a friend to give them advice and encourage them in their everyday lives outside of soccer. I live to share my life experience in hopes it will help another person. I live to see a smile of someone I was able to help or encourage. I live to make another person’s life better.
When I get tweets like this one, I am moved to tears, and I thank God He’s put me where I am and thank Him for all the talents and abilities He’s entrusted to me. I’ve had students two years graduated from the program who have come back to me to tell me what impact I had on their lives.
That’s why I do what I do.
Thanks for reading,