Cover Story

Throwing heat and taking heat

"Throwing heat and taking heat" Continued...

Issue: "John Smoltz: The closer," Aug. 3, 2002

Mr. Smoltz, unable to pitch in 2000 and during most of the 2001 season, poured himself into the project. "Building a school takes an incredible amount of time," he noted. "In one sense, I'd rather have another surgery on my arm than go through all this again. But it's been very rewarding ... especially when I see how God brings good out of bad." His happiest day of 2001, he said, did not come late in the season when he began pitching effectively again and became the Braves' closer, but "when I walked in and saw our school opening. I almost broke down.... Through Christ, we had overcome so much."

And the school battles aren't over yet. King's Ridge opened on Sept. 4, 2001, in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta. Its 195 K-8 students met in a converted supermarket; 300 students are enrolled for this coming school year. Down the road expansion is likely: The school owns 84 acres on which it wants to build classrooms, an assembly hall, a gym, and a stadium, but a court battle over rezoning the land to allow those uses is now underway. Meanwhile, Mount Pisgah Christian School is continuing, in Mr. Lathem's words, to "work very hard at providing quality Christian education. It has done so impeccably through the years and continues to do so. Mt. Pisgah is the largest Methodist school east of the Mississippi and is above reproach."

Mr. Smoltz is committed to going the distance with King's Ridge. His excellent pitching late in 2001 led the New York Yankees to offer him a $52 million contract to work up north from 2002 to 2005. He almost signed it but, wanting to stay in Atlanta and see King's Ridge develop, instead re-signed with the Braves for $30 million over three years: "Financially, I'll also be a big part of the school. I think that may be the reason God kept me playing.... I feel this school is what I'm called to do." He plans to be involved in "incorporating Christ in all we do-scholastics, athletics, everything. We have people who are intentionally Christian in every aspect of life."

The television sets in the Atlanta clubhouse were turned to CNN (the Braves, after all, are owned by AOL Time Warner) and the big story was of the shooting at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport. Braves left fielder Chipper Jones grimaced and said, "It's happening everywhere," and that led Mr. Smoltz to explain passionately why Christian education should not emphasize only warm fuzzies: "Columbine-how does that happen? The girl dying because she professed her faith ... We want to prepare kids for battles in life."

He waved off a question from fellow pitcher Tom Glavine and continued: "Kids need the ability to differentiate between evolution and Christian understanding.... They need the weapons to defend Christianity, to be able to understand and debate the differences between religions, to know what's happening in the world and how to compete." Sports will be important at King's Ridge: "Many Christian schools don't want to be known for athletics. That's a mistake. We have bodies given us by God, and God didn't call us to be soft. Sports teach us how to compete. They teach perseverance."

Mr. Smoltz also wants to encourage a service component: "The world teaches us to ask, 'What can you do for me to be successful?' Christianity turns around the question. We need to back up faith with action." He concluded, "I almost have more respect for a person who doesn't believe there's a God than for a person who knows about God but doesn't do anything with that knowledge.... So I feel good about my work on the school board. Mount Pisgah was looking for money and a face. They got a stand-up Christian who was willing to fight."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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