I write so I can remember; I write so I will never forget. Memories and lessons from the past are still so relevant for my life today. I write to reflect on where this journey started, so I can look back and see just how far I have come. I write to share my honest feelings so you will know that you are not alone. We all have situations in our lives that are not perfect or just as we planned. I write to assure myself that our imperfect circumstances do have a divine purpose, much greater than we are able to see. I write to remind myself that I have more to look forward to in my future than the pain in my past. I write because I have hope.
I sat in church last Sunday watching a baby dedication ceremony for a beautiful family in our church. As I listened to our pastor lead the dedication, he asked the parents several questions. One question in particular stuck out to me, “Do you promise to allow God to use this child and your family in any way He chooses to bring Him glory?”
I sat and thought how many times we respond quickly to a question like that because in our mind we first think of our children being used in a comfortable or even glamorous way to glorify Jesus Christ. Rarely do we focus on the list of dreaded ways God could use a family to bring Him glory. Without a doubt, experiencing chronic problems, disease, or death would be at the top of the dreaded list.
As I listened, I immediately thought about Holt’s life and our family. We went through a baby dedication service with him when he was only a couple of months old. If I had known then what I know now, I would have avoided answering that question and immediately started begging God to change His plan.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we cannot see the future ahead. Instead, God asks for our trust regardless of the method he decides to use, and all the glory HE receives in the end is due HIM. There are times that I do question the circumstances, but I do not question that God knows best. There is always a divine purpose.
This past summer, I spent a lot of time enjoying my family and writing. I worked hard on my book and telling our stories, but I also had the opportunity to write a short speech about my dad. He was proudly inducted to the Football Hall of Fame at Andalusia High School in Andalusia, Alabama on August 8, 2014. Andalusia is the town where my dad was born and raised. My sister and I were also born and raised there until we moved to Georgia when I was fifteen. (See now why we are Bama fans!)
My dad asked me to speak on his behalf during the ceremony, and I was honored, but if you know me, you know I would rather write than talk…..most of the time. During the summer, I worked on what I was going to say while I wrote the book, so as usual, Holt and how God has used our experiences was fresh on my mind. Some experiences that I have tried hard to forget and others that I always want to remember.
As I finalized my short speech just days before the ceremony, it was like God showed me how unrelated, random dots in our lives were now somehow connected. My dad was a great athlete; that I have always known. But, I never thought about how his love of sports and his sports’ legacy could be used in a way that is relevant to God working through our family’s circumstances today. Through the revisions of that brief speech, God allowed me to see how my dad’s gift of athleticism, one of those comfortable ways to bring God glory, could be combined with a parent’s worst nightmare, losing a child or grandchild. Only God could make those events mesh in a way that resembles something worthy of glory.
Years ago, Dave and I said, “Yes” to God using our children and our family for His glory. We had many great years and happy memories of being all together, but now we believe we have a legacy that also includes something much bigger. God has given our family the opportunity to bring Him glory by sharing hope.
I want to share what I wrote about my dad for his induction ceremony. I share it because for me it makes a connection from my family’s past to our future. It dares to let you in on the bigger purpose for our foundation. It helps to remind me that even though I only see a small section of this tapestry of life, God sees the whole picture. And when you least expect it, He can make your small, misshapen section fit beautifully into His overall perfect design. There is no guarantee that the road will be easy, but there is a guarantee that one day it will be worth it. All He needs to hear is “Yes.”
I want begin by thanking Mr. Don Parsons. My dad describes Mr. Don as “a real friend.” Thank you for taking the time to research and gather stats and information from over the years about Daddy’s sports career and accomplishments. Our whole family appreciates the time and effort you have invested in initiating this honor.
Recently, my pastor made the statement, “God doesn’t give gifts haphazardly but with purpose and intent.” As I heard that statement I couldn’t help but think about athleticism. Athleticism is definitely a gift from God placed inside a person with intent and purpose. And, more often than we realize, that purpose is for something much greater than scoring points and winning ballgames. My dad will tell you that all of his athletic abilities were indeed a gift given by God. He wants you to know that all honor, praise and glory for these accomplishments first belong to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
God definitely had intent and purpose when he placed the gift of athleticism inside Don Ganus, and even though these accomplishments in sports are from the past, God’s purpose for that gift still continues today.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps.”
