By Allen Palmeri
BOWLING GREEN—The best high school football team this town has ever produced worked hard in 2009 to give God the glory from start to finish.
“They’ve done that, and they’re still doing it,” said Don Amelung, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Bowling Green, where Head Coach Jimmy Tucker and Senior Wide Receiver Cody Spegal are members.
The Bowling Green Bobcats won 14 consecutive games before losing their final outing. It came in the Division 3 State Championship Game at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis 24-7 to Cassville. Spegal, who was faithful to lead his team and others all season long in post-game prayer, described what it was like to pray after suffering such a disappointing loss.
“Right after the game, I had to say the prayer, and we had to give glory to God,” he said. “I was struggling emotionally, but after saying the prayer, I felt a lot more comforted. I felt like I was able to do it and get through with it strong, and I felt a lot better than if we didn’t pray.”
Andy Erickson, a senior offensive guard who led with Spegal in a special unit of five captains, agreed.
“After he did the prayer, I felt a little better,” Erickson said. “I felt like it didn’t really matter—we were just playing for God. Either way could be for Him, to give the glory to Him.”
Tucker, who five seasons ago took over a program that was lucky to win a game, called the defeat “heartbreaking” while at the same time acknowledging the sovereignty of God in the outcome.
“Like I told the kids, just like they said on (the movie) ‘Facing the Giants,’ you’ve got to praise God when you win, you’ve got to praise God when you lose,” Tucker said. “Unfortunately, in life these kids aren’t always going to win, so I wanted them to set that example.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I wish we would have won. I wish it would have had that storybook ending, but to put it in perspective, we’d never won a playoff game (and now) we’ve won four of them.”
Amelung and Tucker are friends who enjoy going fishing together. Over the last three years, as the Bobcats improved from 5-5 to 7-3 to 8-3, the pastor noticed a change in the football coach.
“I think he gets it,” Amelung said. “His philosophy is, ‘I am a good coach, but I want to be a good man of God first.’ He’s adopted that.”
He also adopted a team slogan from one of Amelung’s teachings on Nehemiah 4:6. What kept driving the 2009 Bobcats to excellence was: “Talent’s never enough … have a mind to work.” In the end it took them far.
“Getting up at 6 o’clock every morning to lift weights is mentally and physically exhausting, so a slogan like this, of course, gets you back on track,” Erickson said. “You can’t win it with just talent—not even just work, but God, too. You need a little bit of everything to keep you going.”
When the team was 7-0, Erickson learned about an Ebenezer rock that inspires his sister’s cross country team at Hannibal-LaGrange College. He decided to do the same based on I Samuel 7:7-17. When God gets you far, He will take you the rest of the way.
“After I got the idea, I was walking home from church (Providence Concord Presbyterian in Bowling Green) and I saw this rock on the side of the road, and I was like, ‘That looks like a pretty good Ebenezer,’” Erickson said. “So I picked him up, took him home, and painted BG Football on it with the help of my Mom.”
The team wound up touching the rock before and after games. They also kept it on the bench.
“It was pretty cool,” Tucker said.
After making so much history this year, including the first 10-0 regular season and the school’s first home playoff win, the Bobcats are indeed thankful.
“We’ve got things established now, but we’ve still got one goal left and that’s to be state champions,” Tucker said.