February 9, 2013
The phone rang two weeks ago in the office of Pine Creek athletic director Matt Mahan. The voice on the other line wanted to offer an apology for a football thrashing.
Rod Sherman, athletic director at Valor Christian, called to seek forgiveness for his role in Valor Christian’s 66-10 mauling of Pine Creek in the 2011 4A state football title game.
“I told him, ‘No hard feelings,’” Mahan said Friday morning. “It was an unfortunate thing, but it’s over and done and we’re moving on. It was a nice gesture on Rod’s part.”
Valor currently wanders our state without a conference home. The smackdown the Eagles placed on Pine Creek was an overwhelming display of football might.
It also was a disastrous public relations move. The rout helped ensure the Eagles would be without a conference home this school year. This lack of a home has meant Valor competes frequently against Colorado Springs opponents, including a boys basketball matchup Thursday against Liberty.
Sherman heard the message when his athletic teams were denied a conference home.
“I think it was a statement,” he said. “As an athletic director, I’ve made some mistakes. We had our head down, and I did not do an adequate enough job of building relationships.”
The call to Mahan is part of Sherman’s effort to mend relationships. The Eagles will again be without a conference home in 2013-2014, but Sherman hopes Valor will be welcomed into a conference for 2014-2015.
“We just believe it’s in the best interests of our students,” Sherman said. “We think we can be good members of a league.”
Arriving at the Valor campus is a jolting experience. Situated in Highlands Ranch on the southern edge of metro Denver, Valor resembles a college campus, although many college athletic directors can only hope for Valor-like facilities.
The school embraces Christian values. A visitor to the main lobby sees no indication of the school’s athletic power, but instead views dozens of photos from student mission trips to Nicaragua, India, Kenya, the Bahamas and France.
“We follow the life and teachings of Christ,” Sherman said. “We make no apologies for that.”
Each team has a formal spiritual plan, and athletes are expected to compete within the confines of Christian principles. Scripture is often discussed.
Yet Sherman is quick to say athletic leaders never use Paul’s famed admonition from his letter to the Corinthians. “Run,” Paul wrote centuries ago, “in such a way that you may win.”
“We try not to talk about winning,” he said. “We think, as it’s seen in scripture, that it’s about the journey. We believe your faith is about you continuing to grow closer to Christ, not about you arriving at a certain point in your faith, and we believe athletics is about the same thing, about growing in your brotherhood and sisterhood, and at the end of the day if we’ve tried our best and we’ve prepared and we’ve worked hard, we can feel good about where we’re at, regardless of winning and losing.”
But if, despite all their training, Valor athletes chose to emphasize winning over “the journey,” they still have plenty of reason to feel good. The Eagles have won four straight state football titles while often rampaging to victories by extreme margins. Valor also earned state titles in boys golf and girls soccer.
Sherman is working to add mercy to Valor’s list of virtues. This season, Valor offensive star Christian McCaffrey did not play in the second half of six Eagles victories.
The severity of the Pine Creek beating showed a lack of mercy. There’s no doubt about that. Sherman, who serves as offensive coordinator for the football team, realizes he made a mistake on that snowy morning.
“If I could go back, we should have taken the starters out at the end of the third quarter,” Sherman said. “I wish that had been the case. It was my mistake. I apologize. I wish I would have done that.”
A few minutes after Sherman offered his regrets to me, he said he planned to call Mahan.
And he did.
Mahan said there was nothing phony about the phone call. He appreciated Sherman being vulnerable enough to say he was sorry. Mahan and football coach Todd Miller have their own regrets. They wish Pine Creek’s team, and especially the defense, had delivered a stronger performance.
Valor and Sherman now seek a conference home. The insensitive behavior of the past is being modified, and Valor is making friends instead of enemies.
Would Mahan welcome the opportunity to compete against one of the state’s most powerful athletic programs in a conference?
A long pause.
“Ah,” Mahan answered, “I would have to talk with my coaching staff first.”