For the second year in a row the Fresno Pacific University baseball team was the national champion in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) World Series in Ohio. At midseason it looked to me like the team was unlikely to even qualify for post-season play. But the players never quit working hard. They kept on getting better, gaining skills, eliminating errors, building confidence, encouraging and carrying each other through the down times, creating determination. Multiple times when everything hung on one pitch, one stretching catch, one double play, one bunt, one home run with men on and no innings or outs left, all those countless times, they played like champions.
When few were watching and even fewer believed the Sunbirds could do it, team members pressed on to the very end to qualify for the NCCAA World Series. In Ohio they won the first three games. Their fourth game was very tough, but through a quirk of the tournament rules it ended after nine innings in a 2-2 tie, which was just enough to qualify them to move on. The next day they won the fifth game 4-3 on a single in the bottom of the 12th inning. They were in the championship game against Lee University!
Lee University is a great Christian institution in Tennessee. It is a much older, bigger, wealthier and stronger institution than Fresno Pacific. Like us, this is its final year of transition into NCAA Division II athletics. Lee’s winning margins in the series looked stronger than ours, but, undaunted, FPU won 6-2 and became the champion again.
The title Champion has two different meanings. Both are beautiful. Champion means the first-place winner, the best of the competitors. The FPU baseball team was the NCCAA World Series champion this year. But Champion also means one who fights for another person or for a cause. And at FPU all teams are aware that they are always champions in this second and more important way.
This year, our baseball team was a champion for young Emilio Gomez, who has been battling lymphoma for the past year. Emilio joined the team through a partnership with Team IMPACT, an organization that works to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses. And this team also played for the honor of Fresno Pacific, and ultimately for the glory of Jesus Christ. They are champions of a higher kind and they consistently demonstrated that reality in all aspects of their sportsmanship behavior and competitive performance. Their coach Oscar Hirschkorn and FPU Director of Athletics Leslie Schuemann believe passionately that God deserves the very best we can offer. This team learned a lot about how satisfying such an offering can be and how beautiful this kind of champion is. It is why our excellence really matters.
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