Sports Alumni Make a Difference In Their Unique Roles During COVID-19
Ask Bob Luhn what his best attribute is when it comes to pastoring and it won’t be his preaching or his administrative abilities.
Rather, much like on the basketball court, it is meeting congregants face-to-face and providing encouragement, hugs, high fives or advice.
With social distancing, though, all of that went out the window.
“I’ve always been one to enjoy visiting people in their homes or meeting for a cup of coffee,” he said. “Not being able to do that feels like it handicaps the strongest part of my ministry. I love people and to not be able to physically meet with them, it feels like I don’t have the best tool in my ministry.”
Luhn, who is the interim pastor at Connell (Washington) Church of the Nazarene, has tried to combat the lack of physical presence through twice-weekly devotional videos, hand-written letters, emails and phone calls.
“In the videos, I try really hard not to ‘preach to the thousands out there in cyberspace,’” he said, “but to talk to the one person who is listening on her phone or peering into his laptop. If I picture just one person and try to talk to just that one, I think it is as close to the personal touch as I can give.”
Luhn, who played basketball at Northwest Nazarene for legendary coach Orrin Hills from 1966-70, graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Religion. He went on to Nazarene Theological Seminary, graduating from there in 1973, and then headed to South Dakota to be a pastor.
“That was the most difficult 22 months of my life,” he said. “I was such a lousy pastor that I decided I had misunderstood God’s call.”
He decided he would leave ministry and move to Spokane, Washington to work at his dad’s engineering firm. He became an associate pastor at Spokane Valley Church of the Nazarene and eventually realized that ministry was, in fact, his true calling.
In 1980, Luhn moved to Othello, Washington where he pastored a Nazarene church for 34 years. He was retired for three weeks when he got a call from the Northwest District superintendent to be an interim pastor, which he has been doing for the past six years.
He’s been in Connell since August of 2019 and handed the pulpit off to a new pastor on June 7.
Part of that handing off involved Luhn and the church board setting up church services in the parking lot. Parishioners tune into a radio station and Luhn preaches while standing in the back of a truck. While this is out of Luhn’s comfort zone, he draws on his long experience in the ministry and his basketball-playing days to help push through.
“You think of all the times you put in practice and work hard,” he said. “It just takes discipline. You can’t get discouraged. If you miss your last shot you have to forget it and go run your next play.
“I feel like that has built into me a feeling like, this is an obstacle, but we can work through it. We don’t have to be fearful. God is still God. Christ is still the head of the church.”
Rachel Roberts was working on coverage for the Boise State women’s basketball team’s trip to the NCAA Division I national tournament on March 12 when her life was turned upside down.
The Boise State basketball reporter for the Idaho Statesman quickly found herself switching from reporting on sports to reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was at the Mountain West tournament and had just covered the Boise State women winning their fourth straight title,” she said. “Suddenly it was just over. People’s opportunities and the most exciting times of the year just evaporated. It was sad. It was shocking. And it makes you nervous because you have no experience with that.”
Roberts played on the Northwest Nazarene volleyball team from 1998-2002 and was on the team that advanced to the NAIA Division II national championship match in 1998. She also graduated with a degree in English Literature in 2002.
Nearly a year after graduating, she was encouraged by a former classmate to apply for an open sports writer position at the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa. Two years later she was hired by the Boise paper and, after covering high school sports, eventually moved up to the Boise State beat. In her 17 years in the newspaper business, she has only written news stories a handful of times, mainly covering breaking news shifts when co-workers were on vacation.
Now, though, she writes updates five days a week on the number of coronavirus cases, deaths and tests in the state of Idaho.
“There are some challenges to it because I’m not as familiar with sources, so I don’t have those relationships I can build on,” she said. “But the writing, in some ways, seems more simplified because you are stating the facts rather than recreating a game.”
Roberts and her sports writing brethren have all switched
to reporting news since there have been few sports to cover. She has drawn on her athletics history to help her navigate these uncertain times.
“Being a part of a team and having a common goal makes you more comfortable with sacrificing for a greater good,” she said. “It’s easier to think about staying in my home because I don’t want my mom to get sick or someone else’s mom to get sick. I think that makes it easier to understand the sacrifices we have to make.”
That type of thinking has helped on a personal and professional level. The Statesman’s newsroom has shrunk considerably from layoffs over the years, but the camaraderie has never been higher.
“The Statesman was always close-knit, but now everyone is willing to kick in and help out,” she said. “For example, when the earthquake happened, everyone was moving quickly to post something and to post something accurate.”
Earthquakes, pandemics, deaths, test results and more have become a daily part of Roberts’ job, and while it is easy to get depressed over the state of the world right now, she has found one key takeaway from everything.
“On a personal level, reporting on the pandemic has only increased my appreciation for people who show empathy and kindness,” she said. “We can respond to this situation with anger or we can respond with compassion.
“Only one of those responses leaves room for happiness.”
Matt Guthrie’s school day pre-pandemic typically began at 6 a.m.
He would get his two sons, Luke and Paul, ready for school with his wife, Janel, before she left to teach at a local middle school.
Guthrie would grab a light breakfast of cereal, muffins or yogurt and then drop his boys off at a before school program offered by the city of Sparks, Nevada.
He’d walk into the bustling halls of Spanish Springs High School in Sparks, ready to teach World History to a class full of sophomores by 8 a.m.
These days, though, he does a lot less teaching and a lot more comforting.
“The biggest part of teaching and coaching is the relationships with kids, and not having that now is tough,” said Guthrie, who is a pitching coach for the school’s baseball team. “I know the majority of kids are doing just fine throughout all of this, but I also know some kids are really struggling.
“Schools provide many supports for kids and families that are not just related to learning. For a lot of students, school is their safe place, and it’s been taken away.”
Guthrie, who played baseball for three seasons at NNU, graduated with a degree in general studies in 2003. He eventually earned his Master’s degree and teaching credentials from the University of Nevada at Reno and has been a teacher in the Reno area for 15 years.
His time on the baseball diamond both in high school and college taught him that you have to be flexible and be able to adapt to different challenges that arise, which has certainly helped him during these uncertain times.
Teachers at Guthrie’s school are the first point of contact with their first period classes. He has 34 students that he checks in with weekly by phone and daily through a phone messaging app.
His primary concern is their well-being, with learning being secondary.
“Not all students are able to meet for online meetings or even access materials,” he said. “If students have questions they can’t always get timely feedback. Many of my students are babysitting their younger siblings all day while their parents are working, so their own assignments get neglected.
“There are all sorts of challenges.”
The Washoe County School District has more than 60,000 students from varying socio-economic backgrounds, which has made virtual learning even more difficult.
Since not every student has access to the internet, the district is offering assignments in packet forms as well. The district also created lessons that are the same for all schools, so teachers can spend their time maintaining contact with students. “This is killing me,” he said. “I’d much rather be in the classroom and just seeing the kids every day. I’ve learned to not take for granted the time with students in the classroom. “School is the highlight of some students’ days. There is always a population at every school that this is the best six hours of their day, where they feel the most safe. When you take that away from kids—that is tough.”
Despite the challenges, Guthrie is rising to the occasion to keep educating—and comforting—every student.