That verse is true for every single person, but that verse really summarizes how the gift of athleticism has played a part in my dad’s life. From the beginning Daddy says that he was fascinated with sports. He couldn’t afford bats, balls, or gloves, so he would take big sticks and whittle them into bats and then hit rocks around his house. In elementary school, he was introduced to sports equipment like softballs, kick balls, baseballs, footballs, and basketballs. He says that was when he got hooked. When school got out every afternoon he would stay around on the playground hoping the kids who had balls, bats, and gloves would stay there too. He would stay on the playground as long as they did so he could play. Most of the kids he played with only had to walk a few blocks to get home, but Daddy had three miles to walk, so he got many scoldings from my grandmother because he was getting home late so often.
One day, as Daddy walked home from elementary school, he saw a group of kids playing with a football on the front lawn here at the high school. They were fighting one another to catch the football and throw it back in. A man called, “Coach Bernard” was playing with them. One afternoon Daddy got the chance to catch the football and when he threw it back, Coach Bernard noticed that he had a good arm. He really praised Daddy and encouraged him to keep throwing and practicing with a football.
In the 7th grade, Daddy was introduced to playing football on a team. As a scrub player, the equipment was way too big for him. The helmets were made of leather with no faceguard, he said after every hit you had to adjust your pads, pull your pants up, and turn your helmet back around so you could see.
My dad told me that he never had a coach that he didn’t like and respect. Coach Fred Taylor was the Andalusia High School coach when Daddy started playing football in high school. Coach Taylor used Daddy as a running and passing half-back. He did all the kicking, was on kickoff returns and fielded punts. Daddy said that when he did something outstanding like a long kick, a great punt, or made a touchdown, he was almost embarrassed about the attention. To him, football was all about the team. He says, “I would ask my fellow players to block and I would run through the hole. That was my responsibility.”
Around the age of 11 my dad was introduced to baseball by Coach Chick Earle. Chick was a pro-baseball player himself before he had a leg injury that ended his career. When Chick could no longer play ball himself, he started giving back by sharing his knowledge of baseball with kids at the baseball field. He would throw batting practice and let every kid take swings. Daddy said one day he took some swings at the field and hit a ball to the outfield grass. Chick really bragged about the hit. Even though the ball only traveled about 150 feet, Chick made Daddy feel like it was a 700 footer and that really encouraged him to play baseball.
By age 14, Daddy was playing on a 17-18 year olds team that Chick coached in town. He was younger than the other players but he made the team. There were few opportunities for younger boys to play baseball back then, so Daddy either had to play with older players or stop playing and he says that he loved the game too much to quit.
High school baseball for Daddy started in 9th grade where he had a batting average of 350. He hit 450 in tenth grade, 750 in eleventh, and hit 600 as a senior. By the time high school graduation was near he had offers that most young men dream about, but he narrowed them down to two choices. He could play college football at The University of Alabama or play pro baseball with the Milwaukee Braves. Daddy told the scout from Alabama that he really loved baseball and the scout said, “You can play football and baseball too.” But being about 155 pounds and already having had one neck injury from football, he felt like his body would hold up better playing baseball than football. The Braves offered Daddy $175 a month with a $500 signing bonus. If he made it to the following July he would get another $500. At that time he had never seen a $100 bill before so five hundred dollars seemed unreal to him.
Daddy signed with the Milwaukee Braves club out of high school and reported to Spring Training in Waycross, Georgia, which ironically is only ten miles from where we live today. Daddy, being a left-handed hitter, had only seen one left handed pitcher in his life until that time. After a few games in Spring Training, all he saw was left-handed pitchers so it seemed. He had the ability to switch hit, but the coaches wouldn’t let him do it. Coach Chick Earle told Daddy that if he always tried to out hustle everyone on the field that he would be OK, so he never forgot that in any sport or in life. He never walked anywhere on a field; he ran, and didn’t stop running until he reached where he was going.
