Season 5 - Episode 531
Chaplains serve student-athletes across Baylor’s 17 varsity sports, providing pastoral leadership, teaching, evangelism and care. In this Baylor Connections, discover how chaplains invest in their sport and their students. John Maurer, Dani Price and Stanton Corley share insights from their distinct roles.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith and today we are talking team chaplains with Baylor athletics and beyond. Baylor chaplains serve student athletes across Baylor's 17 varsity sports, providing pastoral leadership, teaching evangelism and care to student athletes, coaches, staff and their families. Visiting today with John Maurer, Dani Price and Stanton Corley. John Maurer came to Baylor in 2018 as associate chaplain in spiritual life and director of sports ministry. Dani Price, a 2017 Truett Seminary graduate, works as director of softball operations at Baylor and serves on Baylor's sport ministry team. Stanton Corley, a 2018 Truett graduate, has served as chaplain for Baylor baseball since 2018. And, they're all with us on the program today. Pleased to have you all. You know, a personal note, I've got to work with Stanton in baseball and Dani in softball and seen you, John, in a number of places and events. So, it's great to have you all on today as we sort of unpack the role of sport chaplains. And, John, I want to start with you. As obviously we're embarking on a new academic year, new sports seasons about to begin, for you personally, what's most exciting? What do you most anticipate as we head into a new year each season?
John Maurer:Well, Derek, like you, like all of us on the call, I'm also a huge sports fan, so there's something about this time of year, the fall, the kind of... The reset of all of our athletic programs and such that kind of gets you excited just to see again how Baylor's going to do on the field, on the court, on the pitch, whatever the venue is, but... And, even going back to my playing days way back when, right? Just the excitement of a new season, a fresh slate, a new team, a new start, that type of thing. But, obviously in the role that we inhabit here as team chaplains, as spiritual leaders of teams, you bring in that piece and say, "Gosh, I wonder. I wonder what God's going to do this year on this team, in this athletic department, in the lives and the hearts of student athletes, coaches, staff." And, yeah. I would say over the years my love for Jesus has slowly overtaken my love for sports in such that my anticipation of the spiritual realities going on this season is even greater than the athletic things, although those are fun to celebrate and be a part of as well. But, yeah. Just to see what God is going to do this year, Derek. I'm really, really excited.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dani Price, Stanton Corley and John Maurer. And, John, let's zoom out a bit and look at sport ministry here at Baylor because it's interesting. We've got chaplains who work with the teams, who work for the team, with athletics. You're in Baylor's spiritual life. But, it all comes together in sport ministry. So, how has it all come together and what's that official element that really in recent years in particular has brought everyone under that one roof?
John Maurer:Yeah, Derek. I think... You know, if Mack Rhoades is listening to this podcast, he would be happy for me to say that my role, like everybody's role in the athletic department, is to help prepare champions for life and I think honestly under his leadership some five, six years ago now... When he came in and began conversations with Dr. Burt Burleson over in spiritual life, they kind of re-envisioned my role as director of sports ministry to still serve in some chaplain role with ministry to athletes and coaches, but kind of give overall direction to a Baylor sports ministry program that would be really one of a kind if you think about across the country. As Baylor is a Christian mission university, it has... Can have its own sports ministry. For 30 years prior to coming to Baylor four years ago, Derek, I served with Athletes in Action, and organizations like Athletes in Action and FCA serve diligently across the country, around the world, as volunteers in athletic departments like ours, Power Five departments that come alongside and serve. But, here at Baylor, we actually get to build our own sport ministry from the inside out. And so, yeah. They hired me four years ago and obviously there have been many people serving for many years in many different ways in the athletic department, and so, kind of gave me the task of beginning to form a team and a vision and say, "Hey, what would it look like for us to actually build something unique to Baylor, something in which that we could work together really to build a culture of discipleship within the athletic department that involves some full time staff... Myself, Holly Murray who just came aboard three weeks ago as a senior coordinator for us, and we've got then a bunch of others like Stanton and like Dani, some of which are Baylor employees, some are which are from other para church ministries, FCA and AIA and Nation of Coaches, some of which serve in some other roles within athletics, Baylor athletics, like Sophia Malcolm who's with the basketball team and player development and... But, kind of come together to help provide for the spiritual needs of each of our teams, our student athletes, our coaches and our staff together." So, yeah. It's... Derek, it's a work in progress. We're... You know, I'm in year five now. Just kind of finished year four and really excited about where we're at right now and moving toward the future to continue to work together to see God glorified in and through the lives of those here at Baylor.
