Matt Williams, 33, is the team chaplain for Brookwood High School and the founder of the nonprofit NG3, an organization focused on supporting high school athletes.
The 1997 graduate, and state football championship winner, from Brookwood, Williams started working at the school in 2005, eventually taking the title chaplain. In this installment of "Getting to Know..." staff writer Ben Beitzel talks with Williams about founding his nonprofit, life with his new seven-month-old, Knox, and being married to a Parkview graduate.
BB: You are the team chaplain. How do you become one of those? I didn't think that was a position that really exists.
MW: I was having a conversation with coach (Dave) Hunter and coach (Mark) Crews. At the time, it wasn't even called that. We didn't know what to call it. They knew they could use some assistance in some areas and they said, "Will you come help?" After a couple of years, once we figured out what we were doing, we decided to call it the chaplain.
Right now, we have a nonprofit called NG3 and this is what we do. I have a staff guy at Grayson, South (Gwinnett), Berkmar and starting at Archer, hopefully, this fall. We started this nonprofit two years ago, or a year-and-a-half ago, really. We do character development and chaplain programs.BB: What's "NG3" stand for?
MW: Next Generation. The three is "character, community and change." The way it started was just that. "Hey, we need some help with some of these kids." "Chaplain" is a tough word because everybody kind of has this idea of what that guy does. I really wanted to do it differently. I didn't want to be that guy that came in every week to give a talk and then leave and that's it. I made an effort to be here every day. Over the last seven years -- it started with football -- any time a coach was here, outside of the school, I was here. It just grew from there and now I do baseball and I have a few volunteers with other sports.
BB: What, specifically, do you do?
MW: Everything we do is based on relationships. One of our things is kids don't need more programs, they need more people. In the beginning of doing this role is a lot of relationship building. It's showing up, it's building trust, letting them know that you are not just some weirdo that's here everyday. A lot of the time on the field, I help with drills. Whatever it is they want me to do, I do. Over the years that's changed a lot. The way I help with football is different than the way I help with baseball. Essentially it's whatever they need me to do. Being there for the kids, being a listening ear, being someone they can go to, like a big brother. It's a safe environment. That's what we really want. But it all comes back to relationships. If they don't trust you, they are not going to talk to you. I don't. I don't talk to people I don't trust.
BB: How does the chaplain role work with the school environment, legally?
MW: First and foremost, we want to respect whatever line is set. What we are doing with the team as a whole, if it is something they are asking all of the kids to be at, then we keep the separation really clear. If it is something we are going to do outside of the school, if there is a Bible study we are doing in the mornings, whoever wants to come, they can, then we are there.
There are a lot of situations, honestly, were a kid will come up and he'll want to talk about something or they'll have a question about something and it's the middle of practice and it's a totally inappropriate time to talk about it. Instead of making him feel like, "We can't talk about it." It's just, "Hey, man, let's talk about it later." It's just being really careful and wise on that line is really important. I know that at anytime it could change and I would be out of a job.
The idea is it doesn't matter what you think, what you believe, where you come from -- we are here to be a listening ear for you, too, and we're here for you.
BB: What'd you study in school? Counseling?
MW: Engineering. Structural engineering.
BB: Of course.
MW: (laughing) My dad says, 'I spent all this money on you getting a degree and this is what you do.' But he loves it.
BB: You had to have a church background or some counseling experience?
MW: No. I was somewhat of a wild child. I changed a lot in college which was a reason why a lot of moving happened (Georgia Tech, Auburn, Georgia). I needed to get away from some environments. I got roped into this other nonprofit, roped in, I got asked to be in this other nonprofit to work with high school kids. At first I was like, 'No, I'm not going to do it.' Finally, I said, 'OK, I'll give it a shot.' I fell in love with the idea of helping kids, being there for them and giving them some direction and stuff like that.
BB: What were you doing? Big brother stuff?
MW: I was involved in an organization called Young Life. We did Young Life in Gwinnett. There were some things, honestly, that I loved about that nonprofit, but there were also some things that I wanted to do different. That is when I made the decision, 'Let's get after it in another way and see what happens.' Hence, NG3.
BB: How'd you meet your wife?
MW: Doing Young Life. They say, "Young Life, find a wife." We met doing Young Life. Dated, on-and-off for four years and then I roped her in, man. I finally, finally convinced her. Married up, married up for sure.
BB: You have a seven-month-old, Knox. That's got to be a change.MW: It is awesome. It changes your perspective on life, man. Everything is different. Even these players are different. You realize a lot of them have parents that are looking at them the same way I am looking at my boy. You don't sleep a whole lot, but sleeping is overrated. It actually took us a long time to have a baby so I think that, for us, you're able to take some of those hard things and just go with it.
BB: Is Knox a family name?
MW: It is in our family, somewhere deep in the family. But we just loved the name. We feel like it's a good strong name. It's different.
BB: It's sturdy.
MW: We like it. Hopefully he will. He'll deal with it.
BB: It's not a name that's going to get you beat up.
MW: He better not. He better not. I don't want him to be that guy.
BB: Where's your wife from? Gwinnett?
MW: She went to Parkview.
BB: That's fun. Little rivalry?
MW: Yeah. Jon Stinchcomb (Parkview football player), he works with us. I actually played against him in high school. We have a little rivalry. The rivalry in my house, but she's gotten to love Brookwood a lot, but it's not a big deal.
BB: I never got the sense that there's a lot of hate.
MW: Back in the day it was heated, but nowadays there's just a lot of respect. We want to beat them, but in terms of hatred, that's not there.