USA (MNN) — If you’re a basketball fan, this week was bittersweet with the end of March Madness. But for the athletes who have invested their lives in basketball and winning this well-known tournament, what comes next?
This is no doubt a question which has come to the minds of student-athletes at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), which was the first No. 16 seed team to knock off a No. 1 seed team in this year’s March Madness. But the excitement which came with a notable win was soon challenged when UMBC lost its next game.
“Well, March Madness is really an exciting time of the year where there’s a lot of hopes and dreams kind of riding on, first and foremost, who is going to get into the tournament. When they get in the tournament, how far are they going to go?” InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Associate Director of Athletes InterVarsity Ben Sturgill shares.
“You know, we use this example of kind of a Cinderella, right — a Cinderella story — which in many ways kind of speaks toward the idea of a dream. It would be a dream if we went from being this kind of unrecognized person to being recognized for our value, for our worth, for being a winner by taking down a bigger team.”
The season begins with excitement for the unknown and dreams which could finally come true. But what happens when the hours-upon-hours put into practice still aren’t good enough? When the team who takes home the trophy isn’t yours and hopes and dreams are crushed?
“The athletes that we work with at Athletes InterVarsity [have] the hopes of winning, of getting the prize, of getting the notoriety, of getting the fame,” Sturgill says. “I think ultimately it’s a deeper personal desire of being remembered, of having a legacy. That’s why we kind of create these things that are the halls of fame.”
In a sense, this becomes a base for identity. But, eventually, this base will crumble and regardless of winning or losing, those facts will be lost with time. And it’s here where the hope of Christ enters.
Ultimately, Sturgill shares, student-athletes find the win they had isn’t as satisfying as they thought it would be the next day or even a week later.
“The Cinderella story that they might get swept up in March, that gives them the ability to have Aaron Rogers tweet at you…a year later or even 20 years later, what does it really matter for eternity?” Sturgill asks.
“But if we can speak the hope of Christ into these athletes and help them see their identity is far more than the ability they have with a basketball, that actually they’re loved, they’re eternally valued because the son of God loves them and came and died for them, then that gives them a hope that will sustain them far beyond the month of March, far beyond the year, but eternally.”
This is what Athletes InterVarsity is seeing happen with student-athletes across the country as they encounter Jesus and find their identity not in the game, but in Christ. And Athletes InterVarsity is reaching students in a variety of ways.
An Eternal Hope
The hope of Christ is shared by staff and volunteers on campuses who are engaging these student-athletes where they’re at, engaging them in their sport, and helping students learn how to have their personhood without it being based in their sport.
“[It is] really helping them to kind of see how their sport defines a gift that God gave them. But then how do we use that gift and celebrate that gift and not make that gift everything in their life, everything that defines them?” Sturgill explains.
At UMBC, student-athletes are raised up by God within the college and the InterVarsity chapter to speak the truth and hope of Christ into their teammates and fellow athletes’ lives. And the sport which once may have consumed some of these athletes’ lives is instead seen as a gift which can be enjoyed and used for God’s glory.
“It’s not [seen as] something that owns them or something that defines them…. You can have a dance at the March Madness, you get to enjoy that for the season and the moment that it is, rather than having to think, ‘Well, this has to be it,’” Sturgill shares.
While the March Madness season is over, student-athletes who believe in Christ are still present and able to speak into other athletes’ lives about what Christ has to say about identity, eternity, loss, and disappointment.
Be Prayerful, Be Active
Let’s pray for student-athletes. Pray for open hearts to the Gospel and for God to be center in these students’ lives. Also pray for these students to see their talents as a gift which can glorify God, and not as their entire identity. Ask God to renew college athletics through the Gospel. And finally, pray for these students to find their identity in the one true and living God.
Another way to help is by getting involved with an athletic ministry — either through InterVarsity or a different organization — and find ways to support them through prayer, volunteering, or even giving.