Late fall, early winter 1993 started the South Saint Paul Packers wrestling season.
I knew nothing about the sport. What it entailed. What was supposed to be done by the athletes. How the score was kept. Nothing. But I was going to cheer for it with all my heart. I was going to pound various rhythms on the mat as I encouraged those scantily clad athletes to victory. And I was going to do my best and learn about the sport as I went.
That is when I got to know Tom Moore. Better known as Coach.
Like other coaches, he was competitive. VERY competitive. AND DRIVEN! He had high expectations for his athletes in life and on the mat—No compromises. No regrets. And he had more energy than should be legal.
He was young and had a beautiful wife whom he adored. And they had the cutest little girls that were so much fun to play with and chase around the gym.
He was different because he cared for his wrestlers like they were his own children. He relentlessly drove himself to discover their greatness and value and to help them see it in themselves. He faithfully demonstrated what being a real man looks like. What it means to be a loving, devoted husband and father. What it means to be a man of integrity and faith.
See, several of our wrestlers were fatherless or didn’t have a healthy relationship with their father. And Tom strove to fill that void to the best of his ability. By his influence, many of these young men made better life choices, went on to further education, served in the military, chose a less self-destructive path, and met Jesus.
Tom also invested in his athletes in ways I had never witnessed before. He reminded them of their worth as he taught them the value of hard work and dedication. Through every rep, every practice he built into their characters as he built into their bodies. He pushed them out of their comfort zone to stretch them, help them develop a strong mind, and show them their potential. All the while he stood guard to make sure they were safe.
And when they fell, he helped them up—on the mat and in life. He was a listening ear. A friend. A mentor. He was an example.
And each adopted his motto: Champions Every Day! Win or lose you can still be a champion if you gave it 110% and can walk away saying you did your absolute best and left nothing behind.
The cheerleaders didn’t have as much direct contact with Tom as the guys did, but he treated us like we were his own as well. He genuinely cared about us and showed us much more grace and respect than any other coach had. He made an effort to build into us as well. He made us feel secure. Safe. Loved. And valued.
My home life was much less than ideal, but by his example, I learned what it means to be a godly, loving husband and father. I observed his character and integrity and how he cared for others. I was astounded by his authenticity and humility. His passion for people and Jesus was obvious, he hid it from no one and shared it with all who would listen. And I prayed for my future husband to have those traits as well.
I paid particular attention to how he treated his wife. How the looked at her. How he unconsciously held her hand, put his arm around her, or winked in her direction. How her presence brought a sense of completion, of wholeness to him. How he was utterly devoted to her and loved her with a selfless love I thought was only found in books.
I watched him play with his children; pick them up and toss them into the air. He unashamedly gave them hugs and kisses as he led the team through warmups. I loved how they clung to his legs, and he dragged them around the gym like they weren’t there, their squeals of delight echoing off the walls. But my favorite was to seeing his eyes light up like he was seeing the sun for the first time whenever they came into the gym and ran into his arms.
But what made Tom truly different from any other coach I’ve known was that he made sure to tell everyone he came in contact with about Jesus. About how much He loves them. How He died for them. How He offers them a new life, an eternal life, if they would choose to accept His love and forgiveness. To ask Him to be their Lord and Savior.
But he didn’t stop there.
If you chose to accept Jesus as your Savior, he refused to leave you high and dry. He took time to disciple, teach, and mentor you as your relationship with Jesus took root and grew. He would help you get plugged in so that you didn’t feel alone.
And as I had already accepted Jesus, Tom would continually challenge me to believe Him, to follow Him in my day-to-day life, and to dig into His Word. I wish I could say I did just that back then. But I didn’t. However, the seeds he planted during that time have long since sprouted and become a lush garden.
Fast forward about 4 ½ years.
Thad and I had just returned from our honeymoon and were looking for a church near our new home in Woodbury. We started by checking out a newly planted church that was holding services in Lake Junior High.
And on our first morning at Five Oaks Community Church, we were greeted by none other than Coach Moore who was handing out bulletins.
Tom’s face mirrored the shock on my face, and we embraced like old friends. I introduced my new husband, and he invited us to sit with him, Jody, and the girls—who were now in elementary school. Seeing Jody and the girls again gave me so much joy and a sense of belonging.
After the service, Thad and I chatted with the Moores for quite a while as the girls chased each other up and down the halls. It took no time for Thad and Tom to discover they had a lot of similar interests and personality traits as did Jody and I. Before we parted ways, Tom and Jody invited us to visit their small group. It was a way to get to know each other better and meet other couples in the church.
And we did.
Over the next several years, we did various Bible studies and trade book studies on marriage, family, and walking closer with Jesus. We had the privilege to learn from Tom and Jody’s wisdom and experiences as they mentored us in our new marriage.
We watched their girls grow and added a few boys of our own to the mix. We celebrated with, supported, and prayed for each other through life’s highs and lows. It was a very enriching time.
Fast forward a few more years.
We are now attending Crossroads Church. And after a few weeks there, this man scoops me up in a huge bearhug. Squeezing all the love he can muster into me. Then Jody comes over and does the same. It was like coming home all over again. With no time lost.
But none of these places is where I met Tom Moore.
The Lincoln Elementary School Track to be specific. I was a sophomore at South Saint Paul High School (SSP), my first year there—and my first year in track.
Tom typically worked with the junior highers, but for some reason, he was helping out with the high schoolers for the first part of the season.
I was slated to run the 4 x 400 and 4 x 200-meter relays. And Tom was my coach.
