Getting His Kicks From a New Ministry
The sinking feeling was not from a soccer ball chipped expertly from his foot to a corner of the net. It was not from soccer at all. Four years of reckless professional sports lifestyle and alcohol were taking their toll.
"I was miserable," Scott Cook remembers. "It culminated one day after practice in 1991 because professional soccer was not what I had hoped it would be. I remember weeping and saying over and over again that I was sorry, but I didn't want to say that to God because I felt that I had my chance with Him and He was done with me."
Cook, now an RTS/Charlotte M.Div. student, said he felt God wouldn't forgive him for what he had done. Cook had accepted Christ into his life six years earlier; and had been active in international Christian missions associated with soccer before his period of spiritual decline. "Hebrews 6 talks about those who have tasted the heavenly gift, seeing that God is good, but rejected it and that it is impossible for them to be restored. I didn't know the Scriptures well enough at the time, so I thought that meant I had committed the unpardonable sin. I remember rationalizing to myself that I can either continue to live as I am and be miserable or I can try, to live for God and see where that takes me."
A few weeks later Cook's faith and commitment were put to the test. His Dayton Dynamos excellent season seemed to be leading them to the championships of indoor professional soccer when the team's owner fired the coach, a devout Christian, for his failure to play the son of a major team sponsor, a player with unproven ability.
To Cook, whose speed, footwork, fakes, and powerful shots won him raves as the "energizer" of the Dayton squad, it was a clear case of favoritism versus integrity; "I thought that was very unjust so I resigned from the team. It was a lot of heartache, but through that whole situation I really learned to rely on the Lord for all things."
"I didn't realize at the time how much I had put my reputation as a professional player in jeopardy by resigning as I did. There was a real potential of being blackballed by the league. As it worked out, I was suspended for a few weeks and finally picked up by another team, the Chicago Power. To my delight, Chicago started doing very well. My old team started doing really well, too, and we met each other for the championship game. By God's grace Chicago won. It was a tremendous lesson for me that God has all things in control and I could rely on Him."
Cook's story really began in high school, where he was a formidable soccer player. In Bethesda, Maryland, he led his team to the state title in 1982 and as a result of his outstanding play was named to several All-American teams. After graduating, he was granted a full scholarship to the University of Connecticut, where he was named to the Big East All- Conference and All-New England teams and was selected as one of Soccer America's Top 16 Freshmen.
Things had never been as successful at home as they were on the soccer field. Some of his earliest memories are of his Parents marital spats. "It was very vocal, no real violence - but most of my memories of my young life were of my parents fighting and us children wondering what was going on." When he was six, his parents divorced and Scott and his brother Sean lived with their mother. The strain to provide for the boys led their mother into alcoholism, so by the time Scott was in the sixth grade he and Sean were living with their father. Cook said those years led him to become selfish and callused; soccer was all he cared about, and sometimes not even that.
"I was a rat and a rebel. At that time there was a professional soccer league that was thriving in the United States so I put all of my hopes into that. Academics really came second." Those habits followed him to college. He flunked out of his full scholarship at University of Connecticut and had to return to Maryand to live with his father. Embarrassed and rebellious, he began to drink heavily and refused to go to church with his dad, who had become a Christian.
The next fall Cook accepted a scholarship to the University of South Carolina where he fared better academically. The honors began to accumulate again - as a Gamecock, the All-South Regional player helped his team reach the NCAA quarterfinals in 1985 and the playoffs in 1986. While at South Carolina his life changed one night at a campus meeting in which the Gospel was explained in terms he had not heard before. He prayed to accept Jesus Christ that night in 1985. With characteristic intensity he began to study the Bible as well as other sports figures who shared his faith. On a missions trip to Mexico City, he watched a World Cup match, a step closer to his ultimate dream of playing in the world's most-watched games.
In 1988, Cook was signed by the Maryland Bays to become a pro soccer player during the summers, and was drafted for winter play by the Dayton Dynamos. Through all the success, though, his spiritual struggles grew. Various soccer disappointments, including his shattered dream of not being named a college All-American, led him to seek fulfillment in alcohol, women, and soccer. His repentance and recommitment in 1991 galvanized his resolve. In 1993, he joined the Charlotte, North Carolina Eagles for summer play and began reproducing a model of the team at soccer camps. The next year he became active in organizing the Christian ministerial Full Life Soccer Camp in Dayton. On returning from a season at Charlotte, he met his future wife Karen - herself a soccer player and coach - at the Dayton practice field.
Meanwhile, his family life was mending. "Mom overcame her alcoholism, and not many people do that. She was converted and has gotten her life together." Karen and her family likewise were called by Christ, and Scott and Karen began dating. The two married in 1994.
Around that time, Cook began to change his thinking about churches. Since boyhood he had remained involved with interdenominational and non-denominational churches. "I saw over and over again pastors getting into trouble because they had no accountability, discipline, or standards within the church. There was a lot of chaos. It registered two years ago at the church Karen and I were attending when we first got married. The pastor, a friend of mine, had some church problems. Part of his congregation wanted the church to be ministering in a different area than the other part of the congregation. They could not agree.
"As I watched the church problems, it made me reevaluate things. I moved shortly afterwards to Charlotte and, providentially I started attending another church and saw how differently things were run. Then I began to understand the Confession of Faith, and discovered that there was a Book of Church Order. Karen and I talked a lot about this and so we decided to join that church. We got hungrier and hungrier for the Word of God and for answers. I was also feeling the call of God to ministry."
In August, 1995, Cook's father approached him "out of the blue." He had stowed away half the profits from a business he had started ten years before, to use them for the Lord's work and purposes. "He said that he had money in the account if I felt led to go to seminary. I was floored. There were three seminaries in town. The one that I really wanted to go to didn't have a branch in Charlotte anymore. So then I went to RTS that afternoon. I was thoroughly impressed with the staff there, their friendliness, their courtesy, and professionalism."
Now Cook is burdened to direct his energies toward "single-again" (divorced and widowed) ministry. "James says that true religion is to care for the widow and the orphans. I remember when I was young and feeling like an orphan, so I know this is a huge need within the church. Yet the church is dropping the ball by missing the potential of ministry to the widowed or divorced. Fifty percent of marriages fail and close to one-third of all families are single parent families, according to recent research. That one-third of the population needs ministry. My real burden is for developing a mentorship program for single parent children, especially for those of single moms who have so much pressure on them to provide and care for the family. Single moms, no matter how skilled, cannot be godly male role models for these children. What I am hoping to do by God's grace is to call a number of men together within the church and hook them up with single-parent kids and have them commit to one kid for a year and spend two to four hours a week with him or her."
And, you might guess, that ties into soccer; too. "Now we have a sports outreach program at church with 500 kids who are involved in sports throughout the year, many of them in soccer. I know there are single-parent families with children in that sports outreach program who are not attending church. But we're trying." Scott and Karen are excited by the challenges posed through these opportunities. "Through God's grace, maybe the church can take on the role modeling necessary to instill positive, godly character traits in these kids."
So through it all, Scott Cook is working upfield to score a higher goal. After all, being an All-American cannot compare to the satisfaction of having a spiritual impact on young people who need help.
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 1