Choosing Christ more important than college choice

By John Herndon,

High school graduation season is upon us. It’s a time of excitement and sadness, of looking forward and looking back. It’s a time of smiles and tears, both driven by joy.

As this column is typed on May 22, some schools near my home in central Kentucky have already had their graduation ceremonies. Others are planned in the next few days. If you are reading from another area, your graduation season might not start until the calendar turns to June.

For me, the big day is May 28 as my youngest daughter graduates from Anderson County High School. I’ve experienced nearly every one of the emotions already listed and am sure I will know even more feelings between now and when we leave Alltech Arena after the graduation ceremony.

As a dad, I am extremely proud of how hard she worked throughout school. My daughter played tennis but my background as a sportswriter gave me the expertise to remind her that the real path to a substantial college scholarship is through academics. It reflected something former Anderson County basketball coach Glen Drury said to me about 10 years ago.

“If you want a college scholarship, the best thing you can do is have a high grade point average and a high ACT score,” he said.

That’s not a criticism of athletic scholarships, but an acknowledgement of just how rare they are, especially at the major college level. Consider that in 2016, I traveled to Chicago for the football game between Northwestern and Illinois. Anderson County graduate Chris Fitzpatrick, a member of the Northwestern team, was going through his Senior Day. He was the first Anderson player to play four years of football at the highest collegiate level in 48 years.

You read that right. Forty-eight years!

Prior to the 2013-14 basketball season, I had attended the signing ceremony for two Anderson girls’ basketball players. Eriel McKee, inked with Morehead State, where she would become an all-conference performer. Makenzie Cann signed with the University of Cincinnati before transferring to the University of Kentucky. Makenzie finished her career as a grad transfer with Southeastern University of the NAIA. The storyline back in 2013 was they were the first pair of players from Anderson County High School to sign with Division I schools for the same sport in the same year since 1971.

That’s more than 40 years!

(I should note that I covered many athletes who played sports at small colleges, but even that number is relatively small.)

We are talking about what I would consider a typical high school sports program. It is a school that has had some great teams in different sports over the years. And, like most schools, it has had some down seasons in every sport as well. It’s the nature of high school sports, especially in public schools. And while the scholarship gaps might seem extreme, in talking with coaches and administrators from other schools over the years, I learned that those numbers are closer to the norm than most would realize.

Here’s another observation: In 34 years of writing high school sports, I never saw a local player make it to the major league of any sport. I covered one, Matt McWilliams, a pitcher who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds but because of arm problems, he never took the mound above the High Class A level.

(I did see a handful of high school players from other communities who did make it to the big leagues. Most notable were basketball player Greg Buckner and baseball player Lee Tinsley.)

The point is that athletics can be an opportunity for a select few to attend a college on scholarship and even fewer are eventually paid to play. The games are just that, games. Fun.

By now, most high school seniors have made their college choices. Some will be playing sports in college but most will be concentrating on their studies and enjoying college life.

That last phrase is what concerns me most these days. “College life” is said to be a time to find one’s self, explore opportunities and make lifetime friends, regardless of where life’s journey leads. But I wonder how often we look at our spiritual lives first when choosing a college.

Since Jan. 1, I have interviewed several high school athletes for this website. Most of those young men and women are heading to Christian colleges, but admittedly it just worked out that way.

My prayer is that every person choosing a college makes his/her spiritual life the number one priority. That’s not saying everyone should automatically pick a Christian college since some career choices can’t be pursued at all private schools and heaven knows we need Christian influences at public universities.

But hopefully everyone takes the most important part of life seriously when choosing where to live the next four years. If it is a Christian college, will your faith be challenged with service opportunities? If it is a public university, is there a vibrant student fellowship on campus or a church compatible your faith serving the students? Some churches even have families that “adopt” students during their college years.

If you are going away from home for college, be sure that you have some idea of where your spiritual life is headed. Your pastor or minister will probably have access to resources to help if you just ask.

Studies have shown that a large percentage of college students drop out of church or even abandon their faith between the ages of 18-22. It doesn’t have to be that way and my prayer is for everyone to take inventory and make sure that your relationship with God is number one. It’s more important than a career or anything else that comes with college life.

I pray you will keep Him first in all you do.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15, NIV.)

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