I met Jay Ingram for the first time in the summer of 1993. He was a high school student in the youth group that I had just been hired to lead. (Despite the fact that I was only 21 years old and had no idea how to lead a youth group) The kid smiled. All the time. There was something in his eyes. Like his soul was burning on a kind of fuel that most other kids his age didn’t have access to. He was a soccer player, and a damn good one. There was an intensity to him, and a passion for life that was unique and refreshing. But he didn’t take himself, or others, too seriously. He was funny. Small in stature, he possessed the heart of a warrior. Competitive to the core, he would battle on the soccer field, ping pong table, swimming pool, anywhere, anything. It didn’t matter. He had to win. And he usually did.
He graduated high school and began pouring his life into coaching. He coached soccer and got a degree from Georgia State University. He kept coaching. Kept competing. Kept winning. He found love and married Corinne. And in time they brought two children into the world. Aiden Lynn and Kailyn Danielle. He worked as the P.E. teacher at Kennesaw Charter School. They called him, simply, “Coach.” Coach was up every morning at 4 a.m. He would run for an hour or so, and then when he arrived back home, he would spend the remainder of his time before school reading the scriptures and a daily devotion. Each day he would post a particular thought from his devotional on Facebook for the encouragement of others.
While other men his age were flaming out in their marriages, Jay was busy fighting to make his marriage the best it could be. While most of his peers were busy building a portfolio, or a client base, or a reputation, Coach was helping to build a school. While others were consumed with financial investments, Coach was investing in the lives of the children and young ladies who were under his guidance. He listened to them. And because he listened, they listened to him. They learned and grew, not just as athletes, but as young people. And Coach just kept smiling, kept competing, kept building, kept investing, kept winning.
Early Thursday, Coach never returned from his early morning run. Never got to do his devotional or take his children to school. He was hit by a car about a quarter of a mile from his neighborhood. He would spend the next day and a half in the ICU at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, just about six miles away from Kennesaw Charter Science and Math Academy where he taught. There was an outpouring of love and support, and a steady stream of visitors, each of whom had a story or multiple stories about how Jay had impacted their life. Even hospital employees told of how Coach had made an impression on their children who attended his school. Every person united in their belief that if anyone could fight back from these severe injuries, it would be him.
Jay Ingram died today. He was one month from reaching 33 years of age. As I struggle with how to make sense of it all, the wife and kids he leaves behind, the family and friends that love him so, the children and teenagers who adore him, and why God would allow this to happen, I’m also learning some things. I’m learning that heroes don’t always wear capes and that not all giants are tall in stature. Sometimes heroes wear a coach’s whistle and Crocs, and sometimes giants are 5′ 6″. I was reminded that, often, heroes die young. In our legends and myths, in our stories of faith, and in our everyday lives. It’s as if the way they live is just too beautiful, resplendent and bright for this fallen realm we live in and so their soul must escape to the place where light originates. Where beauty was born, where it lives and breathes and has a Name.
Today, a giant fell.
Today, we lost a hero.
A hero found his Home.
“Sometimes it makes me sad, though…I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.” – The Shawshank Redemption