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Life Lessons of Football

Nazarene Christian Academy Donates to JHS

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Even with all the quiet and seemingly playful chatter, the air in the room was tense with anticipation. The JHS lecture hall was almost full with the junior varsity and varsity football players. None of the athletes had any idea why they were there; everyone seemed confused and almost concerned about what could possibly be the reason which would bring all of them together in a single location, at the same time drawn together by the call of the PA system on a typical Wednesday morning.

“Are we in trouble?” several boys questioned Mrs. Cindy Green, secretary to Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Mike Burt.

Trouble? No. This was something very different than trouble.

Two weeks prior, Spanish, English and Newspaper teacher Mrs. Zachry reached out to Nazarene Christian Academy Football Coach Chris Connaughton after seeing a life-changing photo on FaceBook.  

“I almost couldn’t believe my eyes,” Zachry said. “It was my really good friend from high school, Stephen White’s son, Patrick, after his championship ball game.  He was standing there holding his medal, wearing a Paschal High School practice t-shirt that had been under his Nazarene jersey which is what caught my eye, but then Steve wrote about Aaron and the #33.  All the players had #33 stickers on their helmets honoring Aaron Singleton and his life.”

Other local schools have also honored Aaron by carrying his jersey onto the football field, but this felt a little different to Zachry. The difference was only intensified during the first phone conversation between Zachry and Connaughton.

“We wanted to adopt your football players in brotherhood,” Connaughton assured Zachry.  “We want to continue a brotherhood relationship with those boys so that they know we are here for them.  I reached out to Coach Burt and let him know that if any of his players wanted or needed someone to talk to other than a counselor or a teacher, if they needed a coach or another athlete to speak with them about what they were experiencing, they could turn to us. We are a Christian school so we can say and do things you cannot at Joshua. We are here for all of you in your moment of need.”

This amazing relationship between two schools, two football teams, was founded in a moment of sadness and loss.  It has created something beautiful that others can learn from and aspire to.

“The game of football is about much more than just being a game,” Connaughton said. “It is a brotherhood and it is also about living life lessons. I wanted our team to see that.”

NCA has gone above and beyond the call of sportsmanship of including their new brothers in the sport of football.  They have assured JHS they are thinking of us and remembering.

“I knew my players were too connected to Aaron and I did not want to dismiss this tragedy at all,” Connaughton said. “I have players who knew him through Eagle Scouts, through church. He was an important part of our school community, as well as yours.”

This connection between the two communities caused the wheels to turn in the coach’s ever-working mind and initially brought about the #33 stickers on the NCA team’s helmets for the remainder of their season.

“We had stickers with Aaron’s number 33 made up and the boys affixed them to their helmets,” Connaughton said. “They all wore them in our state championship game, a game that we won very well. It was wonderful to see Joshua football players in the stands there supporting us and we had Aaron there with us as well.”

Something kept telling Connaughton there was more. When Mrs. Zachry contacted him via FaceBook, to thank him, there was his chance.

“You know when you clean everything off the helmets and gear to get it ready for the next year? I just couldn’t bare to get rid of those #33 stickers,”  Connaughton said. “I want to do something special with them.”

Coach Connaughton had each athlete sign the sticker from his helmet, and with the assistance of Hobby Lobby, they were fashioned into a 33, displayed with one of their championship medals.  This was presented to Aaron Singleton’s mother, via Coach Burt in her absence.  In addition, NCA gave up their #33 jersey for the one JHS lost. Coach Connaughton presented this beautiful display to Principal Mick Cochran and it currently hangs in the grand entryway.

“This makes me very proud to be an ol’ football coach and son of a coach,” Cochran said.  “Every parent should be so lucky for their kid to play for someone like Coach Connaughton.”

The meeting between both teams Dec. 14 was well received and ended, after a beautiful prayer offered by NCA’s chaplain, with a meet and greet among all the players and coaches.

“It was really cool and super nice what they did for us,” junior Sean McKinley said. “I mean, we don’t even know them but they were nice enough to come here and bring this to us.”

Other players can see positive long term effects of the tragedy JHS has recently suffered.

“It means a lot to see them come here,” sophomore Arnie Griffin said.  “They had enough courage to come here and do that for us.  It’s really meaningful to see the way Aaron is having an impact on everyone here but also on people at other schools.  It really means a lot.”

There was great conversation brought into the lecture hall on that day in December when two football teams came together. It was well worth the tense waiting in the beginning and all the wonder about why they had been called there together.

“It was so very powerful what Nazarene’s coach shared with us,” junior Brandon Parrish said. “There’s no way it’s a coincidence there were 33 players, 33 stickers, Aaron was #33, and that’s the number of years Jesus walked the earth.  That’s so cool that they came here and shared that with us.”

The support of NCA and Coach Connaughton has been most unexpected and welcomed during this difficult time.

“Coach Connaughton, his staff, his team, all of the NCA community are greatly appreciated for their outreach and love shared to the Singleton family and our football family,” Coach Burt said.  “They all epitomize character and class.”  

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3 Responses to “Life Lessons of Football”

  1. Jeremy Singleton on January 6th, 2017 9:14 pm

    Thank you so much for doing this for my little buddy Aaron.
    – From all of Aaron’s family.

  2. Julie on January 7th, 2017 3:30 pm

    Coach Ballew was 33 when he passed and my moms exact words were that . Jesus lived 33 yeas on the earth

  3. Therese ashworth on January 8th, 2017 9:03 am

    I am so proud to be a teacher. These coaches and players are an inspiration to all of us. Imagine how,that one act of kindness affected so many people! This is the way we teach our kids to be better people.

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Life Lessons of Football