The score of the football games was St. Joan of Arc Elementary School—16, Cathedral Elementary School—12. Joan of Arc was moving the football down the field and was now on the Cathedral 27 yard line with a first down. If Joan of Arc scores, the game would be pretty much be over for Cathedral. With the game in the fourth quarter and 5 minutes 43 seconds to go in the game, it would take a miracle for a 7th and 8th grade team with an almost non-existent passing game to move the ball down the field with so little time left once Cathedral got the ball back.
I’m a defensive end for Cathedral charged with stopping any wide runs or turn the runner back to the middle of the field to get help from team members. The ball is snapped. The quarterback hands the ball off to a back that I see is coming in my direction. I push the blocker who makes contact with me out of my way but another player blocks me from behind. Surely one of the referees sees this illegal block and a penalty flag will put them back 15 yards. But there is no flag!
“Hey, ref!” I shout. “I was clipped! Didn’t you see that? C’mon, ref! Where’s the flag?”
I take my helmet off on the field of play as I approach the referee who I believe should have seen the clip to complain further. With that, the official pulls out a flag charging me with unsportsmanlike conduct—removing my helmet. The coach immediately pulls me out of the game. Rather than the ball being at the 26 yard line where the runner was tackled, it is not at the 11 yard line with a first down instead of a second down for Joan of Arc.
I’m out of the game and heading for the farthest end of the bench. Not far enough from my coach though—I see him coming quickly with a very stern look on his face.
“Peterson!!! I saw what happened. Yes, you were clipped but by taking your helmet off you’ve made the problem bigger and much worse for the team.” He stood next to me; put his arm around my shoulders. “A simple mistake is never fatal. Success is never final. It’s courage, determination and character that count, Peterson. Now when the next dead ball happens and if they don’t score, you’re going to forget what happened in the play I took you out for. You’ll hold your head up high and go out there and do your absolute best to stop them from scoring. Referees are human. They can and do make mistakes. But you don’t right a wrong by making a mistake either and not using your head the way God had intended you. Now get in there and do your best, Peterson!”
I have never forgotten that moment although it occurred more than forty years ago. I have repeated the coach’s words whenever I made a mistake, error in judgment or faced failure—and not just on the football field but in everyday living. It is my prayer for courage, strength and patience to get up and start over again or to continue where I left off without whining or complaining about past circumstances or conditions. I hold my head up high, confident in God’s mercy, compassion and forgiveness of my failings, sins and horrible misjudgments.
How do you respond to rash judgments, guilt without cause, adversity, failure and even success? It’s courage, determination and character that count. The courage, determination and willingness to listen to God through prayer, the reading of Sacred Scripture and moments of silence to let the Lord speak to you that build character and ultimately success—not as the world sees it but as God’s sees it.