Jason Scott is the new assistant coach for the Cedarville track and field team, but his story reaches much further than that of an accomplished athlete. Scott was a high school state champion in the pole vault but chose to come to Cedarville rather than one of the three NCAA Division I universities that tried to recruit him.
During the indoor season of his freshman year of college, Scott, who won an Ohio high school state championship by clearing a height of 15 feet 2 inches, failed to clear 13 feet in his first four meets as a Jacket. He says this was the result of having new coaches that were trying to refine his form and patiently train him in habits that would increase his potential.
“Not only his athleticism, but his work ethic was strong and his ability to want to compete and to want to get better is really important,” says Jeff Bolender, head track and field coach at Cedarville. “Track is a sport where you really have to be intrinsically motivated. It’s not real glamorous. It’s a lot of behind the scenes work, and he was always willing to do that. It did take him a while to progress, which is true of most college athletes.”
The hard work all paid off in the final meet of his freshman indoor track season when he cleared 15 feet 6 inches, setting a new personal best and qualifying for the national meet. At nationals, Scott took third place but says he wasn’t sure what height he had cleared because collegiate track and field uses the metric system. He came to realize from his coaches that he had cleared 16 feet 3 inches, which meant that he improved by over a foot in a matter of two weeks.
As a Cedarville student, Scott won three national championships in the pole vault and was able to participate on a trip to Taiwan his senior year to represent the U.S. Scott also participated regularly in the hurdles, long jump and javelin. These accomplishments were the fruit of four years of hard work and continual improvement.
After graduating in 2007, Scott remained at Cedarville as a part-time coach while his to-be wife finished her degree. The newlyweds then moved to Missouri where Scott coached at Hannibal-LaGrange University for four years before making the move back to Cedarville. In his time at Hannibal-LaGrange, Scott coached a hurdler that won the national championship and broke the national record; a national runner-up in the hurdles; a pole vaulter who won the national championship twice; and two high school pole vaulters who won state championships.
These accolades as an athlete at Cedarville and as a developing young coach made him a great fit for the Cedarville track and field program. It was also a great fit for Scott because he and his wife, who is expecting their first child, now live closer to their families, and Scott gets to coach alongside his father Phil Scott (a part-time coach), whom he calls a lifelong hero.
Men’s cross-country coach Paul Orchard says when a coach with as many credentials as Scott comes in, the athletes give their attention and respect immediately.
“The athletes know that he’s trying to get them to a higher level getting them to work all fall,” Orchard says. “I think he’s got the guys motivated. It’s been a huge plus to see somebody out there that has a passion for what he does. If you get around him long enough, you’ll realize that.”
Scott says he tries to motivate his athletes by having fun in practices, whether it’s through little competitions among the team or playing other sports such as football, frisbee or soccer.
“If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to enjoy what you’re doing, and you’re not going to be motivated to work hard,” Scott says.
He also says it’s critical to set both long- and short-term goals, which help his athletes to keep their focus on what they’re training for.
“Ultimately, it’s all about giving back to Christ because of the talent that God has given them,” Scott says. “College athletes have four years of life to use that gift, so work hard and don’t waste it.”
Head coach Bolender says Scott loves track and field and really cares about the athletes.
“He wants them to get better,” Bolender says. “He wants them to enjoy what they’re doing. He does a really good job of making practice fun, and our sport is essentially a lot of conditioning.”
One of the most enjoyable facets for Scott is giving back to the athletes on his team.
“I try to really get involved with my athletes here,” Scott says. “I like to invest in their lives. I like to coach them on the track, but it’s only a 4-year thing here … so what can I invest in their lives for down the road? That’s where I think I really get paid. Investing in their lives is the ultimate payment.”
And coaches need to understand ministry is an important part of what they try to do in athletics, Bolender says.
“It’s not all about just getting a medal or winning,” he says. “There has to be a bigger purpose to it, otherwise it can become pretty egocentric and selfish. We try to use those opportunities for teachable moments and life lessons and opportunities to learn how to fail but learn how to have success as well. We talk about athletics as being an opportunity to develop character, but it doesn’t just happen by throwing the ball out, so to speak. You have to be intentional about it.”
Scott says he loves using track to be a light for Christ.
“My goal was always: how can I reach somebody at a track meet? And I could never figure it out,” Scott says.
Scott then started wearing shirts with Bible verses or phrases on them.
“I’ve actually found that as a coach, I’m using track as a way to show my athletes how easy it is to witness to others,” he says.
One way he does this is through what he and his wife call “The T-Shirt Ministry.” Someone came up to Scott when he was wearing one of his verse-laden jerseys and was interested in having one for herself. This sparked an idea that led to the purchase of hundreds of shirts with simple sayings such as, “I run for Jesus.”
He gave them out to his team in Missouri to start wearing at track meets. Multiple people came up to his athletes commenting about how much they liked the shirts. This immediately gave his athletes a witnessing opportunity and an opportunity to give away more shirts.
“I think up to today, we’ve given out more than 2,000 shirts,” Scott says.
He and his athletes in Missouri willingly gave away a free T-shirt in exchange for two tracts that the recipient was to then share with others. Their saying: “Spreading the gospel, one shirt at a time.”
Scott found that after his athletes had given away a few shirts, they didn’t even need the shirt to start sharing their faith at meets. He is hoping to bring this ministry to Cedarville, but he’s not sure what the regulations are for the NCAA. Hannibal-LaGrange was NAIA.
Meanwhile, Scott says he’ll continue to compete himself as he has been doing since he graduated. And he’ll do so as long as his body will let him, he says.
“The better I compete and the harder I push my body, the more I appreciate what God does for me,” he says. “Without him, I’m nothing.”
Scott says his goal is to compete in the Olympics or at least the Olympic trials for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I always figure the higher level I can compete at, as long as I’m still wearing my shirts and my jerseys,” Scott says, “the more people I’m going to reach.”
Paul McMichael is a senior preseminary Bible major and a sports reporter for Cedars. He has won a Campus Christmas championship and the intramural softball championship but has miserably failed in Lawlor-Hill for three consecutive seasons.