Fear and Loathing at Adamson Junior High

In the seventh grade I played wide receiver for Adamson Junior High.  In junior high football, playing wide receiver is essentially your coach’s way of telling you to run real far away so all the good players can do their thing.  I was very good at running real far away and making room for the good players on my team.

Our head coach was coach Roach.  That’s not some crude nickname we gave him.  It’s a real name his ancestors gave him a few generations back.  Coach Roach was legally blind and spoke with what sounded like a northeastern accent.  I became very familiar with Coach Roach’s thick, New York sounding accent every day when I tried to do some ridiculous move during our tackling drills.

“Sanduz!  Ya gonna git croooo-suh-fide!!”

Sometimes at night, I still hear coach Roach saying that.  I should probably get that checked out.

One time coach Roach told me that I looked like a million bucks.  I was proud.

We had just finished putting on our black and orange uniforms and were ready for an actual game.  I wanted to make sure I had everything on right so I checked with coach Roach.

“Coach, how do I look?”

“Ya look like a million bucks, Sanduz.”

After the game was over, I still looked like a million bucks.  There wasn’t a grass stain on me.

I didn’t play a whole lot and that was okay with me.  With every tackling drill and every game, I had visions in my head of a TV movie of the week being made about me.

Maimed for Life: The Jay Sanders Story

There was a kid named Robert on the 8th grade team that didn’t do much to help my fears.  The 7th, 8th and 9th grade teams all practiced at the same time and usually took water breaks together.  One of my friends warned me about Robert.

“Whatever you do, if you ever talk to Robert, don’t mention anything about last season.  He was on the 7th grade team last year and they went 0-8.  He still hasn’t gotten over that.”

One day, Robert came over to join us for our water break.  I had never spoken to Robert before so I thought I’d introduce myself.  A handshake seemed too boring and the fist bump hadn’t been invented yet so I went with the most logical option.

“Hey Robert, 0-8.”

I expected a laugh.  It never came.

Instead, he threatened to kill me.  The following Sunday at church, I was down at the altar, praying for God to protect me from the wrath of Robert.

Looking back on 7th grade football reminds me of the main reason why I quit playing and my lack of talent had nothing to do with it.  Plenty of guys play and even do well in sports despite a smaller skill set than the players they line up with and against.  The reason why my career never really got off the ground was that I was afraid.

I was afraid of getting my knee bent behind my neck.  I was afraid of getting my nose smashed in by Robert.  If those things happened, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my life.  Interestingly enough, those things didn’t have to happen to keep me from enjoying my life.

Fear did the trick all by itself.

This week I’ll lead my family in devotions that focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  A few days from now, I’ll tell my kids about the time when Jesus was afraid (Luke 22:39-46).  I’ll explain that his fear was not so much for the pain and abuse he would endure, as terrible as those things were.  I’ll tell them that he was afraid because he, the only perfect man who ever lived, was about to be punished for all of the sins that we committed.  I’ll probably tell my kids about the time in the seventh grade when I let what could happen keep me from doing something.  And then I’ll tell them about the time when Jesus knew what would happen but he did it anyway.  And on Sunday, I’ll tell them and my church about how Jesus rose on the third day, defeating the last great enemy and man’s greatest source of fear.

“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
(1 Corinthians 15:55-58 ESV)