Chap Clark from Fuller Seminary has said, “Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally positive about them.” Buzz Birchard fit that description in my life. He coached me in high school at Ross Corners Christian Academy for JV basketball and was an assistant coach when I played varsity. He went to heaven last week.
Over the years, I would go back to my high school basketball games. Buzz sat in the same spot in the gym for each game he didn’t coach. He would wave his hands up and yell, “Pete!!!” Then he would give me the spot next to his so we could catch up. You could watch him do this with many his current and former players.
He coached me during a time in my life when I struggled with confidence. One of the moments I’ll never forget happened during my sophomore year on the varsity team. Each year my high school hosted an eight-team tournament. We made it to the semi-final game. As the host team, we played the last game of the night in a packed gym.
The game remained close. I got to go into the game and I turned the ball over twice. With my head down, I ended up going back to the end of the bench. One of my teammates fouled out in the fourth quarter. Buzz and head coach Dave Wheelock conferred with each other at the timeout for the substitution. Little did I know, Buzz was making the case to put me back in the game. Coach Wheelock called me to the score table to sub in the game.
We were down by one point with less than ten seconds. The senior captain brought the ball up the court and passed it to me. I took an ill-advised three-pointer. To the surprise of every fan, coach, player, and teammate, the ball went in the basket. We won 40-38. Buzz almost tackled me in his jubilation. As the years go by, I remember this moment more for what Buzz did than the shot. He went to bat to put me in the game and he congratulated me first.
“Irrationally Positive” describes Buzz in so many other ways. You could see him talking with students decked out in Syracuse Orange attire holding a Dunkin Donuts cup. He seemingly cheered the loudest. In my last conversation with him, I remember him sharing how much he and his wife Marsha loved spending time with his kids Alissa, Bethany, both their husbands and his two granddaughters.
Buzz lived out the grace of God. His commitment and faithfulness to people looked like Jesus. The Gospel was evident in his joy and the way he encouraged the people around him. He taught me the importance of presence and being “irrationally positive” in the life of a student. We thank God for bringing us a gift, Buzz Birchard.