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Notes from the Back Row: Basketball and Civility and Humility


"And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17)

Civility is sorely lacking in politics these days — on the national, state and local levels — and, indeed, in the Kentucky Baptist Convention. So, I turn to basketball to find examples of excellence, civility, humility and just plain goodness. Oh, basketball has its share of brutishness and folly, of course, but one can also find rare examples of sportsmanship the like of which I think James A. Naismith had in mind when he founded the game in Springfield, Mass., in 1891.

As an observer of western Kentucky high school basketball today, I admire the humility of Murray High School’s Preston English, who despite the fact that he recently broke the all-time Murray High scoring record at 1,664 points, he carries himself on and off the court with a degree of dignity and calm that is unusual for a young man in the limelight these days.

The same can be said for Maddie Waldrop, the senior star for the magnificent Murray High School girls team, who has signed with the University of Tennessee-Martin. Overcoming ACL knee surgery, Maddie worked through that injury without complaint and is now back at full speed. Both of these Murray stars show humility and, yes, even politeness, on the court.

Maddie’s younger brother, Tommy Waldrop, a rising star, a smooth-shooting lefty, helps opposing players off the floor; not just his own teammates, but opposing players as well. I make note of this when I watch high school contests or at Murray State games at the CFSB Center or on ESPN.

That is not to say that these players are not aggressive in their play, but they play with an abandon and then, when the whistle blows, their demeanor is always polite and respectful toward the referees and toward their opponents. There is never pointing toward the opposing fans or the opposing coaches as I have seen with other players.

This basketball humility comes from good parenting, to be sure, but it also comes from good, sound coaching, and Coach Bart Flener and Coach Rachelle Cadwell Turner, public school teachers and themselves individuals of deep faith, not only know how to coach the game, they know how to coach young men and women too.

I also see this sort of coaching in the basketball teams of Webster County, my high school alma mater, where Jon Newton and Brandon Fisher teach as well as coach.

Years ago, I remember playing for Webster County on the road against Drakesboro and their all-state star Reggie Warford. Warford would go on to play for Joe B. Hall as the second African American basketball player at the University of Kentucky. Coach Eddie Ford ran a box and chaser on Warford and I was the chaser. I remember that Drakesboro’s coach placed Warford on the foul line, and I tried to stay with the elusive guard the best I could.

Warford talked to me the entire game, but it was not trash talk. He was invariably polite.

Once when I stole a pass, he complemented me on the steal. When I made a jump shot he praised me for the basket. Of course, at the end of the game, Warford scooped up a loose ball and hit a game winning shot at the buzzer. But he made a deep impression on me because of his decency.

When Murray Independent Schools Superintendent Bob Rogers, now a member of Murray’s First Baptist Church, was the head basketball coach at Henderson City High School in the early 1970s, his star player was Jim Lowry. I was in junior high school at the time, just learning how to play basketball and just learning how to live my life.

Henderson City’s Jim Lowry made a deep impression on me. He was a great ball handler and playmaker, averaging 17 points as a junior in 1969-1970 and 21 points his senior year in 1970-1971. He made all-district and all-region and was honorable mention all-state. Lowry went on to letter from 1972 to 1975 at Davidson where Stephen Curry played. You already know about the genuine Christian faith of Stephen Curry, now the star of the Golden State Warriors.

But what I remember most about Jim Lowry was how he handed the ball politely to the referees and how he helped opposing players off the floor. He stood out because of his play, but he also stood out because of his decency, because of his civility. Bob Rogers tells me now that Jim Lowry is still a fine man, leading a successful life of service today. It does not surprise me.

There is always a place for civility and humility, whether in basketball or life or even in the Kentucky Baptist Convention. And I need to remember that.

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