If someone asked you where you would consider the mountain top to be when it comes to basketball, you might get a few different answers. Anyone with a pedigree in the game would have to say North Carolina. If asked what college conference would they find on the top of that mountain, the answer would have to be the ACC. The ACC Conference has a marvelous, rich history of producing some of the best teams and individual players in the history of the game.
On April 23, 2016 many of those players will be on display at the ACC All Star Game at Kimmel Arena on the campus of UNC-Asheville. This will be the 27th game in a series that began back in 1994. The game created and organized by Randy Shepherd and Jamie Johnson from Crossfire Ministries will feature current seniors from ACC Schools playing against the Crossfire team made up of former college and university standouts who are Christian athletes. They give the ACC team a pretty good game each year with the current record standing at 15-11 in favor of the ACC.
In addition to all the basketball stars that will grace the court during this great event, this year a person with his own pedigree will be at the game to present Crossfire with a very special award. Jim Naismith and his wife Beverly will travel from Portland, Texas to present the Naismith Legacy Award at halftime to the founders of Crossfire; Randy Shepherd and Jamie Johnson, in honor of his grandfather, Dr. James Naismith-the inventor of basketball. Jim is the last living grandson of Dr. Naismith.
This is not an award for being the best college or professional player. This award is about people and organizations that exhibit Dr. Naismith’s core values of respect, honor, family, service and faith on and off the court.
Before he became Dr. Naismith, he had a very rough beginning. He was born in Ramsey Township in 1861 near Almonte, ONT Canada. His father, a lumberjack was stricken with typhoid fever and soon his wife also contracted the disease while caring for him. Within three weeks, both his mother and father died leaving him, an older sister and younger brother as orphans. He was 10 years old.
He tried to balance school work with having to work for the family as a lumberjack in his teen years, but eventually dropped out of school around the age of 15. His life as a lumberjack was tough and it brought him into constant contact with alcohol. By the time he was approaching 20 years old, he was a heavy drinker.
Being challenged one day about his heavy drinking while in a saloon, he put his drink down and returned to the family farm and went to the barn where his mother used to pray. He vowed to his dead mother that he would never shame her again. He remembered his strong Christian upbringing taught by his mother and father and returned to it. He also returned to High School at age 20 and spent the next two years earning his diploma.
After completing High School at age 22 he enrolled at McGill University in Montreal where he graduated with a degree in Physical Education, while also participating in sports such as football, rugby, lacrosse and gymnastics. One day during a rugby game one his teammates let out a string of 4 letter words that would make a sailor blush while standing next to Naismith. Realizing what he said, the teammate promptly apologized to Naismith knowing his language would be offensive to him. This was an epiphany moment for Naismith. From this experience with his teammate he believed that he could use sports as a platform to reach more young men for Christ than through preaching in the pulpit. He also left Montreal with a diploma from Presbyterian College in Theology.
Naismith migrated south to the United States and became a member of the staff at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA as a Physical Education instructor. This later became Springfield College which is known as the “Birth Place of Basketball.” In the winter of 1891 he was given an assignment to create a game that the students could play inside a gymnasium in the winter months. In two weeks he invented the game we know today as basketball with only 13 rules governing the game.
He spent the rest of his life dedicated to helping young people through spiritual and physical growth. He became a medical doctor and earned several other post graduate degrees and worked at the University of Kansas as head of the Physical Education Department for about 40 years until his death in 1939.
What does Crossfire Ministries have in common with Dr. Naismith to earn this prestigious award named after him? Just about everything. Randy and Jamie played against each other on their school teams (middle school and high school) and in pick up games in the summers when they were high school and college players. Randy played his college ball at UNC-Asheville and Jamie played at Gardner- Webb.
In 1990 Randy was playing for a team called the Spirit Express out of Memphis. They played exhibition games around the country and sometimes out of the country while ministering to the crowds about Christ during halftimes of their games. Randy also began operating summer basketball camps with the idea that he could teach young players as much as he could about the fundamentals of the game while also having opportunity to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who attended.
In the same year Robert Hoey, Principal at Asheville Christian Academy offered his facility to Randy for free if he would conduct a basketball camp in Asheville. They surpassed their expectations with 175 boys and a long waitlist that first year. Over 100 young boys accepted Christ. The next year they offered a girls camp as well.
Jamie Johnson is the son of a Pastor and spent his entire life in the church. While at Gardner-Webb he earned his degree in Religious Education. Although he pursued a career in the business world his heart was never far from the sports and the ministry that he loved. His desire was to find a way to get back into sports and the ministry. He became co-director of the basketball camp in 1992. They were both playing with the Spirit Express at this time. They left Memphis in December of 1992 and started Crossfire Ministries in January of 1993 based in Asheville, NC. The camp then became part of Crossfire. Crossfire uses the platform of basketball to share the Gospel in churches, schools, prisons, camps, youth rallies, exhibition games and in the streets locally, nationally and around the world.
Their ministry has taken them to 65 countries, 45 states with 19 of those visits to Israel. They now have over 15,000 boys and girls who have attended a Crossfire Camp with many thousands who have made a profession of faith by accepting Christ as their Savior.
Crossfire and Naismith independently took the same path some 100 years apart by using sports as their platform to minister through basketball and they are having wonderful results. Naismith Legacy Giving is the organization giving the award. They are a non-profit public charity, also using the game of basketball to reach young boys and girls through a variety of methods. Jim and Beverly Naismith serve on the Board of Directors of Naismith Legacy Giving. One tool used is a small spiral bound booklet for coaches to use with young players during the season talking about the importance of Naismith’s philosophy of teaching respect, sportsmanship, service, family and 16 other words that would steer someone to becoming a person of great character. This series is called the Naismith Way. There are also educational workshops for parents, coaches and officials as these are the people that will have a direct influence on the young players. NLG believes the adults have to get it right before the kids can get it right.
Ian Naismith, Jim’s younger brother, carried the torch of his grandfather’s legacy for many years until his untimely death in 2012. He once said that “you can’t separate God from basketball because God was always a major part of Dr. Naismith’s life.” It was actually Ian who selected Crossfire to receive this award before he died. The current leadership of Naismith Legacy Giving is honoring the well deserved selection of Crossfire Ministries and its two founders for doing the good work that Dr. Naismith would be so proud of.