I was excited. And nervous. At this time in my life, I wasn’t much of a runner but wanted to be. I wasn’t particularly fast (I still make the tortoise look like the hare), but I could do endurance runs well. So I was optimistic.
We went over and over and over and over how to hand it off correctly. How to turn and grab it properly, turn back and take off efficiently—all within the allotted space of exchange zones.
We practiced passing the baton that day. And the next. And the next. We practiced passing that stupid baton for two weeks! Not as part of the practice. That was our practice.
I was starting to panic as we had yet to practice the actual races and we had a meet coming up in a few days. But, as my frustration mounted, I kept telling myself we would do it. Not to worry. We will do it.
I was terrified. My first track meet, and I hadn’t practiced the races I was going to run. But Coach was cool. Confident. Unflappable. And that just irritated me all the more. “Of course, he’s unruffled; he doesn’t have to run these stupid races!”
As we walked to the starting line, my stomach was in knots. And then I looked at my competition. These girls looked like they knew what they were doing. This was nothing new to them, and I was utterly clueless. I saw at their long, lean legs, their slender bodies and thought—I’m toast! These girls look FAST! I’m going to choke on their dust halfway around the track. I’m going to embarrass myself.
Tom must have seen my panic. My confidence drain from me. The fear rising. Because he came over, gently put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “You’ve got this. You’re more than ready for this. Trust me.”
I don’t know why, but that calmed me. I was still nervous. But I could feel the confidence return. I just had to go out and do my best, leaving nothing behind—Champions Every Day! Oh, and not drop the baton.
As the first set of girls positioned their feet in the starting blocks and the rest of us took our places, I started taking deep breaths to calm myself. Praying I wouldn’t drop the baton. Praying I wouldn’t come in last.
And they were off.
As the runners approached the first exchange zone, I heard two of the batons hit the ground. OH NO! In the flurry of legs, I noticed one was quickly scooped up while the other rolled away. Thankfully, neither of them fell from either of the SSP teams in the race, and the mishaps gave us a significant advantage.
The second exchange zone was much more smooth, but one of the teams was disqualified because the hand-off took place well outside of the exchange zone.
Then I took my place on the track, heart thudding in my chest as I waited for the baton. “Please don’t let me drop it. Please don’t let me drop it.” I desperately prayed.
My team was tied with another team as they approached. Once my teammate was a few paces from the exchange zone, we locked eyes, and I started to jog, hand outstretched behind me. Our handoff was perfect. Relief washed over me, giving me a boost, as I took off without looking back, 110% focused on my part of the race and handoff. I could hear Coach’s voice above everyone else’s cheering from the sidelines. I gave everything I had as I turned each corner and handed off the baton.
After I finished, I paced, catching my breath, then it hit me—the other team didn’t pass me! She should have annihilated me. Her teammate was tied with one our fastest runners. Why didn’t I see her pass me? Later I learned they also passed the baton outside of the exchange zone because the next girl wasn’t ready.
South Saint Paul took first and second in that race. We were ecstatic!
Something that was brought into sharp focus once again a few weeks ago while reading by Christine Cane’s book, Unstoppable: Running The Race You Were Born To Win:
“None of these things will win the race unless the baton is safely passed in each and every exchange zone and carried first across the finish line. If it isn’t, the entire team loses. In a relay, everything hinges on what happens in the exchange zone.”
And I’m determined to.
We have to be ready in exchange zone. We have to be willing to grab that baton, turn and run our race with all our might. Not looking back or to the side but looking forward. Focused and determined.
For every student-athlete Tom coached and mentored. For each person he encountered and told about Jesus’s love for them. For every Christian he encouraged to feast on God’s Word daily. For every Believer he challenged to believe God, not just believe in Him. He was passing the baton.
Tom crossed the finish line. Instead of a medal, he’s earned his crown. Instead of breaking the ribbon he ran into his Savior’s embrace. And now, he’s running his victory lap to the standing ovation of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Are you going to drop it? Tuck it into your pocket? Put it on a shelf as a memorial?
Or are you going to grasp it and run as fast and as hard as you can—not looking back, carrying Tom’s legacy to those in your circle of influence?
Are you going to accept Jesus as your Savior if you haven’t yet?
If you have, are you going to let God lead and direct your life? To be your priority and greatest love? Are you going selflessly to invest in others? Are you going to allow your heart to break for those who don’t yet know Jesus? Are you going to passionately, boldly, and shamelessly tell them about His sacrifice for their sin so they too can enjoy eternal life? Are you going to pray for their salvation diligently? And are you willing to love them patiently no matter what, not being afraid to tell them again and again? Are you going to saturate yourself in Scripture, allowing it to penetrate the deepest recesses of your heart, mind, body, and soul? Are you willing to place your feet in the footprints of Jesus, following his every command? Are you going to give generously and allow God to love others through you? Are you willing to lovingly challenge other Christians to follow Jesus in their day-to-day life, to study and apply His word?
You don’t have to be the fastest runner. You don’t have to have the most experience. You just need to be willing to give it 110%. To take whatever batons God places in your hands and do what He asks.
You may not have known Tom Moore, but there is a chance you have a Tom somewhere in your life. So the question remains, what are you going to do with the baton in your hand?
Mine is clenched tightly in my hand, and I am running with everything I’ve got.
I choose to allow Jesus to break my heart for what breaks His. I open myself up for Him to love others through me. I’m willing to be vulnerable as I show His love to this upcoming generation, as I teach them about Jesus and what it means to follow Him. I’m ready to lovingly challenge Christians to dig into God’s word and follow Jesus in their day-to-day lives. Equipping them to enter the exchange zone and successfully take their batons to run the races God has for them, eventually passing it off to others.