Mark Core is in his first year as the head varsity men’s basketball coach at East High School. He chose to leave a storied program after many years of success, for a struggling program in a low-income area. Hear what he has to say about advancing the Kingdom of God in the context of basketball!

How can something like coaching basketball at a public school be an avenue in which the Kingdom of God is advanced?

God can use anything to advance his Kingdom. Our job as coaches is to unconditionally love and support the boys while meeting them where they are but at the same time opening their eyes to something greater. We want the boys to develop a sense of self worth as well as seeing good in their teammates. We want the boys to develop a sense of responsibility to the team as well as to their schooling and the broader community. While none of these things are overtly Christian, we do believe that these characteristics will help prepare their hearts for what God is calling them to become.

What are some things you are doing and trying to establish in your program at East?

Our guys love to play basketball, but there is little or no understanding of what it takes to play the game well. It starts with attitude and effort. Every day we remind the guys of the necessity of raising the level of their intensity and focus on the well-being of the team. Basketball is a game of decision-making. Within a practice or game there are literally thousands of choices. Getting the guys to buy into the idea of making high percentage plays with team success as the ultimate goal is a never ending process.

What are some of the hard, un-glamorous parts of what you are doing?

I love sweeping the floor! This isn’t hard, but it is definitely not glamorous. The few minutes I spend pushing the broom up and down the floor helps to get me focused on the upcoming practice.

On a more serious note, I spend countless hours monitoring the academic progress of our guys. The school wants to see progress in terms of reducing tardies and absenteeism as well as improved performance in the classroom. Collecting information, then following up with individual players takes time. In the end, we believe this will benefit the players as educational opportunities open up for them.

What fears do you have?

There is a culture of hostility and anger which truly frightens me. So many students are just on a hair trigger and the slightest provocation sets them off. There have been acts of violence which have resulted in injury, but I am very afraid that the worst is yet to come.

My near-constant prayer is for peace. When students come into my office and talk about wanting to fight so and so, I constantly in literal or paraphrased language tell them “blessed are the peacemakers.” 

How do you deal with discouragement and setbacks?

This is a real issue! Nobody is immune from discouragement and there are plenty of setbacks. One thing is to remind myself to get over “hard” Yes, this is hard. If I’d wanted easy I could have stayed in my former position and retired in relative ease. But this isn’t about me, its about the kids and their experience as a member of our team. Keeping my eyes on the prize (long term growth and development) is the only real way to get over the inevitable disappointments which come with coaching anywhere. 

What advice do you have for other people who are trying to advance the Kingdom of God?

Like with the first question, God uses people everywhere. Be yourself, do what you do, but do it with a greater purpose in mind.

What is your biggest dream in all of this? What are some things you’re doing now to see that dream realized?

Seeing East Basketball become a source of inspiration for others. Frankly, we are the lowliest underdogs in class 4A boys basketball right now. Getting individual mindsets to change and then collectively turning the team into a hard working, unselfish, passionate group of young men would be an astonishing accomplishment.  If we can do it, perhaps others would learn from and grow from what they see in us.

A team is something that a school and community can rally around. We would like to be that team!