University of Memphis baseball coach relies on his faith, develops close bonds with players
By Bill Sorrell
Contributing writer, B&R
MEMPHIS — On April 3, 2012, Clayton Gant, a senior pitcher at the University of Memphis, heard that his 19-year old brother Stephen Gant, who was going to pitch at Vanderbilt with potential to be a high Major League draft pick, had taken his own life.
“I had to counsel Clayton and I literally grabbed him and hugged him on this turf room floor when he got the word of what had just happened,” said University of Memphis head baseball coach Daron Schoenrock. “The one thing that impacted me at that moment was Clayton said, ‘Coach I am thankful you are my coach right now.’ ”
Building relationships before championships has been the mantra for the Tigers this season.
“I think that is something Coach Roc does really well and I think that is something championship teams do have. When you build relationships that tie you close to your teammates, to your brothers, that is something that is going to last a lot longer than any trophy or medal but in order to get that trophy or medal you have to have those relationships that are going to carry you through,” said Memphis senior Colton Neel.
Since Schoenrock was a pitcher at Tennessee Tech he has felt a calling to coach, which he has done for 15 seasons at Memphis and 35 years overall at the college level.
An active member of First Baptist Church, Collierville, Schoenrock’s desire has been to make an impact on players by developing their skills and talents, helping them understand their role on the team, encouraging them to get their college degree and grow spiritually.
“The longer I coach the more I am concerned about that than anything,” said Schoenrock, who has been leading Sunday chapels when the team is on the road. Team chaplain John Crosby, leads chapel services at home.
The Memphis coach actively shares his faith and the gospel, but he is aware that in a group of 35 players, some will be disinterested.
“We have a wide range of levels of experience in the Word but hopefully we are impacting each one. I want to impact the grounded ones and a guy who has never gone a day of his life to church and we are the first mention of the Bible he has had in his life.”
Each time Schoenrock gives a devotional he tries to implement virtues that are important in a Christian man’s life and “how we can reflect Jesus more” said Neel.
Senior pitcher Alex Smith added, “Coach Roc’s discipleship is shown every day through his coaching, mentoring and stewarding. In a business that is meritocracy based, Coach Roc continually relies on his faith regardless of a win or loss. In the four years of playing for Coach Roc, one quote that sums up my career, ‘Stay the course and keep the faith.’ Coach’s presence instills this quote and encourages my road of sanctification. I have led through humility because of Coach Roc’s teachings,” Smith observed.
Raised in Fayetteville, Tennessee, Schoenrock was led to Christ by his parents Don and Delores Schoenrock. His father died three years ago at 89. “He was such an influence in my life. He was such a giver. The most valuable commodity we have is time. He gave countless hours to organizations and churches.” In addition, his mom was always there to “remind him if she saw something that he did that Christ would not want him to do.”
As a young adult he briefly considered going into the ministry, but never felt called by God to do so. In college, Schoenrock began seeking out people who had knowledge of the Bible as he learned and yearned for more. “It was an ongoing thing for me. It wasn’t a one moment falling on my knees I need Christ in my life. I think it was a chain of events that happened between the ages of 11 and 21. I wanted to have a life like the people I saw.”
That continued on into his adulthood as he climbed the coaching ranks. Two college coaches he worked under — Brian Shoop and Keith Madison — were instrumental in his spiritual development. “These two men impacted me in being a Christian coach unbelievably.”
As he has matured and leaned on Jesus, Schoenrock feels “calmer” and less anxiety. He wants his players, both current and former, see him step up to the plate when his faith is challenged.
“You have to follow God’s plan and trust what will work out. If it’s never good enough or becomes not good enough for wherever you are, there is another door that is going to open and that is faith.
“If I am grounded in my faith enough to really say and really mean that I know that I have peace and I have got a peace here. I feel like God wants me here.”
He is concerned about players athletically, socially, family-wise and spiritually.
“I love these young people. I love watching them and seeing how much they change over a four-year period is remarkable. My spiritual and personal goal, I want to be face to face with Jesus one day and I know I’m going to be but I also want to see my team and my family (which includes wife Carol and sons Erik and Bret) there with me.” B&R