Derek Smith:Stanton and Dani, I want to ask you. As he describes that, as he paints that picture, you all are really the boots on the ground with the individual teams. Let's go back a little bit. Stanton, starting with you. When did you first feel that call to sport chaplaincy and when did that become real to really pursue this for you?
Stanton Corley:I got to thinking about all my experiences, the things that I loved, and like John Maurer, I love sports. Right? Love the Lord. Not in any particular order there.
Stanton Corley:And, I love college too for a numerous amount of reasons. One, it kind of keeps me young too. I'm 35. I sometimes still feel like I'm 22. You know? Like I'm right there in the mix. So, I just started thinking about what are... What are those places where I can utilize my gifts and talents? And, I combined them all, ministry, sports and college students, and was just drawn to collegiate athletics. It originally began as a desire to be a coach and that didn't work out like I wanted it to. I thought it was going to work out at Baylor, but the Lord had other plans and I'm actually a basketball guy, so was a walk-on basketball player in college. And so, how I ended up with the baseball team, I'm still asking the Lord about that one. But, sport chaplaincy is just college students, sports, ministry. How can I combine all them? And, it was a no-brainer.
Derek Smith:Mm-hmm. What about you, Dani? Because, I know you've been around the Baylor softball program before but you've had dual calls as well in your life.
Dani Price:Yeah. Very similar to Stanton, I think... Well, I thought it was going to be coaching and that's been a part of my story. I originally came to Baylor in 2014 to go to Truett Seminary for the sports ministry concentration that they have in their [inaudible] program. And, I've known Coach Moore since I was in high school. I actually gave my life to the Lord at one of his Baylor softball camps. And so, I came to know God through sports ministry and so I knew that was going to always be a part of coaching or my call. I just didn't know what capacity and so it's been... I started with Baylor softball in 2014 as a manager and built relationships with players there and then got to step into the volunteer assistant role and saw a little bit more of maybe a mentoring role, and through that came spiritual conversations. And, when I was trying to figure out what my next step would be, whether it would be a different coaching opportunity, Coach Moore presented me with the director of operations role and that in my mind opened up maybe more of a ministry opportunity as well. I've found it very challenging to do both the coaching and the ministry side by side, and so, when the director of operations role was an opportunity given to me, it was kind of like, okay. How can I also make this a ministry role? And then, here John Maurer comes, swoops in and says, "Hey, do you want to be a part of the Baylor sports ministry team?." And, I was like, "Man, this is exactly what I was hoping for." And so, now it's just pouring into the girls the same way I did as a coach, just maybe a little bit more ministry and a little less hitting, pitching, technique.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are talking sport chaplaincy with John Maurer, associate chaplain in spiritual life and director of sport ministry, and Dani Price with the softball team, Stanton Corley with the baseball team. And, Dani, I'll stick with you for a moment, ask you both this question. You know, I don't think we have to convince people that college is a pivotal point in a young person's life and that there's a lot ahead and student athletes in particular have a lot of unique challenges on their life. So, I'm curious. You know, when you look at your flock, if you will, there's a pastoral role to this. These are the people entrusted in your care. What's unique? What is meaningful to you about getting to serve student athletes at this time, even with all the changes? Stanton mentioned there's changes going on in college athletics. What's unique to you about the opportunity you have with this flock, if you will, before you?
