I just sent a very strange, funny and slightly embarrassing email to a former teacher and coach at my high school. More on that in a minute.
In a former life, I was a star basketball player who held the all-time leading scoring record for quite a while. My career total of 1,307 points was immortalized in “permanent” marker on a ball inside a trophy case near the gymnasium.
I haven’t been up to the school in quite some time (since I sub taught and coached about 12 years ago), but was there with my boys recently for a community ed activity that shall go unnamed. Okay, I’ll admit it, we let Peter attend a 3 night wrestling camp with his kindergarten buddies. The wrestling coach, who was around back in my glory days, came over to me with a smirk on his face. (I felt so awkward hanging around a bunch of wrestling dads). Before he could tease me, I said: “Now don’t get any ideas! This is not the winter sport the Berg boys will be playing!” (6′-8″ wrestlers are pretty rare!)
After watching my boys rolling around on a wrestling mat pulling each other’s hair and grabbing each other’s crotches for an hour, I took them downstairs to the basketball gym to show them a more civilized court. I have entertained the idea of being really humble, trying to keep my former glory a secret, and letting them discover it on their own when they get older. I have played out a scene in my head where they come home from school and say excitedly, “Dad, did you know your name is on a banner in the gym?” Or, “Dad, we just found a ball in the trophy case with your name on it! Why didn’t you tell us?”
Well, I guess I’m not that humble and couldn’t resist already bringing them over to the trophy case. My moment of fatherly pride was spoiled a bit as I discovered the marker on my ball has almost faded completely and you can hardly read my name and points. As I compared my 20 year old ball (wow!) with the other newer 1,000 point scorers with their fresh black ink and clearly readable names, and it was a vivid reminder of my (quite literal) fading glory!
In elementary school my dad I would take me to varsity basketball games, and on my way to buy popcorn from the concession stand, I would stare into the trophy case, and read those names of these former all-star athletes (now likely overweight and sitting in a corporate office cubicle somewhere). I was probably a 6th grader when I first set my eyes on breaking Paul Kimbler’s 1989 scoring record. By the way, his 30-year old ink was still holding strong! But here my name and memory was literally disappearing.
Oh, and to throw more water on my flickering ego, I heard basketballs in the gym so I peeked inside to find the varsity team practicing. A dozen years ago I was on the coaching staff, and all the players all knew me. I walked in with my boys just to peek, and possibly say hi to the coach.
I was playing out another after-school TV special scene in my head, imagining the coach blowing his whistle excitedly upon my arrival, calling the entire team over to and saying, “Boys, we’re in the presence of a MWHS basketball legend! This is the greatest pure 3-point shooter in Mound history! Meet the one and only #45 Jeremy Berg!” The players would want me to stick around after practice to sign autographs and tell stories from the old 90s when we played less games and the games were shorter (as well as our shorts..but not as bad as the 70s & 80s).
Back to reality. The new coach glanced at me for a brief moment but had no clue who I was, and so he turned away and resumed talking to the other coaches who also had no idea who I was. I was just some random 38 year old balding guy with a beard and a couple squirrelly kids interrupting his practice.
Aaaah, fading glory.
So, its been a couple months now since that awkward moment. But I’m still a bit miffed that the ink is almost warn off my ball, and my name is disappearing from memory. Yet it feels vain and pathetic to do anything about it. Until today.
I just sent the following email to my old teacher and coach who is still at the school:
It’s Berg here. Last time I was at MWHS I went to show my son my 1,000 point ball in the glass case by the locker room, and saw the marker is almost completely worn off my ball and fading quickly (and with it all memory of my existence). Haha. :)
(I just thought of the “Back to the Future” movie where Marty McFly’s parents are slowly fading away in the photo.)
So, my silly favor is asking if you might take 2 minutes to just to retrace the lettering on the ball with a fresh marker in your spare time and keep me from disappearing into oblivion.
The case is not locked. I’d do it myself, but the thought of a guy coming back to his high school to break into the trophy case with a sharpie just seems a bit vain and pathetic (and I don’t want to accused of pulling an OJ Simpson). ;)
So, now I await his response. Am I vain for caring about this? I don’t know.
What I do know for sure is that I want my life to be lived in pursuit of a far higher and more lasting glory! When friends and family gather at my funeral someday, I certainly hope they aren’t talking about how many points I scored in high school basketball! I want my kids and grand kids to tell stories about me and remember my accomplishments, but I don’t want basketball to be among them. (Ok, well maybe it’d be okay to mention the time I dunked over 7 foot Joel Pryzbilla who went on to play NBA ball. But that’s it.)
Don’t get me wrong: I’m proud of my hard work and accomplishments on the hardwood. I probably still am the best pure 3-point shooter to ever wear the red and white jersey in Mound. But at the end of the day, its still an orange synthetic leather inflatable sphere being tossed between a metal circular hoop elevated 10 feet off the ground. I worked tirelessly to excell at that game, but that’s not the game that counts when our life draws to a close.
I want to leave a legacy. I want my name to live on when I’m gone. I want to leave treasures behind for my children and grandchildren to look at, hold in their hands, and remember me by. But not that old basketball. I spent this past year printing 11 books (about 2,000 pages) that capture my true passion and life’s obsession since high school. My two-volume work called Fixed to the Rock: My Formative Years opens a window into my real struggle and commitment to make my life about pursuing God’s eternal glory rather than my own fading glory.
I hope Coach’s black sharpie resurrects my basketball memory for future little kids to see and perhaps set their eyes on as a goal to drive them to become record-setting players. But I won’t complain at all if, when my kids are playing high school basketball (assuming they don’t get tricked into wrestling!) and I walk into that gymnasium to cheer them on, people only know me as Pastor Jeremy, a devout Christian, and not former basketball record holder Jeremy.
“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).
What do I want my kids to know about trophy cases? While it feels good to have your name displayed in the high school trophy case, its infinitely more glorious to know that we are ourselves God’s trophies (his image-bearers) put on display in his cosmic trophy case (the world) with the infinitely greater purpose of proclaiming His glory and making His name great!
To God to be all the unfading glory!
“We are God’s masterpieces” (Eph. 2:10).
“Declare his glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:3).