Seasons of Success on the Field and Screen
During my years as an assistant coach in the football program at Permian High School, I was fortunate to be part of building the State Championship team that was also named National Champions in 1989 by both the Associated Press and ESPN. Permian had gained a gained a tremendous reputation for winning State Championships, winning them in 1965, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1989, 1991.
Permian High School was so well-known that in 1988 an author came to Odessa to follow us through our football season that year with the intent of writing a book about us. That book, Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and A Dream, made the New York Times Top Ten Bestsellers List. In December of 2004, a major motion picture based on the book was released which went on to be named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top ten best sports movies ever made. Two years later a television show of the same name was created that is now a widely known Emmy-Award winning series.
Secular Success and Biblical Success
During my years of involvement with organized sports teams, not only football, but also basketball, track, and baseball, I’ve had the pleasure of participating both as a player and a coach on a number of championship teams that believed in the philosophy of secular success. This philosophy is determined and measured by natural, human standards. The players place their faith in the team system: practice hard and everyone will experience miraculous success.
Secular success can, indeed, help players win championships. But rarely do the goals measured by secular success address the long-term, inner character development of the athlete.
Lasting success is only possible when we submit ourselves to God’s Word and become followers of Jesus the Christ in word and in deed. When players, coaches, and leaders include God’s principles within his or her action plans, there will not only be secular success, but biblical success as well. It is through achieving personal biblical success that one can effectively lead and guide others, best preparing them for success in life.
From my experiences in coaching the Permian High football team, the accolades bestowed upon those young men during that time and the championships they won, came as a direct result of their belief in the philosophy of secular success. I’m not arguing that having a secular success goal is all bad. As a coach, I am fully aware of the importance and crucial value of a solid game plan.
What I am saying is this—over the years, many of the students and players, of all ethnicities I’ve had the opportunity to work with in classrooms and sporting arenas all across the state of Texas, have told me later how valuable those beliefs I taught them regarding biblical success have been active in their lives years after they stepped off the field.
One Biblical Success Story
When Friday Night Lights: Untold Stories from Behind the Lights was released, many of my former athletes and students reconnected with me, as they heard about my book and read it. One of those students was Tony Carimi. I was his basketball coach and he was a high school sophomore. Recently Tony invited me to speak at the annual executive leadership meeting for his company and we began to reminisce about the good ol’ days.
“Coach, do you remember that conditioning drill you had us do called ‘snakes’?” Tony asked.
I said, “Yes, I definitely do.”
For this drill my players would out of the main gym and up into the stands. They would have to run up the stairs and down the stairs, up the stairs and down the stairs, snaking their way through the stands, across all the stands, until I got tired of watching them do it. And they’d have to do this before we began practice.
Tony could run those snakes drill all day and never break a sweat. He ran his hardest and never quit, never slowed down. He gave those snakes drills 100% effort, every time.
I remember one day hearing the upper classmen berating Tony.
“Carimi, slow down. You’re making the rest of us look bad, if you don’t slow down we’re going to get you after practice,” his teammate said.
I blew the whistle to end the conditioning, and called Tony over.
“Carimi, come here,” I looked him in the eye. “Don’t you EVER let anyone else dictate your behavior on this team. You have been blessed with a special gift, and I want you to use that gift, every single day for the glory of God.”
Being leadership-minded and intentional about building legacy, I had a conviction someone else had passed on to me that I was now passing on to Tony. I wanted to see him use his gift and not let anyone else take it from him or cause him to diminish it.
Years later, after I spoke at his work, Tony sent me a text message; here is some of what he wrote:
I just wanted to personally let you know how honored I was to have you kickoff our meeting today. A real-world example of “iron sharpening iron.”
Your calling at 62 is to speak and share your message. There is no doubt about that. I know that 27 years from now that someone will look upon your guidance today as a defining moment in their life. I thank you for your leadership and the time you invested in me 27 years ago. You are living out an amazing legacy for your mentors and your family.
As you spoke today about life and death, all I kept coming back to was one of my all time favorite verses. 1 Peter 1 24-25. “All men are like grass and their glory like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall but the word of The Lord stands forever.”
I look forward to standing by you forever.
God bless you.
Tony is just one of many biblical success stories I’ve seen, and I am thankful I got to see him as a young man and a grown man serving God. Let me leave you with two challenging questions:
1. I recognized a gift in Tony. Can you name a time when someone recognized a gift in you and encouraged you to use it?
2. Have you ever gone back to the person who encouraged you to let them know of the impact they had?