As I rolled towards Spartanburg with the roaring metropolis of Due West, SC (mercifully) in my rear view mirror, I wondered what I would find when I reached Spartanburg Regional Medical Center.
I had just finished a broadcast of Landrum High School football, one that already had my nerves rattled. In the middle of the second quarter, my cell phone began to blow up. Literally.
Text after text, call after call kept coming. The question was the same: “Are you at the Chapman game?” I finally had to put down the headset and find out what was happening. That’s when I got the news: Preston “Moose” Durham was carted off the field with a lower leg injury.
The rumors, of course, were flying fast and furious. He broke both legs. Bone was sticking out. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Fortunately, truth was much better than fiction.
His injury might end his season, but it will not end his career. To understand this, you have to know “The Moose.” He is the high school version of Chuck Norris and the Dos Equis Man rolled into one. He is also part of the youth ministry at my church, Inman First Baptist.
This is a young man that quotes ancient Irish blessings for his closing prayers at church. He has no “clique,” yet he is a friend to everyone. The only people he tends to look down on are those who look down on others. He took a lead role among the youth to initiate a new Food Pantry ministry at Inman First, sponsored by the youth.
Now, his senior season has ended. Friday night melted into Saturday morning as I took the long road to Spartanburg Regional, listening to high school scores from around the state. My eyes began to water at the realization that I would never see “Moose” play high school football.
I can only imagine what was happening in the heads and hearts of those who are much closer to him than I am. But it was still a sobering reality that my plans to watch the Panthers on Homecoming and Senior Night in October would not include #33.
I opened the Food Pantry at Inman First at 8:30 on Saturday morning, barely awake. As we served those who came in, two lessons that we can all learn from Moose’s injury came to mind.
The first is that sports is great; but, it does not make great individuals. Moose Durham’s work with the Food Pantry and other areas of churh/school life will go largely unrecognized compared to his athletic skills. But the impact will last much longer and reach many more people.
There is no question that we place too much emphasis on athletics (So says a guy who works with ESPN). The more important achievements happen when great athletes do great things off the field. Moose is one more reminder that a lasting impact happens when athletes use their abilities in more important areas of life.
The second lesson from this injury is particularly pointed towards young athletes. It’s critical to work hard at your craft, but it’s a mistake to put all your eggs in that basket.
Fortunately, Moose is well on his way to recovery and will heal just fine to be ready to play next season at the next level. But he is able to look forward to that because he is an outstanding student-athlete, with the student part coming first. He has developed his abilities as a student, public speaker, actor, singer, amateur comedian, and a Christian. Those skills will serve him much longer than his ability to play football.
Sports is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing. The more student-athletes get that message the way that Moose Durham has, the better off we will be, on the field and off it.