Dani Price:Yeah. It's a great question. I think... I'm going back to when I put myself in their shoes. College was such a time where I was trying to figure out who am I apart from my parents, apart from my family. And, there were so many questions about like what do I want for myself. Who am I really? What am I worth in a sense? And, that was a big question that I had to figure out as I was a student athlete, and I became passionate and when I found the Lord and realized how much... I mean, Jesus died on the cross for me and I was asking myself, am I really worth that? And, when I started to understand how much God loved me and I could find my confidence in that and not in my stats or not in who my coach saw me to be whether I was doing well or not doing well, I found so much confidence in who I was, and that boiled over into my friendships and my just life, my daily life. And so, I became passionate about how can I see the flock, like you say, that God's given me for the time being and how can I show them how much God values them and how much they're worth and how God sees them apart from how the world sees them or how their coaches see them or how fans in the stands see them. And so, I became really passionate about helping young women find confidence in who they are because of who God created them to be.
Derek Smith:That's great.
Derek Smith:What about you, Stanton?
Stanton Corley:Yeah. My answer will be somewhat similar. You know, what I've learned, what's been meaningful to me, what's been unique to me, is that student athletes, specifically the flock if you will that I have, are... Have an almost entirely different experience than I did when I was a student athlete. It's a whole different world and the two things that I think about the most are that now I feel like student athletes have so much more power than they used to have. They have a greater voice. They have more control over their own journey and that wasn't the case when I was a student athlete. It was kind of like whatever the heck coach says, you just do it and that's it. And, I'm not saying that doesn't exist anymore, but the voice of student athletes is so much louder today. And, at the same time, student athletes are under much more scrutiny and under a much greater microscope than they ever have been before. That has a lot to do with social media, has a lot to do with technology. And, what that technology does is not even for college students, but my wife and I read a great book called The Tech-Wise Family. I don't know if any of you guys have ever heard of it. It's by Andy Crouch. We're reading through it. We read through this Tech-Wise Family and he talks about how technology has made... Has basically shortened the adolescent phase. So, kids are growing up so much faster than they used to because they have the world at their fingertips, and I found that to be the case with college students, and though that does provide them unique positive opportunities, it brings a lot of anxiety and it brings a lot of fear. It brings a lot of self-esteem issues. And, yes, faith can play a huge role in bringing peace and being able to pray to a God who casts my cares and anxieties on him. But, there are so many resources at Baylor too that are able to help students in these mental health crises, who are struggling with depression, struggling with anxiety, and that's been an emphasis in the athletic department as well too. They now have two full time mental health staff in the athletic department as well. So, helping students navigate this new world of technology has been fun. It's been easier to keep up with them, too, because I just look at their social media page. But, at the same time, it brings... It brings some struggles up that are novel, that are... That are... I'm going to use the word fun and I'm going to say fun specifically because I think that's when the most growth and most opportunity for spiritual transformation can happen, are in the hard times or in the down times or in the rough times. So, that's why it's fun for me because there's opportunities for redemption in these difficult times with student athletes.
Derek Smith:That's great. John, as Dani and Stanton described some of the different roles that they can play, in what ways do you work to serve them and collectively come together to, when you think about all the roles, whether it's a student athlete struggling on the field or losing a loved one or struggling with studies [inaudible]... Pastor, psychologist, all of the above.
Derek Smith:How do you work to support Stanton and Dani and other chaplains in the challenges that they face so that they can best serve their student athletes?
