“What’s important in a relationship is the bricks that every one of your words and actions lay down because together they add up to the home that you’re going to live in for quite some time.” —Kevin Hart
Last month, I turned 40. The following milestone caused reflection about what I want my life to look like when I age. When I grow older, I want to be like Silver Bay Mariners girls basketball coach John Sandstrom.
John previously worked for the railroad with North Shore Mining. In addition to coaching, he also serves as a frequent substitute teacher at William Kelley School in Silver Bay. Last year, John described himself as the only first-year basketball coach in the state currently receiving Medicare.
What does John do that is so remarkable? Last winter, Silver Bay was playing Chisholm in basketball. Neither team's greatest talents in life lie in the game of basketball. Both teams had more losses than wins on the season. The Mariners headed into the game optimistic.
As soon as the ball is tapped, everything that could have possibly gone wrong for the Mariners did. Coach Sandstrom had to fight the instinct that ploys like yelling would turn the game around. By the second half, Chisholm was up over 30. The game ending in disappointment proceeded to give Coach Sandstrom the opportunity to deliver one of the most remarkable post-game speeches of which I’ve heard.
Coach Sandstrom stands before the team declaring: “While things didn’t go our way tonight, I want to let you know that I wouldn’t trade you for any girls basketball team in the state of Minnesota.”
Coach Sandstrom saw to it that girls left one of the worst losses of the season with tears of joy in their eyes as they understood their inherent worth went way beyond wins and losses on the basketball court.
What did Coach Sandstrom’s words mean? Last summer, I attended an evening session of Silver Bay basketball camp. John comes up to me, beaming about one of our seventh grade players. I assumed that it was because of skills showed off at basketball camp.
John explained the reason for his joy was that “she’s such a good student and nice kid.” John than proclaimed how she would help achieve his dream for the upcoming season of being section academic champions.
Here’s the reason that I want to be like John Sandstrom when I get older: Nearly everyone can notice great athletes or praise straight-“A” students. John, though, goes out of his way to point out the gifts of students who don’t even see their own talents, whether in art, music, theater, robotics or the building trades.
John puts a special emphasis on kids from whom connection with the wider community doesn’t come as natural. John is so popular with Silver Bay students that he was named graduation speaker last year.
After spending time around John, I see what a blessing that his life experience is at reaching the youth of Silver Bay. John breaks down many myths we have about reaching youth. John goes out of his way to show that he’s not hip, such as playing "The Flintstones" theme during pregame warmup music. None of this matters to students who instinctively recognize John as a model of kindness and respect within their lives.
John realizes that for most, the purpose of high school sports is not the chance to make millions, but instead learn discipline, build relationships and develop life skills in supportive environments. John spends his time like he does because he understands there is no greater long-term investment that he can make in retirement than the youth of Silver Bay.
Last year’s Silver Bay girls basketball team went 5-17. The team’s record, though, is irrelevant to my belief that the team is blessed in the form of leadership that will affect the team for the better every day for the rest of their lives.
Pastor Stew Carlson is the grandson of the late Beuna May Carlson of Lindstrom, Minn. He is also the board chairman for North Shore Area Partners and pastor of Sychar Lutheran Church in Silver Bay. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.