Written by Judson Watkins
A hush fell over the room as six-foot-ten former NBA player Derrick Battie ducked to walk through the door. “Can I get everyone’s attention,” said a self-driven high school sophomore as she stood at the front of the room, the other kids finishing the last of the pizza.
Battie seemed at home last night among the kids from The Stewpot’s Junior and Venturing Crew Programs. Having grown up in south Dallas where he attended South Oak Cliff High School, he went on to play college basketball at Temple before starting his professional NBA career the culminated with the Boston Celtics. His story, one of overcoming struggles and clinging to hope, was one to which most of the kids could relate.
They are a part of First Presbyterian Church’s outreach program aimed at empowering students and encouraging them to seek higher education. “We first meet these kids in elementary school,” explains program facilitator Suzanne Erickson, the director of children, youth and family programs at the Stewpot, a ministry of First Presbyterian. “Year after year, they come back, building on the foundation from the years before—growing relationships with other kids in the program.”
Though his rise to stardom was an exciting part of his journey, it wasn’t the most inspiring, says Battie. “The most impactful moment of my life was the night I ruptured my knee. I was told I would never play ball again.” Because of an old promise to his mother however, Battie went on to achieve his proudest accomplishment. “I told my mother that when I stopped playing basketball, I’d go back to college and finish my degree. Sometimes our most tragic life events can lead to our biggest achievements.”
First Presbyterian Church’s Reverend Dr. Laura Barnes captured what Battie said was his most important message: “He inspired us, challenged us and asked us to remember the quote from 1 Corinthians 13:13 ‘… the greatest of these is love.’ He reminded us all to love each other, to love those who mentor us and to remember to love ourselves.”
Judson Watkins has served as the communications coordinator at First Presbyterian Church of Dallas since August of 2017. He previously served as the coordinator for congregational care at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church. Judson studied religion at the University of Texas at Tyler with a minor in communications.