John Maurer:Yeah. Well, Derek, I'm thankful, and Stanton mentioned this, that it's not me alone. I mean, we really have an incredible team here within Baylor athletics and that help all of us in a bunch of different ways. So, yeah. Of course, I seek to build relationships with all of those that serve on our team and we meet monthly for a lunch meeting to connect with each other, to share how each other's doing, to pray for one another, to share in God's word and also to hopefully to bring some resources. In fact, just had a conversation the other day with Dr. Monique Marsh Bell, mental health services here in athletics, and talked about the idea of bringing her in to one of our monthly lunch meetings like to give us some thoughts about mental health as it relates to our role, specifically pastorally. And so, yeah. I [inaudible], which kind of reinvigorated me a little bit. I mean, COVID obviously... I hate to say that word on this broadcast, but it's been kind of this weird parentheses in all of our lives and I think prior to COVID, we had had a number of folks like that in our Baylor world, in spiritual life and in athletics, that were coming in to kind of provide some extra resources for our chaplains, and with that, that period of time, kind of forgot about that and just, like I said, in the couple conversations here recently in the last couple of weeks, it's kind of reinvigorated me to say [inaudible] we've got to continue to get people around our chaplains, to continue to resource them and help us grow in all these different areas. And, also just to know that we can really focus in, Derek, on what we do best in that spiritual realm and pastoring and helping kids come to know Christ and grow in their relationship with him and then be trained and launched in ministry on their teams. And yet, knowing we don't have to be the expert in the mental health area because we've got, as Stanton said, two or three or four now full time employees that we can literally walk kids down the hall if they're in such a shape that they need that type of care right away or whatever. So, yeah. We can be really good at what we're good at and then we can also just kind of triage in different areas when there's things that are beyond our pay grade. You know? And, we've got great people to refer them to and know that they're going to be well taken care of in those areas as well.
Derek Smith:Visiting with John Maurer, Dani Price and Stanton Corley here on Baylor Connections. And, as we head into the final few minutes on the program, I'd like to sort of begin to close with some of the moments that really stand out to you all. First, I'll ask you, Dani. You know, every student athlete is... They're all unique individuals, different spots on their spiritual journeys, different challenges. What's it like getting to know them to figure out who they are and what their needs are? And, what are some of the moments that most stand out to you as, wow, this is why I love even the challenges of this job?
Dani Price:Yeah. You know, I think that the beauty of God and I think about a couple of Scriptures. But, the beauty of God is that he meets people where they're at and I think that is also a great lead for what we're supposed to do spiritually. Like you said, a lot of people on our team are in different places spiritually and so when I get to sit down with them and talk to them, I love asking them questions about who God is to them and what makes them really come alive spiritually and seeing... Kind of just meeting them where they're at, just like Christ does in Scripture. And so, that's been one of my favorite things, is when I get to just go have coffee with somebody and sit across from them and ask them questions and get to know their upbringing or spiritually what their upbringing was like and how they came to know the Lord and what their passion is, if they would like to do something spiritually. That stuff really just excites me. And, then Stanton and I get a great opportunity come August 13th where we get to lead a mission trip to Costa Rica with John's help and we get to take some softball athletes, baseball athletes, track athletes and equestrian athletes, and get to go serve. And, there's something when you just get to serve God together that you build a relationship for a long time. I think back to when we got to go with the softball team to Ghana, Africa and we got to serve together and I still talk to some of those girls that we served together where we're talking about specific people from Ghana, Africa that we built relationships with that we still think about and we wonder where they're at today or we're checking in with them on Facebook. And, there's something about serving the Lord together that bonds you for life because you're brothers and sisters in Christ. And so, I'm looking forward to that with Stanton and a group that we have going, but I also... When I think about stories, I think about... Coach Moore sends me a video every year. We're standing in a circle with like five of our softball athletes and the coaching staff and some of the people we met in Ghana, holding hands, singing and worshiping to the Lord. And, he sends it to me every year when it pops up on his Facebook memories because it brings us so much joy. None of us sound good, but we're all singing to the same God about how wonderful he is and I just think about that group often because it was a hard few days, it was hard travel, but man, the one... The one thing that bonded us together was our love for the Lord and trusting in him. So, that's what comes to mind for me.
Derek Smith:That's great.
Stanton Corley:Yeah. You know, for me, Derek, one of my favorite times in terms, in specific context of relating with student athletes and meeting them where they are, I like them learning first that I'm the chaplain and letting them develop all their preconceived notions about what a chaplain should be. Right? And, then shortly after that... I'll get a little vulnerable on this podcast. I'm not afraid to talk about my story. Shortly after that, I tell them that I spent some time in a drug and alcohol rehab over a heroin addiction. I tell them about how when I was an undergrad at Baylor, I had to drop out because I drank too much alcohol and used too much drugs. And, then I get to tell them now that I'm 11 years sober and I'm a husband and a father and a foster dad, expecting another kid on the way. And, what's that's done for the relationships with all student athletes that are part of my flock but specifically the ones who don't have this faith orientation has been incredible. And, one of the most meaningful stories that's happened to me is during the... I'm going to use the bad word again that John used. During COVID... During COVID, one of our former... One of our many former baseball players now who are playing professional baseball called me and was broken and came and sat on my back porch, just crushed, confessing that he had been a faker, that he had said he was a Christian but really wasn't, and gave his life to Christ on my back porch during the COVID season. And, that was just... That was one of the more meaningful moments of my time with the baseball team that I'll never forget.
