Straight Paths

This is part three of a series about Michael who died of terminal cancer at age 62. In part one, “The Dream Team”, we learned about Michael as an athlete; in part two, “That really makes sense to me!” we learned about Michael as a coach. This week we’re learning about Michael as a “mentor leader”.

According to Tony Dungy, coach of the 2007 Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts, “Leadership is not dependent upon a formal position or role … Leadership is influence … Relationships are ultimately what matter – our relationship with God and with other people. The key to becoming a mentor leader is learning how to put other people first … The question that burns in the heart of the mentor leader is simply this: ‘What can I do to make other people better, to make them all that God created them to be’… Successful mentor leaders make the people they lead better players, workers, students, or family members – and ultimately better people … They may never know the full impact of their leadership.” (“The Mentor Leader”)

Michael’s father, Bill, and I met several times over breakfast at Bob Evans to reflect upon Michael’s life. As a high school senior, Michael was being courted by the Cincinnati Reds and the Minnesota Twins, but Bill encouraged Michael to accept a full scholarship to pitch for Ohio University. Bill second guessed his advice to Michael and lamented, “I sure would have liked to have seen how far Michael could have gone in the big leagues.”

Then Bill shared story after story of the young girls Michael coached and taught to fast pitch. He taught his daughter, Mindy, and she won sixty-seven games during her high school career, received a full scholarship and pitched for the University of Missouri in Kansas City. She is now a program coordinator for a substance abuse treatment center. Her sister, Cindy, was her catcher in high school and Bill stated, “They were Clay High School’s battery”. Cindy received a college scholarship and is now a lab technician.

Bill shared a moving incident that occurred while watching one of Shawnee State University’s softball games: “This couple came over to me and asked, ‘Are you related to Mike Powell? You walk just like him. We are Ali’s parents, and we just want to thank you for what Michael did for our daughter.’ Then Ali came over and then her grandparents. Then another pitcher named Kate came over and her parents, and they all thanked me for what Michael did for them.”

But the most moving story Bill shared was about a young girl named Jordan. Here’s Bill: “Michael worked with Jordan since she was 13. She pitched a really good game the other day, and I complimented her. Then she told me, ‘Do you want to know how I did it? People would probably think I’m crazy, but I talk with Mike before every pitch. I hear him telling me how to hold the ball … what pitch to throw.’”

Bill continued, “Jordan is graduating from Clay High School this year. I told her I had a graduation present and told her to stop by the house to get it. She stopped by and told me that she hoped she would win Mike’s $1,000 memorial scholarship. She told me it would mean more to her than any full scholarship. Before Mike died we came up with the idea of a scholarship for an athlete, but Mike told us, ‘I’ll agree, but only if it’s on my terms. They don’t have to be the best player, but they have to be a good person.’ Character meant more to Mike than anything.” In case you’re wondering, Jordan was awarded the scholarship.

When our coffee cups were empty and our conversation coming to a close, it was like a light bulb came on and I suggested to Bill, “Bill, I just realized something; it’s yet to be seen how far Michael will go, for he is still living on in the hearts of those he invested himself in.” Bill replied, “I never looked at it that way before. That really helps!”

Michael’s life and influence remind me of the song “Thank You”, by Ray Boltz: “I dreamed I went to heaven, and you were there with me. We walked upon the streets of gold beside the crystal sea. We heard the angels singing, and someone called your name … One by one they came as far as your eyes could see ... Thank you for giving to the Lord for I’m a life that was changed … as Jesus took your hand and you stood before the Lord, He said, ‘My child look around you; great is your reward.’”

If someone approached me and suggested, “You walk just like Michael Powell”, I would feel flattered because even by Tony Dungy’s standards, Michael was, and still is, a successful mentor leader. And it’s still yet to be seen how far Michael will go.

In conclusion, I leave you with a penetrating and possibly life-changing question that my friend and former coworker, Carol, once passed on to me, “When was the last time someone thanked God for you?”

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”(Matthew 6:19-20)

Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at lorenhardin53@gmail.com . You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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