Every other week in The Coach’s Box, Timothy Thomas explores the various lessons that can be learned from the world of sports.

2023 was full of marquee matchups, controversies, and historic moments. As we look back here in The Coach’s Box, we are reminded by these competitions of how we, The Church, can show our culture the power of unity, acceptance, and perseverance. 

Georgia Bulldogs Win Back-to-Back College Football National Championships (January 9)

While January usually marks the beginning of a new year, seasonally, it signifies the end of a season for college football. The culmination of the 2022-2023 season ended with a national championship title matchup between the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs and the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs. TCU went into the game as heavily under-favored underdogs, and they did not disappoint. The result was the biggest blowout in college football bowl history as Georgia secured their second title in a row with a 65-7 win.

The disappointing blowout would have implications for how the college football playoff committee (a group of former coaches, players, and laypeople who meet in Grapevine, Texas, every week during the season to analyze teams) would determine which teams deserve to get into the 4-team college playoff versus the teams that earn their way to the playoffs. Nothing should make us more grateful for grace than being reminded you could be judged by a committee panel based on the deservedness or earnestness of your efforts.

First Time Two Black SuperBowl QBs Face-Off: Chiefs Win Super Bowl LVII (February 12)

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes made history when their teams faced in Glendale, Arizona, for Super Bowl 52. Though their play was historic and made for an epic NFL Championship game, their heritage, ethnicity, and culture encapsulated the landmark moment. This championship was the first time two teams played for a Super Bowl with two starting quarterbacks who were Black.

The hope is that today’s youth will not see this as such a big deal moving forward, but for a generation of football fans who understand the history of the Black quarterback, this Super Bowl was momentous. Earlier this year, I highlighted the significance of the moment. Please take a minute to read it here.

March Madness: LSU Women’s Basketball Angel Reese vs Iowa’s Caitlin Clark Drama (and Blowback)

Usually, men’s basketball dominates the NCAA College March Madness Basketball Tournament. However, the women’s side generated the more entertaining tournament in 2023. There were many storylines, superstars, and personalities that captivated basketball fans.

First, the dominating defending champions South Carolina Gamecocks, led by head coach Dawn Staley and All-American forward Aliyah Boston, looked like a sure bet to repeat a championship. The Gamecocks looked unstoppable until they were stunned by the Iowa University Hawkeyes and their superstar shooting guard, Caitlin Clark, the greatest shooter in women’s college basketball.

The Hawkeyes looked like they had a national title locked up until they ran into Angel Reese and the LSU Tigers in the championship game. The Tigers defeated the Hawkeyes and stirred up controversy on and off the court that made its way to the White House and First Lady Jill Biden. Questions about the double standards of competitiveness in women’s sports, the perceived ethnic and racial double standards, and overall sportsmanship cultivated worthwhile cultural conversations to help us reanalyze how we consume female sports entertainment.

Denver Nuggets Win First NBA Finals Championship (May 12)

Nikola Jokic (aka the Joker) is arguably one of the best basketball players of this era, and his team, the Denver Nuggets, made its mark as one of this decade’s premier teams by winning the organization’s first-ever NBA title. But judging by the demeanor and attitude of Jokic, it’d be hard to guess he ever does anything historic, whether it’s making a no-look, between-the-legs pass, or winning a championship. Jokic approaches everything like a business. His team even had to convince him to stay in Denver to celebrate the championship with the city rather than jetting to his native home in Serbia, where he takes ultimate pleasure in his racehorses. Jokic’s calm and humble demeanor in competitive sports shows young athletes and fans that sports—or anything you do for a job—doesn’t have to be your identity. Ultimately, our identity is in Christ as sons and daughters of the Kingdom of God. Enjoying competition is a glorious addition.

Vegas Golden Knights Win First NHL Stanley Cup (May 13)

The night after the Denver Nuggets secured the organization’s first NBA title, the Las Vegas Golden Knights captured the newly founded organization’s first NHL Stanley Cup Championship. In the infancy of their franchise, the Golden Knights spoiled Nevada hockey fans with grit, determination, and, most of all, depth. 

The main story of the Golden Knights team is how many players could step up to the challenge and have moments to help their team secure victories. In this Associated Press story, they identify depth as “the identity of a champion,” looking back at previous Stanley Cup winners as an example. 

Like so many in sports, the glowing reminder for The Church is that no one is insignificant. Everyone has a role to play in bringing about the glory of God in one another. Where one person may exhibit deficiencies or downfalls, we can rely on the body—or team—to collectively pull together and support one another in love (1 Corinthians 12:27).