I recently had the honor of speaking at a funeral to celebrate the life of one of the greatest men I have ever known. Below is a copy of my preparation draft leading up to that day. I decided to post it as a blog post because, outside of my father, no other person apart from Christ has had a greater influence on me becoming the man I am today. Although most of you won’t have a chance to meet him this side of heaven, this will give you a glimpse as to what this man meant to me and countless others in his lifetime. As you read this, keep in mind, the impact, the potential each of us has to impact the world around us.
Living and Leaving a Legacy
A “Great” man stepped off of the pavement of this life onto streets of gold in eternity last Saturday morning. A truly great man, who devoted much of his adult life to teach kids the game of baseball and for some of that time, basketball as well. Any of us who ever had the opportunity to play for him, whether baseball or basketball always improved as a player because of his coaching. He has forgotten more about the game of baseball than most of us will ever learn about it.
But is that why we are all here today? to honor a great coach? Maybe in some respect, that’s true but it’s more than that – I think, for most of us, we are here because of a bond that we have with this man that goes well beyond anything we could ever learn from just playing a sport!! The lessons we learned from this man have carried on within us to this very day. His influence has not just been in regards to those he coached, no……, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles have all been influenced by him.
Coach used the game of baseball to teach us about how to live our lives. Over the past week, as I have talked to several of you and read various posts, articles and such. I thought it was interesting how many times someone would say or write something like, “I didn’t realize it at the time but I learned this or that from Mr. Hilton.” Yes, we learned how to become better ballplayers from coach but more importantly we learned life lessons about – trust, respect, honor, loyalty, hard work, integrity, to just do the right thing and most of all LOVE. To pursue excellence is not only what he taught but how he lived.
Heritage by definition means “an inherited or established way of thinking, feeling, or doing”. All of us who are gathered here today are here because of the heritage established and handed down to us by Coach Hilton. Mark, I’m not sure but I maybe the only person here that can say – I played for your dad, coached baseball and basketball with him and also played for you. And as I think about your dad, and all the lessons he ever taught us….they really all revolved around one basic concept. To simply do the right thing. No shortcuts. Just do whatever it is that you need to do.
I’m reminded of a story. A time that Coach made me wear a catcher’s mask while playing second base. I had just gotten braces and that same afternoon at practice, I took a shot to the mouth as we were taking infield practice. There was blood everywhere it seemed. After the bleeding had stopped, Coach had me grab my glove and head on out to second. He knew I needed to get back on that horse so to speak. As he hit ground ball after ground ball, I kept turning my head or looking up at the last instant. This is not what he taught. Finally, after several minutes he walked over to the catching gear and brought out a mask to me. One way or another, I was going to learn to keep my head down and watch that ball all the way into my glove.
Coach didn’t mind physical errors, that’s part of the game but mental errors, not giving the effort, that was unacceptable. And everyone here knows what you heard from coach whenever one of these lapses occurred. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I heard the phrase – “knock em bout”. (this phrase was our cue to take a lap)
And I do want to pause here and say that there are two things Mr. Hilton taught me by example: to respect everyone! You don’t have to like everyone or get along with them but you can always respect them. And the other was to just be honest – with yourself, and others alike.
I received a phone call from coach…I guess it was 7 or 8 years ago now…., he was calling to let me know that he was getting baptized and just wanted me to know. I asked him when it was and as soon as I hung up the phone, the date was marked in our family calendar. This was one baptism I wasn’t going to miss. I tell you, outside of my own families baptisms, that was by far one of my favorite memories to date. Why? Knowing that he had accepted Christ and that I was able to see him publicly professing his faith was just an incredible experience for me. Even now as we are here celebrating the life he lived here, i know that there is a day coming where once again, I will be able to sit and visit with coach. To reminisce and share stories once more.
It’s rare that you find anyone who exemplifies a Christ-like life but they themselves have not accepted Christ as their savior. And I can’t explain why Mr. Hilton didn’t come to accept Christ sooner than he did but there is not a doubt in my mind, as I know, God used Mr. Hilton – Coach, to instill in all of us, biblical values, that if we incorporated and lived by, would help us to be successful in living out our own lives.
If Coach had the opportunity to step back one last time and impart one last lesson on us all, it would be this – Don’t miss heaven! One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Philippians 4:8-9. The apostle Paul has written the church in Philipi to remind them of Christ’s love for them and to encourage and challenge them. Like Paul, Mr. Hilton had a desire, a love for people, especially kids and if he was here, I think he would use very similar words found in Philippians 4: 8-9; 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Today, we may mourn the physical loss of someone we loved very much but the life – the heritage – the legacy of this man will continue on for generations to come.