Local coaches bond at FCA cookout

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Coaches are no strangers to heckling from fans. The taunts and insults are part of the job and largely go ignored with no positive gain ever coming from them.

But for former Collins Hill wrestling coach Cliff Ramos, an encounter with a heckler had an effect that Ramos still enjoys to this day.

During the 1999 Gwinnett County wrestling tournament, Ramos endured a barrage of vocalizations from a group of men sitting a few rows back in the bleachers behind him.

"Every time I would get up to talk to a wrestler or check something at the scorer's table, I would hear 'Sit down! Sit down," Ramos said. "It got to where I would even stand up just to hear them yell at me. It was almost a kind of joke."

After the tournament, a man Ramos had never seen before approached him.

"He came up to me and said he was one of the guys who was yelling at me," Ramos said. "He said 'I was wrong for doing that. I don't even know you. I just got caught up in what the guys next to me were doing."

That man was Bill Gifford, who is now the director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Wrestling in the Atlanta area. The friendship the two developed quickly influenced Ramos to become involved in the organization.

"I volunteer for a few events each year, especially the FCA wrestling camps," Ramos said. "There's a few kids each camp that will make the decision to commit their life to Christ. It's powerful."

Ramos gathered with several other coaches, FCA members and members of the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville campground on Thursday night at a cookout to address the need for coaches to become more involved in developing the character and morals of their athletes.

"One of our targets is to reach the kids but we can't do that unless we do it through their coaches," FCA area director Bill Dando said as he addressed the crowd. "For me to hear that we have coaches spending time with our sons and daughters warms my heart and we, as a community, have to fight and pray for these (coaches)."

Another such coach who has embraced what he calls his "mission" is Jim Lofton, the now retired football coach who was in his field for 50 years, including his last five seasons at Greater Atlanta Christian from 1994 to 1998.

"In life, you never get to a point where you don't have a cause." Lofton said. "For 50 years, coaching was my cause, but now I have a different one.

"What I'm trying to do now is help coaches understand they have a cause or mission, taking these kids at a crucial time in their life and using the tools we have to develop the character traits and become people of value. The FCA does a tremendous job in doing that."

While working in an environment where success is judged by a coach's won-lost record, Lofton cited the need to prepare a young athlete to excel in the years beyond high school, especially in areas away from the sporting field.

"When you define that type of success as a coach, you may not know if for several years," Lofton said. "We try to mentor these kids to become productive citizens, good husbands and good fathers."