Friars fight hard at Luther Bowl, make it to championship game

At the 52nd Luther Bowl flag football tournament in Gettysburg, PA this year, the VTS Fighting Friars were easy to spot, dressed in bright, flamingo-pink jerseys. After winning the first two games of the day, we played in a playoff game, where we played almost flawlessly. We had two lightning-fast receivers in Wes Arning and Seldon Walker, without a doubt, two of the most athletic players on the field among all six seminary teams. The Rev. Mark Jefferson threw pinpoint passes, and our defense was rock-solid. We won 40-0, and we headed into the championship game.

 But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our story starts with our first practice this season, on September 15. We played backyard-style that day, drawing up trick plays with a finger on the opposite palm. In the following weeks, I taught our team an offensive system and a zone defense. New players picked up quickly, and we practiced calling plays, blocking, throwing, catching and pulling flag belts every week in September and October. We were ready for the Luther Bowl. The weather was perfect on the historic Civil War battlefields at Gettysburg. As we played our first two games before lunch, it became clear that senior Michaelene Miller was a natural at the running back position, scoring multiple touchdowns. Our defense was coached by junior William Boyles, who furiously called out defensive formations and blitzes like a seasoned pro. Anchored by tough, athletic women like Anna Broadbent at wide receiver, Anna Shine roughing the passer, and Jennifer “Tuck” Rodgers at linebacker, our offensive and defensive lines were poised for action. For the past two seasons, Pittsburgh’s Trinity School of Ministry has won the Luther Bowl tournament. We lost the championship game to them in 2016. As the coach, I knew that if we played with integrity and played smart and hard as a team, we would be proud of ourselves at the end of the day. The championship game was ten times more physical, fast, technical, and emotional than the first three games we played that day. Senior DeWayne Cope was our center, and he had to block the two of the largest men in the tournament, who rushed directly at (and sometimes through) him every play. He held steady, embodying the toughness of the Fighting Friars. Trinity was not afraid to play hard, and we responded in kind. In the last two minutes of the game, we sacked their speedy quarterback for a safety, then completed a 50-yard pass to the five-yard line, where we lined up for one last play. When the clock expired, we had lost by two points.  All 18 players performed with their whole hearts in every game, soldiering on through painful injuries. Many of them fought back tears when the realization hit that the season was over. While we didn’t win the championship, the one that gets recorded for posterity and comes with a small trophy, in the eyes of this coach, the team in flamingo-pink ended the day as winners and should be tremendously proud. We ministered to each other and our opponents through sportsmanship. We supported our teammates, and every one of us had at least one brilliant moment of personal victory throughout the day. The 2017 Fighting Friars were one of the best teams I have ever been a part of, and it will forever be my honor to have been called ‘Coach.’

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