Independence, MO – For each of us, the passion and commitment of a handful of people become strong roadmaps in life.
At the top of my list of such folks is John Vickers, a William Chrisman High School teacher who earlier this week announced his retirement as the head boys’ basketball coach.
I first met John in 1983. I was a green freshman who’d played middle school basketball for Warren Landess, Chrisman’s head boys’ basketball coach at the time. John was a junior who’d already become a key varsity player when I hit the scene.
Like every basketball superstar wannabe, I quickly zeroed on the guy I wanted to emulate: John Vickers.
Though I couldn’t articulate it at first, John exemplified what it means to live a life of perseverance and integrity. As a freshman under Coach Bill Adams – who served as John’s longtime assistant and announced his retirement alongside him – I remember noticing how completely John personified the things Coach Adams was pushing us to do on and off the court.
The reason for John’ success quickly became clear.
Susan, John’s sister, was in my class, and we became close friends. My memories of great times at Chrisman with Ted, my nickname for her, shine brightly. I still chuckle when I remember the fun we had dissecting a cat – whom we named Lola – in Mr. Stewart’s anatomy and physiology class.
Through my friendship with Susan – and later her younger brother, David – it became evident J.B. and Delores Vickers built their family on a strong foundation. I began to understand that, while basketball was John’s talent and passion, his strong Christian values and unwavering work ethic were what guided him.
Unfortunately – try as Coach Adams did – emulating John’s basketball prowess wasn’t in my cards. The genes skipped a generation and resurfaced in Maggie, who can hold her own on the court.
What continues to guide me, though, is John’s commitment to pursuing those things about which he’s passionate. While he didn’t win every game in his 15 years as coach, his unwavering desire to help young men become successful adults will produce wins for the rest of his life.
I was talking about John Thursday night at Tom’s basketball practice. A teammate’s mom told me her son played for John all four years at Chrisman but initially decided not to attend college. Without a father in his life, she said, it was only through John’s continued encouragement and support that he began classes in January at the University of Central Missouri.
I know John has similarly impacted hundreds of others. He’s taught me two things.
First, whether we win or lose really isn’t what’s most important. How we play the game truly defines us.
Beyond that, our greatest victories – whether coaching basketball, leading a Cub Scout den or being a good parent – are the positive ways we impact the people around us. Living our lives for others brings us the greatest satisfaction.
I know John will continue to influence lives in and out of the classroom. And I’m grateful our three kids, who will be fourth-generation Chrisman graduates, have the opportunity to know and learn from him.
Thank you for all you’ve done for so many of us, John. We appreciate you a great deal.