As the oldest major league sport in America and Canada, baseball has influenced American culture since it began in 1876. The spherical shape of the ball even influenced the design of the M67 hand grenade and aided the American soldier to make an accurate, perfect throw with its familiar size and shape.
Baseball has had a different influence on both the team and the families who support them at Freed-Hardeman University. An influence that can last an eternity.
When Coach Jonathan Estes joined FHU as the head coach of the Lions baseball team almost 12 years ago, he noticed there were not as many people outside of athletics who were involved with the program. Coach Estes wanted to change that. One Sunday morning after teaching a Bible class at the Estes Church of Christ, he asked several families if they would be willing to mentor players in a program he called 'Adopt-A-Family.' Since its inception, the program has become a blessing to the families and the students involved.
As the roster of players has expanded, so have the families involved. Coach Estes now reaches out to families from the Estes congregation, Henderson Church of Christ, and Jack's Creek Church of Christ. The families who help with this program often look for opportunities to serve students and the Lord. Coach Estes explained Adopt-A-Family benefits the athlete and family involved, and typically grows into a lasting relationship.
"So many of the players that we bring in don't have the same background as we have," Coach Estes said. "Some of the guys have come from homes where their parents might be divorced or religious matters aren't really discussed. I wanted our guys to be exposed to as many strong families as possible while they are here. I wanted to show them what a strong husband, family, and father looks like. I feel responsible for facilitating that change from a kid to a man."
Coach Estes' wish is to give his players one more positive thing to see in their lives. Some of the players have taken those relationships and ran with them. Some have shied away. They feel uncomfortable going over to someone else's home, yet everybody who has been given a chance has benefited from it.
Last year, seven players were brought to Christ. Many players are very evangelistic and help bring their fellow team members to Christ. They have several team worship services and Bible studies throughout the year. The two most significant worship services are held during Christmas and Spring breaks. The team gathers at Estes or Henderson Church of Christ for an hour to have a Bible study and finish with a potluck.
Some of the players have become Christians while they were attending at FHU, and they have become leaders at their home congregations. "The fruit has continued to spread," Coach Estes said.
This is simply part one of a two part series. Read more about how Adopt-A-Family has impacted two FHU families in part two in the coming weeks!
Pictures provided by FHU Athletics and Dr. C.J. Vires
Special thanks to Coach Jonathan Estes for his help and interviews.
Words by A. Hancock, Community Engagement Coordinator