By C.T. Steckel
In my 41 years on the planet, it’s been my experience that nothing makes an impact on a person’s faith like hearing the story of another who has turned tragedy into triumph. The kind of experience where you hear a once broken man being vulnerable, honest, and accountable to the reality of what life has thrown at them. A testimony that not only resonates with the adversity we can all face, but delivers a message of hope.
That’s what you find when you are fortunate enough to attend a Referees Embracing Faith Conference: Real people, real truth, and real accountability. Sports and athletics are just the primer!
My first experience at REF Conference came in 2018, and was one I’ll never forget. It left a lasting influence, and its one that will affect for years to come. I was asked to be on stage for a closing Q&A, simply to help emcee a panel discussion, and yet it became crystal clear from the moment things got going that afternoon my job wasn’t to be a wordsmith… but to listen… and soak it in.
Darron George isn’t just a friend to me; he’s like a big brother. Through all the ups and downs of my life, from the birth of my children to divorce to a second marriage, he’s been there and had my back. His mentorship and constant encouragement has kept me going in some of the most difficult times life can throw at you. He always made time. He was consistent. He followed through. He loved me well.
When Darron asked me to be apart of the first ever REF Conference in Allen, Texas, almost 18 months ago, I truly jumped at the chance, especially when he told my that names like Ed Rush, Steve Javie, and Pat Fraher were going to headline the event! And boy did they deliver. The old school referees told story after story about the excitement and thrill of working an NBA or NCAA game, while at the same time revealing the struggles and difficulties the profession can cause personally; the time away from home, the long days and nights on the road, and the grind of a full season on the body.
Darron hit a home run with his personal testimony. A true mix of grace, mercy, and a need for a Savior. All four men laid out their vision for how we are to follow Christ, explaining the keys to success not only with a whistle on the hardwood, but in our unique faith journeys. They engaged a room full of younger referees, men who not only wanted to climb in the profession, but who also made it clear wanted to improve their walks with Christ, by simply being there. At times we laughed together, and at others we fought back tears, but we all left feeling encouraged. It was a game changer for us all.
So why lay all this out for you? It’s simple. You need to go. You need to experience it. Working in the world of sports is something we all love. I’ve been blessed to cash paycheques from FOX Sports as an anchor, reporter and host for almost 20 years now. But at the end day, we all need truth in our lives. We all desire to grow in wisdom. And we all yearn for deeper relationships with other men and women we can call friends to grow in our faith alongside. Isolation, loneliness and a lack of being open are taking us out.
So don’t miss out. Go. Lean in. Laugh, cry and take a few notes. Trust me; Jesus will show up and you should too!
UPDATE: REF Conference 2020 will be streamed on Sport Officials Surrendered Youtube and Facebook pages on August 15, 2020.