The story is just about the same as the years go by. But not today. We watch our high school student-athletes perform. Those of us in the sports journalism world get the honor of meeting and working with them, telling a small part of their story. Then they graduate, move on and we stop telling their stories, moving on to the next group of student-athletes. But not today. Lacey Garrett was a Player of the Year and a Lilly Scholar when she left Crawfordsville four years ago. There is more to her story today. She went to Taylor, played four years of college basketball and was part of a history-making team this season, as they won a conference title, a conference tournament championship and made the final eight at the nationals. But today isn’t about basketball. There is much more to her message. “Taylor University is a Christian college, so I have taken biblical classes and had great conversations with professors and fellow students,” Garret said, “but basketball is where I found myself grow the most.” “Coach (Jody) Martinez implemented Bible study at his house once a month, we did service outreach projects, and did a junior and senior book study,” she continued. “My prayer life has changed significantly as there were times I questioned my purpose with basketball as I was challenged and God answered them. I had many conversations about faith with teammates and prayed with and for many of them. I remember vividly Kendall (Bradway), one of my best friends and senior teammates, leading Aubrey (Wright) and I in a prayer before senior day. That is truly what basketball is all about….it is not the score or stuffing the stat sheet or even getting recognition. It is about exemplifying Christ through the game of basketball.” Playing every game in her four-year career at Taylor, Garrett went from the star of the Athenians program to a part of the larger picture. “I’ve gone through 3 coaching changes, been in the starting 5, come off the bench as a 6th man, had losing seasons, and concluded with winning seasons,” Garrett said of her college career. “I’ve cried, laughed, questioned, worked hard, and loved deeply. When I was thinking back over the years, there was not a single game I could tell you my exact stats. I remember winning the Crossroads tournament, beating Marian finally, going to nationals, and most importantly the relationships with my teammates. I’ll never forget meeting with Coach Martinez, my coach the past 2 years, in his office, where he asked me why I play basketball. Money could not be the answer because thankfully I am a Lilly scholar. It was at that moment I realized the reason I play….relationships and using it as a platform for my Faith.” Those relationships stretch back to Crawfordsville, where every coach she had through her years here went to Taylor to honor her at Senior Day, as did a large portion of the Athenians girls team, who were in grade school when she last played a local game. Being there made a big impression on her. “Most athletes play their final game senior year in high school,” Garrett said. “I was blessed enough to continue my athletic career at Taylor University, where I was excited to finally reach my goal of being a college athlete. What I failed to realize was how truly challenged I would be as a woman of God.” The student-athlete now leaving that stage had a message for those coming next. “To anyone considering playing a college sport….DO IT,” she said. “This will be one of the most challenging things you have ever done, but I promise you it will be worth it if you define your purpose in life. If you are just playing basketball because you love the game itself, then I promise this game will fail you time after time again. You know who never fails you? God. Get in the word, define your purpose, and play the game with God on your side. You will never lose.”
But there was still time for a little reflection. “I just got back from Iowa, where we made it to the elite eight (at the national NAIA tournament), Garrett said of her team’s accomplishment. “Wow…what an amazing experience…just played my last basketball game EVER...I’ll never lace up my shoes again with my best friends. The bus ride back was full of reflection of my four years.” “I do not just want to be remembered as number 22 on one of the most historical seasons ever for Taylor athletics or the feisty red-head,” Garrett said. “I want to be remembered as someone who overcame adversity and exemplified Christ in all she did. I want people to be able to say freshman Lacey is different from Senior Lacey…her faith is stronger than ever. If I am not remembered for this, then I have failed in my four years here.” “The game of basketball is over,” she continued, “ but I am graduating and continuing to play in the game of life. I am planning to do consulting/advising in Indianapolis, where I will be challenged in other ways. I’ll “air ball” and have a few “turnovers,” but I will get right back up and make the next “play” in life because I know my faith is unshakable and I am living for a God who loves me and others more than I could imagine.” Some of our student-athletes ride off into the sunset. But not Lacey Garrett. Not today.