For almost nine years my Dad played pro ball traveling all over the United States playing with different teams within the Braves organization and learning all positions from the outfield to catcher. He says that some years he felt like he led the USA in traveling. During the off seasons, he would come back to Andalusia and take classes at Troy State or work at the Pecan Plant to help earn money.
When Daddy decided to retire from playing baseball, he came back to Andalusia, met and married my mom, Barbara. He soon began working with Liberty National Life Insurance Company and there he met Mr. Charley Cope, another person my dad calls a “real friend.” Mr. Cope taught my dad about the insurance business and coached him through a successful career with Liberty National for over 32 years.
After leaving baseball, Daddy directed his athleticism towards golf. He played right-handed and won a club championship in Andalusia; then, years later after back surgery, started playing left-handed and won the Greenville club championship left-handed.
A little over a year after my parents were married, I was born and then three years later my sister, Sandi. Having two daughters did not seem to disappoint my dad, he just instilled a love of sports in us and tried to teach both of us all he could about the games he loved most.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad got transferred from Andalusia back to Waycross, Georgia once again, this time because of the insurance business. Years later, I married the nicest Georgia Bulldog fan I could find, and we had two sons: Holt and Hunter Rowland. Sandi married and had two daughters: Kassie and Kalyn Milton. As the grandchildren grew, my dad had the opportunity to instill the love of sports in each one of them. We had everything a family who loves sports needed: a baseball player, a softball player, a football player, and our own cheerleader.
By helping the grandkids with their chosen sports, Daddy was able to share his knowledge with a whole new generation of athletes. As my boys played on rec and school teams, my dad became the hitting coach as player after player came through the batting cage in our backyard. In recent years, Daddy also helped coach a high school baseball team and just this season helped a team of 9 and10 year olds in our area.
No doubt sports have continuously been a huge part of my dad’s life and our family, but about four years ago our perspective and the role of sports in our lives shifted dramatically. My oldest son, Holt, was killed in a car accident coming home from batting practice. He was sixteen years old and a lot like the young guys here tonight. Suddenly, ballgames and batting averages were not important.
Thankfully, Holt was known more for his faith in Jesus Christ than his starting position on the varsity baseball team. The summer before his accident Holt had been to the Dominican Republic on an FCA mission trip where baseball was the platform used to share the gospel. In the Dominican, even more so than in America, young men put their hope in their own talents and athletic abilities as they strive so hard to become professional baseball players. Very few realize, what our family knows for certain, Jesus is the only real hope we can have.
Since Holt’s death, God provided a way for us to create a non-profit foundation as a way to remember Holt’s life and his legacy of faith. So far, “The Holt Rowland Foundation,” has been able to give four partial college scholarships to seniors in our town, distribute FCA Bibles in local high schools, help with the Stop Hunger Now feeding program, give to orphan adoption, provide support to families in our community battling cancer through Amris Jam, provide support for missionaries in the DR who minister to coaches, and also we have supported recent FCA sports mission trips to the Dominican involving softball, baseball, and just this past summer, football. Our main fundraiser right now is an annual golf tournament. But, in the future, we are praying God will use our foundation combined with Holt’s love for baseball to establish a sports ministry that will help remind others what “real hope” is all about.
Yes, “A man’s heart plans his ways, but the Lord truly does direct his steps.”
For our family, God has directed my dad’s love of sports and his gift of athleticism to achieve accomplishments we honor tonight, but his gift of athleticism has also been used by God to make an impact in ways that record books could never show.
On behalf of Don Ganus, thank you again for this induction to The Hall of Fame, and I want to close with a famous quote that Coach Fred Taylor repeated often when he coached my Dad right here at Andalusia High: “When the Great Scorer comes to mark against our name; he counts not if we won or lost; but HOW we played the game.”