EASLEY — The Easley Recreation Department 8U “White” youth football team had an opportunity to find out exactly what champions are made of this past season. They competed this season in 12 games and came out as victors in every single one. So how do you motivate youth of this age to strive for perfection? To have good attitudes? To not only respect their own team on the field, but their opponents as well? Head coach Mike Partiridge, along with assistant coaches Lonnie Blassingame, Raphael Bivens, Dustin Coats, David Phillips, and Eric Sewell, have instilled many qualities in these young men that show both on and off of the football field what a true champion should be.
Harrold Herring, author, gives seven characteristics that champions are made of. He says that “In order for us to be conquerors … we must first become champions in the areas of our lives where we’ve been given a vision, a goal, a dream or a calling.” He says champions are made up of the following characteristics:
1. You must be committed to rising above average
2. You must have the heart of a champion
3. You must confront your fears
4. You must understand that good isn’t good enough
5. You must be willing to pay the price
6. Know that God believes in excellence
7. You must be a finisher
As this season played out for the White Lightning (team name chosen by the team) from Easley, S.C., every single one of these characteristics were made evident to anyone who had the privilege of experiencing one of their 12 games.
Understanding to rise above average was taught to this group of young men from day one of practice. Before and after each practice and game, the coaches motivated these young men to rise above their opponent (both on and off the field) and to achieve the greatness that they were destined for. This was made evident through many of the young men on this team. Running back Preston Bivens dominated on the offensive side of the ball. He shared his duties with Caiden Blassingame who was also a force to be reckoned with on both offense and defense. Being one of the smallest kids in stature on the team, he left many quarterbacks and running backs from opposing teams wondering what had just hit them after being stopped. His brother, Cameron Blassingame, along with Bren Partridge, Cole Watkins, Bryson Cobb, Mason Sewell, Chris Field, and Connor Mason controlled the line of scrimmage each and every game. The opposing team dreaded lining up against this monstrous group of boys.
Having a heart of a champion is not something that you can teach very well, it has to be inside and that effort is brought out by encouraging and motivating coaches. Several of these boys exhibited this characteristic each and every time they were on the field. Boone Phillips is a player that you never should underestimate and who you should constantly keep your eye on. Jeremias Frazile would smile through his mouthpiece at the opponent while running right past you or stopping you dead in your tracks. Jackson Lindsey and Chris Field played each and every play as though it was the last one before winning the championship and Michael Davis, playing tackle football for the first time, was honored as player of the week for the example he modeled on the field as having the heart of a champion.
Fear can be something that either motivates you or debilitates you. In the case of Easley White Lightning, it was definitely a motivating force. Many of the players started this season new to the sport of football, but ended it as tackling, running and executing machines. Dylan Bray, Kaiden Manley, Skyler Gore, Weston Johnson, Connor Mason, Max Morgan, Aidan Patton, and William Wood were all first year players who had to decide to learn and play this game fearlessly. Each and every one of these young men took on this challenge and completed it with the utmost effort and determination.
As a member of this team, all of the players understood very quickly that being good just wasn’t good enough for them. They all seemed to have a drive for excellence inside that was developed into a positive output on the playing field. Grayson Clary, who played quarterback this season, led this team each game. His ball handling skills were game changing at this level. Sherrod Gambrell, also known as “Shaker”, decided not only was he going to be great on the field, but off the field as well. No matter what he was doing or who he was talking to he was striving for excellence.
Paying the price. What is the price? Is it being at practice on those long, hot summer nights when you could be at home on the couch enjoying a video game in the air conditioning? Is it making sure your homework is complete before you come to a game on a school night? Or is it playing through the pain for YOUR team to achieve their goals? For this team it is all of the above. Many of these boys played through injuries, sickness and pain throughout this season. One of these players was Jack Coats. Having an accident on the trampoline at home did not keep him off the field. He played in the playoffs with an injured arm hoping to help his team achieve greatness. Myers Bishop and Titus Cisson also paid the price by committing to our team while also have to sacrifice missing watching their brother’s play on an older team. Their families had to sacrifice in two separate directions to benefit not only our team but another as well.
Not only does God believe in excellence, but so does the coaching staff of this football team. They are not the coaches that demand excellence and punish kids if the performance is short of that. They are the coaches who model this characteristic and teach the boys to exude and to expect it. They want excellence for the kids both on the football field, in the classroom, at home and in their personal lives. The coaches are the first ones to invite these boys to church, give them a ride to games or practice, or to give them the shirt off of their backs. They have taught these boys to seek excellence in every single part of their life not through their words but through their actions.
This team is full of champions not because of the record or titles that they hold, not because of the number of medals they have around their necks, not because of the amount of points they have scored this season, or because of anything that they have accomplished on the field. This team is full of champions because of who these kids have become personally and because of the family that they have created within themselves. So congratulations to these young men for achieving something that an Easley Recreation Department team has not accomplished on the football field in over 11 years, but more of a congratulations to these young men for being walking examples of what a true champion is.