They called him Coach!
A tall, robust, and stately man, he walked across the football practice field and stood silently watching his team work out. There was a big game coming up and he wanted everything to be just right for that game.
As he stood there, his mind wandered back 12 years to the time when Helen, his wife, had stood somewhere nearby watching a similar practice session of the Purple Panthers. He wondered what she’d think of him now, what she’d do, how she would feel. But then, . . . . he knew the answer to those questions. She loved every student she ever taught at Chapman High School and would have done anything possible to help any one of those students “make it.” Now it was up to him, for Helen had died seven years ago.
Back on the practice field he waited for the team to take a break and he called them all together and began to give them the instruction that would help them “make it.” He had their attention, as if it were prior to a big game and each word spelled success or failure.
It wasn’t unusual to see Coach sitting in a restaurant talking with one of the guys one-on-one. Matter of fact, that was where he really got to know what made them tick. Many close friendships had been developed over a Coke and hamburger, and many sorrows and hardships had been shared.
Three years had passed since the first day he walked on to the field for the first game of the Purple Panthers – three years of learning, growing, and becoming part of the group. Time would tell whether or not he would make it through a fourth.
Someone else might come along who could do the job better. He never wanted to stand in the way of an opportunity for someone else. For you see, Coach is not the head football coach of Chapman High School Purple Panthers, of Inman, S.C. – he is their chaplain.
Rev. James R. Bruce has served as “coach” chaplain of the Panthers for three years at the request of head football coach Ronnie Wilson and his staff. During that time, Bruce says he has come to be accepted as “one of the group instead of the pastor they see on Sunday morning.”
He has traveled with the team and met with them prior to each home game.
“We have a devotional thought of three to five minutes in the locker room before we go out for the game, during which we build on positive idea,” Bruce related.
When asked if having a chaplain on the team had improved the record of the team Bruce responded, “There is no real way to judge that, but the quality of players and their increased number has been a noticeable change.”
Bruce says that some of these young men have become Christians from having had a Christian atmosphere in which to prepare for the game. He has also been able to minister to families through the contacts made with the players on the field.
Pastor of the First Baptist Church for the past 23 years, Bruce believes in associating with young people and being available when they need someone to talk to or a shoulder on which to cry.
“I never played football,” he commented. “This is probably the closest to it I’ll ever come.”
Born in the Holly Springs community north of Inman, S.C., Bruce has devoted his life to sharing the Gospel. He has served churches in Comanche, Oklahoma, Greenville, Ware Shoals, and Inman, South Carolina. He has served both at the associational and state level of Baptist work in various capacities. He has been on the General Board of the State Baptist Convention, vice-president of the Pastor’s Conference, first vice-president of the Convention, president of the Convention and a trustee at Anderson College, Furman University, and Connie Maxwell Children’s Home. He has also served on the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and has been a trustee at Golden Gate Theological Seminary.
Presently, serving on the Board of Trustees of North Greenville College, Bruce is the chairman of the public relations committee.
Coach . . . yes, but more so a servant of God dedicated to serving people and sharing God’s love.
Published in the January 1979 issue of the North Greenville College Alumni Newsletter.