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Coaches reach out

There are trophies atop a bookshelf on the back wall. They sit behind an encased softball bearing the illegible autographs of former players. Hanging just to the left of those trophies are schedules of spring sports. Scattered around the room are assorted media guides, pictures of family members, miscellaneous files and various pieces of athletic equipment.

This is the room where much of the success of Demopolis High School athletics begins. The look of the athletics office is in many ways a reflection of the lives of the men who utilize it.

Their days are hectic. They are teachers. They are coaches. They are husbands. They are fathers. They arrive early, leave late and would not recognize downtime if it shot the A-gap and forced them into a punting situation.

Given their wide-open, on-the-go lifestyles, this morning is particularly special.

It is 6 a.m. on a Wednesday. Most of Demopolis is scarcely out of bed yet, but the men of the Demopolis High School athletics department are here, circled around the room, ready to turn this room into something else entirely.

In minutes, these walls, which ordinarily hear talk of offenses, defenses, strategies and practice plans, will allow men of strength to openly discuss their vulnerabilities, to attentively listen, to fervently pray.

“Coaches, they have a lot of stresses that the normal population does not have,” Don Sprewell says of the men whose thoughts he helps guide.

He and Steve Mangum were asked to lead the weekly meetings when they initially began in January 2008.

“Being asked to work with these coaches in this study was an answered prayer because I’m going to get closer to these coaches and I’m going to get closer to Christ through this,” he explains.

The curriculum the group utilizes for its weekly Bible study session comes from Coaches Outreach, a non-profit organization started by former NFL player Tommy Maxwell.

Each subject is broken up into 13-week segments designed specifically to cater to the specialized needs of coaches.

“Me, personally, it’s been the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life other than my wife and kids,” DHS head football coach and athletics director Tom Causey says of the weekly study sessions he shares with his staff. “It’s unbelievable. It’s all geared for coaches. The thing I like about the study itself is that you have four sections each week. You take it and apply it to your individual life.”

Causey admits that he initially brushed off the idea of implementing the studies when first arriving in Demopolis in 2007 before later relenting.

“It rejuvenates you in the middle of the week when you really need it,” Causey says of the session. “Our coaches don’t have time to go to services on Wednesday night because 99 percent of them coach year-round.”

Since launching the weekly study more than a year ago, the group has grown considerably.

“I know we don’t pray for patience, but you can see a lot more patience in what we do,” says Kyle Williams, who is an assistant coach with the football and softball teams. “You can tell that everybody has calmed down a lot. It’s helped the coaching staff to grow together, too, especially since we all go to different churches.”

Girls’ basketball coach Tony Pittman, who has sat quietly for some time, speaks up about some of the challenges he has personally encountered in his career. The group listens. Building off his colleague’s thoughts, Causey relays some of his ideas.

This morning, the men are studying the book of Psalms.

“They soak it up like a sponge,” Sprewell says of the coaches. “They work real hard. They take it with them, and they’re trying to do it in everyday life.”

It is a unique scene. Nearly a dozen men whose vocations are marked by competitive fire sit, listen, ponder and pray.

“There’s a peace in these meetings that man didn’t do,” Sprewell says.

Causey knows that peace well. He says it helped him when he needed it the most.

He remembers standing on the field at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery on Nov. 21 and watching many of his players bawling in anguish after a penalty called with no time left on the clock allowed Carver to hit a chip-shot field goal and bounce his team from the state playoffs. It was an emotional scene stemming from a questionable call.

“I would have lost control, I know,” Causey says, pointing to the spiritual enrichment he has received from the weekly studies with his staff. “At the end of that game, when it happened the way it happened, I felt like I got punched in the stomach. Then, a calm came over me, and I know what that was.”

Causey also credits the studies with helping him to grasp the gravity of the position he holds.

“Coaching is a ministry. We get the attention of kids that a lot of folks don’t,” Causey says.

“I see changes in these guys, and they take it to the kids,” says Sprewell, who also leads a study for many Demopolis athletes on Friday mornings. “And I see changes in the kids that there’s no doubt where they came from.”

Sprewell is genuinely excited about the work. When he was first asked to help with the studies, he was surprised. He prayed about the opportunity, seeking to determine if was the right fit for it.

“One of the biggest promises of God is that if you pray, He’ll be with you,” Sprewell says.

Head softball coach and assistant football coach Joey Browder reads off the items on this week’s prayer list. He asks if there is anyone else that should be mentioned. Sprewell closes the group in prayer. It is almost time for the first bell of the school day, which means that these 11 men must leave the sanctuary of what will again become an athletics office and go on about their otherwise hectic lives.

But they will think on the lessons they have learned. They will occasionally take time to text-message one another a scripture they have found interesting. And they will look forward to the same time next week, when they will again sit down with their colleagues to sharpen a common faith.