Shelby Cunningham just couldn’t wait any longer.
As former Lipscomb basketball standout Adnan Hodzic spoke to those in attendance at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting Cunningham felt an increasing need to step forward and express her desire to be baptized.
“I got chills,” Cunningham said. “I was breathing hard. My heart was just pounding.
“It was like God telling me you can’t wait anymore…you have got to do this.”
Hodzic said several things that struck a chord with Cunningham, but one thing truly stood out for her.
“Adnan told us he had broken down and was crying over the Bible,” Cunningham said. “I could relate to him. One night I was in bed, getting ready to go to sleep, and I started crying for no apparent reason.
“I had an overwhelming feeling. I got the Bible out and said, ‘God show me something’. I didn’t know where to look but he showed me Psalms 29 about David which basically said, ‘help me Lord’. Obviously, it was what God wanted me to see.”
After Hodzic’s talk Cunningham approached Brent High, Associate Athletic Director for Spiritual Formation, and told him she wanted to know more. A few days later they discussed various verses of the Bible and Cunningham decided she was making the right decision at the right time.”
Cunningham, who is redshirting this year due to a shoulder injury, was baptized Jan. 21. She is the fourth member of the softball team to be baptized during this academic year and 10th athlete overall. Three of her teammates – Vanessa Medina, Ashley Anderson and Kristen Sturdivant – were baptized in December.
“We all have a really good connection,” Cunningham said. “I think we understand that there is a lot of emphasis on softball, but there is a bigger picture out there. In the end God is going to be No. 1.”
Lady Bison softball coach Kristin Ryman appreciates the togetherness of the players this season both on and off of the field. She looks at the baptisms as a positive example of players interacting with their teammates.
“It is something that has kind of come about because they do have a good relationship with each other,” Ryman said. “They can talk openly about their faith.
“It does bring people closer. It brings a maturity level to our team.”
Catcher Mollie Mitchell and pitcher Whitney Kiihnl, both seniors, have been the spiritual leaders of the team.
“Mollie and Whitney feel confident enough in themselves to step out and do team devotionals and team Bible studies,” Ryman said. “I definitely think that was the base for these girls. They saw other girls openly sharing things about themselves from a religious standpoint and a spiritual standpoint.
“Mollie and Whitney have never said ‘Hey, everybody has to come’. They have opened it up and said this is what we are going to do if anybody wants to come. Another thing I think is cool is that every time they do it they end up having nearly everybody there. That, too, says something.”
Ryman has seen the spiritual aspect of the team progress, especially over the last two years.
Players good enough to perform on the NCAA Division I level make sacrifices in terms of their time as they progress through high school seasons followed by summers filled with club team travel. Most games are on the road, and if the team is good enough, Sunday is reserved for championship games.
“These girls all have some sort of church background,” Ryman said. “You try to do the best you can with it and keep your priorities in line.”
Ryman thinks the spiritual emphasis that Lipscomb offers to students helps to make the softball program more attractive to recruits.
“Once they get here it is not thrown in their faces as much as it is there for the taking,” Ryman said. “I think they each come to Lipscomb for a different reason, but probably one reason on their minds is that they are going to be around great people every day.
“They have a chance to be in an environment where people genuinely really care and want to help them. They can talk about God in their classes and in their dorms. They can openly pray and it is not odd or different. That’s pretty cool to have at this level and at this stage of their lives.”
Accountability and discipline are part of most college teams. But at Lipscomb the emphasis is a little stronger in many ways.
“Any time you are around a team there has to be responsibility for yourself and looking out for your teammates,” Ryman said. “We want them to help each other make good decisions and not getting wrapped up in things we know should not be our priorities.
“As coaches we try to be good influences for them. I watch how I talk to them. I watch what I do away from here. If we are preaching everyday to them to watch what they do then we need to show them we are on board.”
The Lady Bison are poised to make a run at the Atlantic Sun Conference title this season. They open the regular season on the road at the Mardi Gras Tournament in Mobile, Ala., Feb. 10-12.
“We know that the things that are important to you as a coach in your life and what you want to be important in your program really matters to your players,” Ryman said. “We have kind of reached that point with this group.
“For the ones who aren’t quite there I think it works on their hearts every day. It makes them think that much more about the direction of their lives and how big of a role they want Lipscomb and our team to play in their lives.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.