Derek Smith:That's powerful. Yeah. But, great to hear those stories and to see the impact that this program has on student athletes' lives, John. And, you know, there's really... I know there's so many more stories that we could probably stay on here another half hour or so, but John, as we wind down, I want to ask you. You know, when you hear stories like that, how much does that motivate you and how inspiring is it as we head into a new year? You know, you said at the beginning of the show you look forward to seeing what God's going to do.
Derek Smith:How inspiring is that as you look ahead?
John Maurer:Yeah, Derek. I mean, changed lives is what it's all about and thankfully only God can do that. You know? So, the three of us sit in very privileged positions in which we get to interact with these student athletes, coaches, and staff. We get to pray and we get to ask the spirit of God to show us where he's working and it's so fun to do. Just this summer, one of our graduate assistant helpers here with sports ministry, Josh [inaudible] and I were leading a Bible study with some football players, many of which were brand new freshmen that had just come this summer. So fun to kind of meet these kids that have no clue of what they're kind of getting themselves into and yet here they are at a Bible study. Right? Opening God's word and learning. One of the weeks two guys came into the room, one who's a fifth or maybe sixth year senior. Never seen him at a Bible study before. Another guy, a third year player, a very prominent role on the team, also in the room that day. And, that afternoon when we got done I text them and said, "Hey guys. You know, thanks for coming. But, can I ask? Like, what brought you?." And, had the opportunity to sit down with both those guys in the next couple days one on one, Derek, and just... They began to share of their own journey and where they've been. Both had a church background. They both have been here at Baylor for quite some time and basically had kind of put that on the back burner, if at all, on any burner. But, now as a result of God's work in their life, both of them are saying, "You know what? I need to grow spiritually and so that's why I showed up to Bible study." So, anyway, all that just to say what a privilege it is for us to be able to be here and to see God at work and join him in what he's doing in people's lives. And, I have the same story like Dani and Stanton in terms of somebody investing in my life as a college athlete that really... I had no... This was not my career path at all. Right? When I went to college. I had way other plans. God interrupted and said, "No, John. I've got a different plan and it's going to be a better plan for you than you have for you." And, this has been the road I've been on for 35 years, being involved in ministry in this athletic world, which has just been a joy in so many ways. So, Derek, that's why we do what we do.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, John, as we close, I want to ask you. If people are inspired hearing this, are there ways that the Baylor family can get involved or support the work you all do in any way?
John Maurer:Sure. Yeah. They sure can. I would love to have them reach out to me or Holly Murray, our new full time senior coordinator for women's ministry. We could... Yeah. We definitely could use some help. As Stanton said, we've got now three mission trips that happen every year, Lord willing, so we need people to help out financially. And, there's obviously other ways as well in the community that they can be involved as well. So, feel free to reach out to... Or, Dani or Stanton. Any of us here and we'd love to connect with you and share the vision and how you might be able to help.
Derek Smith:Wonderful. We hope people will join in. Well, Dani and Stanton, our prayers for safe travels as you and the student athletes head to Costa Rica. And, John, to all of you, appreciate you coming on today. Thanks so much.
Stanton Corley:Great [inaudible].
Dani Price:Thanks Derek.
Derek Smith:Thank you. John Maurer, Baylor's associate chaplain in spiritual life and director of sport ministry. Dani Price, director of softball operations and a member of Baylor's sport ministry team. And, Stanton Corley, chaplain for Baylor baseball since 2018. Our guests today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith to remind you you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us on Baylor Connections.