From CSJ Reports –
We’re getting closer to the top of our list as we break out part four of our five-part series on the top 25 Christian sports stories of 2016. In this edition, we’re counting down from #10 to #6 with inspirational moments from the NHL, Major League Baseball, the WNBA, the Ryder Cup, and the Olympics:
10. Matt Cullen, Penguins Take the Stanley Cup
Signing a one-year deal to play for the 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins turned out to be one of the best decisions Matt Cullen has ever made throughout his 20-year career. His veteran leadership was an important aspect of the club’s stellar season, which led to its first Stanley Cup in seven years.
For Cullen, it wasn’t his first experience hoisting the iconic championship trophy. He was also a key component to the Carolina Hurricanes winning an NHL title back in 2006. In both instances, Cullen says his faith has allowed him to compete without fear of failure while understanding the bigger picture behind the opportunity to play the game he loves.
“When we give in to fear, it’s because we’re not trusting God,” Cullen told Christian Sports Journal. “What are we afraid of? Everything is out of our hands anyway. It’s a matter of doing what you’re guided to do and trusting that it’s the right thing. Courageous people do that regardless of what others think or say. The people that follow through on God’s will are the people that trust Him.”
9. Tim Tebow Turns Heads with Baseball Tryout
Iconic Christian athlete Tim Tebow continued to make news in 2016 but not for the reasons that most might expect. No, Tebow didn’t make a triumphant return to the football field. Instead, he shocked the sports world with his decision to have an open workout for Major League Baseball scouts.
Tebow hadn’t played baseball since high school, but his overall athletic ability made for an intriguing opportunity. Eventually, the New York Mets signed the former NFL quarterback to a minor league contract. Tebow started out in the fall instructional league in Port St. Lucie, Florida, before taking his quest to the Arizona Fall League.
Although he struggled early on, Tebow did show signs of potential as he received more plate appearances. He is expected to be at minor league training camp next March and receive his first assignment based on his performance.
“I’m excited about it. I really am,” Tebow told Newsday. “I’ve loved the game of baseball. Hitting a baseball is one of my favorite things to do in sports. I’m excited about the journey, the challenge, the difficulties, all of it. It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s something that’s definitely exciting for me.”
8. Tamika Catchings Concludes Historic Career with Fourth Olympic Gold Medal, Final WNBA Season
As the 2016 WNBA ended, women’s basketball said farewell to one of the sport’s greatest players to take the court. Midway through our final season, Tamika Catchings traveled to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics and won her fourth gold medal as Team USA dominated the field.
In her final WNBA season, the Indiana Fever made a quick exit in the first round of the playoffs, but that did not diminish Catchings’ extraordinary professional career. Over 14 seasons, she was named Rookie of the Year (2002), MVP (2011), a five-time Defensive Player of the Year, a 10-time All-Star, and a seven-time All-WNBA First Team selection. Catchings also led the Fever to the 2012 WNBA championship where she was named Finals MVP.
Voted one of the league’s top 20 players during its first 20 years, Catchings retired as the WNBA’s all-time rebounding leader and all-time steals leader. Already actively involved in the Indianapolis community and beyond, she plans to continue mentoring young people and sharing her faith through the Catch The Stars Foundation.
“God has taught me about patience and about accepting myself for who I am and knowing that He formed me and made me unique,” Catchings told Christian Sports Journal. “I never thought I’d be able to speak in front of hundreds of people and have a story and a testimony.
7. Davis Love III Leads USA To Ryder Cup Victory
Under the leadership of captain Davis Love III, Team USA won its first Ryder Cup since 2008. It was a resounding 17-11 victory at Hazeltine National Golf Club that included key performances from Christian golfers such as Zach Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and Matt Kuchar.
“We’ve been kicked around for so long, you keep losing, you’ve got to do something different,” he told Sky Sports. “We’re not going to win every one of them but we’re back on track.”
Known as one of golf’s veteran statesmen, Love has been a stalwart within the PGA Tour’s community of believers that regularly attend Bible studies and support mentoring and discipleship efforts such as the College Golf Fellowship.
“I just want to give back to the next generation,” he said in a video on CGF’s website. “I want to inspire these kids and also grow in my faith. I think they strengthen me a lot more than I strengthen them.”
6. Simone Biles Dominates Olympic Gymnastics Competition, Named AP Female Athlete of the Year
One of the biggest performances at the Summer Olympics in Rio came from one of Team USA’s smallest stars. Standing at 4-8, Simone Biles dominated the competition and led Team USA to the gold medal. Other Christian team members included Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and returning star Gabrielle Douglas.
Biles also became the first American gymnast to win four Olympic gold medals at a single competition. She won the all-around event as well as the vault and the floor exercise along with a bronze medal in the balance beam.
At the end of the year, Biles was named AP Female Athlete of the Year. She also released her first book, Courage to Soar, with the hopes of encouraging young people to pursue their dreams.
“I wanted to talk about family, competition and things like downfalls and injuries so that kids can understand that I go through those things, too,” she told The Houston Chronicle. “Kids today talk about faith, and I think it’s OK for me to share my faith so kids can see how it helps you through the whole process.”
(Photos: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil; Michael Miller; Tim Tebow via Twitter; Stan Badz/PGA Tour; USA Basketball; USOC via Flickr)