(This story appeared in the April 11 edition of The Anderson News.)
What if a baseball game was scheduled and there was no one there to pitch?
Or what about the wrestling meet without a referee? Could a March Madness game be rescheduled because neither team had enough to play?
None of those scenarios would be far-fetched if Anderson County wrestling parents Brad Briscoe and Blake Drury have their way. The two are part of what is now an informal local drive to challenge parents to reevaluate priorities when it comes to one’s faith and how it relates to sports.
“Kids have so many things pulling them in different directions today,” says Drury, the Chief Information Officer for Anderson County Schools. “Kids have so many opportunities. Every sport has a year-round component. Should I play one sport or multiple sports?”
And, Drury says, another factor affecting kids is how important is one’s commitment to his church or youth group?
“There are so many things pulling on kids,” Drury says. “Brad and I talked about it. We believe it is up to the parent to decide what is important.”
And they leave little doubt that regardless of their children’s athletic ability, their church life will take precedence.
Drury’s son, Zane, is a promising freshman wrestler at Anderson County High School. As a middle schooler, he was ranked as one of Kentucky’s best in his age group.
Briscoe, a local physical therapist, has two children who could make significant impact in their sports. His son, Braxton, is an eighth-grader who wrestled for the Anderson County High School team before suffering an injury in the recently completed system. Braxton was the subject of a feature story that appeared in The Anderson News last July 26. He’s nationally-ranked in some various wrestling and jiu-jitsu ratings. Briscoe’s daughter, Brylee, is a dynamite guard on the Anderson County Middle School team. Brylee also suits up for Kentucky Premier, a travel team consisting of some of the state’s best at the various age levels.
Briscoe’s wife, Stacy, coaches their daughter at Anderson Middle.
“Our son missed three matches last season because they were on Wednesday night,” Briscoe says. “Our daughter missed the second half of a championship game of a basketball tournament (for Kentucky Premier) because it was time for church.”
Drury adds that his son missed two meets and would have missed a third if it had not been snowed out.
It’s a stand that isn’t always popular, Briscoe says. “Oh, yeah, some people think I am crazy, but I know my values and I would expect the world to be different.”
And that is the key to the stand that Briscoe, Drury and some other local parents are taking. They have no beefs with the Anderson County Board of Education or the respective athletic programs. They just feel it is time for Christian parents to take inventory of what is really important in life.
Briscoe explains, “If everyone who claimed Christianity said, ‘OK, you have events every Wednesday night, every Sunday and every Sunday night. That’s fine, but we won’t be there, it will change.”
Drury, who helped coach Anderson wrestling, says they went to head coach Hunter Lilly, who understood their desires. “I shared with Hunter that on Wednesday nights, we have church at 7, but practice was going until 7:30, so we would be leaving early. Eventually, Hunter decided to have longer practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Lilly indicated he “a little surprised” at first, but worked with the families. “I grew up going to church on Wednesday nights myself, so I understood where they were coming from. I obviously wasn’t going to punish the kids for that decision, but I do think their teammates noticed when they were absent for matches.”
Drury added that earlier in his son’s wrestling career, then Anderson Middle School coach Jonathan Haddix decided to eventually skip Wednesday practices. “We decided four practices a week were plenty,” Drury says. “The parents and coaches are making it work.”
Lilly says that having no practice on Wednesday was originally brought up by the parents, but it also had a bit of an advantage athletically. “Part of the reasoning was their pushing of the idea, but another was that it just worked well that way for our schedule. We would have 3.5 to 4 hour practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays that included an intense conditioning workout, so that day off in between allowed our guys to recover physically.
“Our practice format worked really well for us this past season and I plan to keep it that way for consistency’s sake in the future. If I have guys who come to me asking for more mat time on their off days however, I feel its my responsibility as a coach to provide that opportunity.”
Scheduling matches, however, can be a problem. Lilly says his team had Senior Night on a Thursday this year, but “it worked out just fine.”
He says that in the future he hopes to schedule more matches on Tuesday or Thursday, but it’s not guaranteed. “We very well may start a trend of moving these midweek matches as I feel the sport would adapt to either option of Tuesday or Thursday. Those are just some of the reasons I feel that Wednesday nights have traditionally been a popular night for meets. So in short, yes I will attempt to continue scheduling on those nights, but I will also still commit to Wednesday night matches at other school if that is the only option I have to fill our schedule.”
Briscoe adds that the biggest challenge for his son is found in major wrestling and jiu-jitsu tournaments in which his son competes around the nation. “We just don’t do Sunday morning tournaments,” he said. “We will have church or will go to church somewhere.”
However, both parents recognize there are differences between sports. While wrestling is largely an individual sport with a team element, others, such as basketball or football are true team sports that rely on working together in order to get the best team results. The consequences could be different, depending on the sport.
But the bottom line is still the same. It’s still a parental choice.
“I have done a lot of research on this,” says Drury. “I am in no way judging any parent in what they decide. It’s a determination each parent has to make.”
Briscoe says he started seeing the what he believes to be a misplaced importance on youth sports about 10 years ago. He adds that it really is a matter of priorities. “People try to bend God around to fit their schedules instead of changing themselves.”
While Briscoe says his wife will not schedule middle school basketball games to interfere with popular church times, Wednesday nights are popular times for smaller wrestling matches. While Lilly generally tries to avoid that night, it is becoming more and more difficult with schools offering a full roster of sports and activities crowding already limited facilities.
Says the coach, “The problem is that in the wrestling community across the state, Wednesday night is traditionally the night most mid-week events are held. So if you’re looking to fill your schedule, nearly all of the meets hosted by other schools are held on Wednesday nights.”
“We don’t expect the schools to be the church,” Briscoe says. “The public schools aren’t run by the church. We are just asking Christian people to stand up.
“We have people who think their kids are going to buy them a home or take care of them after they become a professional athlete. They put all the emphasis on those things and then we wonder why society has gone down the toilet.”
Drury adds that putting faith ahead of athletic glory is difficult at times, “But that’s where we are right now. To me, it’s about teaching my son what is most important.”