Several years ago, the JCCC basketball team generated a fair amount of interest and attention on campus when they went through their season with a stellar record. When they reached the regional tourney, they breezed through, hardly breaking a sweat. This qualified them for a trip to the national tournament. The campus email gave us breakdowns of games as they were played. The team won their first couple of games and found themselves in the big one, the championship contest, which they won.
Although I didn’t really follow this team—opting instead for the exploits of my beloved Jayhawks—I did have a couple of students who were playing. I therefore gained some vicarious pleasure watching as they advanced through their various stages of success. But something struck me odd in the week before the guys went to the national tournament. I talked with, Joel, one of those students, about the excitement of getting to go to the national tournament.
“Yeah,” Joel replied. “That’s pretty great.” He said this with all the enthusiasm of a grade school kid told that he’d be served liver at lunchtime. I couldn’t figure it out. Eventually, however, I did. In doing so, I learned a bit about junior college athletics.
Like their four-year counterparts, two-year schools are grouped by size and athletic intensity into groups. The NCAA has various levels for colleges, including Division I, II, and III, and some letter designations that break at least some of those divisions down further. That keeps Southwest Baptist University from having to play football against Mizzou every year as if they had a chance. It doesn’t do anything for poor KU, when they have to play Nebraska, but that’s a whole different matter. Essentially, though, when a team is in Division I or Division II, they stay in that division unless something very significant changes.
In the NJCAA (the J standing for Junior), they opt for a system that resembles the English soccer leagues. At the end of a season, one or more really great teams are moved up to the higher division. At the same time, one or more really miserable teams are moved down into the lower division. JCCC, it seems, had just been moved down into the lower division that year. And then they won the championship. Rather a hollow victory, eh? It’d be like winning the math contest in second grade after getting held back from third grade.
As Amos continues his words of warning, he explains that while there will be a remnant of Israel, it’ll be like the parts of an animal taken from the mouth of a lion. That’s hardly something for the shepherd to take pride in. But even more ridiculous is for the piece of an ear to think itself a fine specimen of livestock.
As I write these things, I can look at the wall above my desk and see an array of diplomas and awards, all suggesting my accomplishment. But I’m just a piece of an ear that Jesus rescued from the mouth of a ravening lion. Every point of pride I could boast could have and should have been better, less tainted by sin.
It’s rare when I find a college athlete demonstrating true wisdom, but Joel did that. He realized that, even winning the tournament, they were just the pieces left over. All he could do was play his best and try not to think about the lion.