Caleb Pippenger, the son of Phil and Amy Pippenger, is a four-year starting catcher for the Bears baseball team. The family attends Woodland Park Baptist Church.
Ocoee Region FCA Region Area Director Robert Green said Pippenger is the third recipient of the memorial scholarship named in honor of Chris Leggett. The Cleveland native and aid worker was murdered in June 2009 in Mauritania.
Previous winners are Payton Tipton, Cleveland High School, in 2011 and 2012 winner Natalie Miles, a graduate of Polk County High School.
“The decision was so close,” Green said. “They are all really good representatives of their schools. It was really close all the way around.”
A committee selected Pippenger from a field of seven athletes based on a detailed application, letters of recommendation from peers, huddle leaders, pastors, coaches and video interviews. Other Athletes of the Year were Chelsea Hall, Cleveland High School; Elizabeth Masengil, McMinn Central High School; Abby Bryant, McMinn County High School; Kyle Carden, Meigs County High School; Matthew Bishop, Polk County High School; and Savannah Savage, Walker Valley High School.
A videotaped interview of each finalist was played for the audience. Pippenger said he began going to FCA as an eighth grader at Ocoee Middle School and continued through high school. The organization not only impacted his life, but other people with whom he has formed relationships.
Pippenger was Bear Scholar and starting catcher on the baseball team all four years and earned all-district honors.
“It has really been all about relationships these last four years and that has really impacted me,” he said.
The guest speaker for the night, Ken Miller, a former high school coach and former team chaplain for Florida State University, Mississippi State University and the University of South Carolina mixed humor influenced by the late Jerry Clowers with life lessons based on biblical principles.
“I don’t know who your heroes are, but this many great kids in a place like this — I know who the heroes are tonight,” he said. “To hear these kids’ testimonies on tape, it has been worth the time to come here tonight. I’m just the guy who came to speak around them.”
He challenged the audience to consider that God called them to be a part of making a brighter future in a world set on edge by the economy and a madman in charge of a nuclear capable North Korea.
“The future of our country seems to be a little bit questionable,” he said. “How in the world can we do anything to create a brighter future?”
To make his point, he told the parable of “The Good Samaritan,” the story of a man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. During his journey, the man fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped the man of his clothes, beat him and left him for dead alongside the road. A priest saw the man, but continued on, passing the poor man on the other side of the road. Next, a Levite passed by the man without rendering aid. Then a Samaritan happened by and took pity on the man, bandaged his wounds. The Samaritan put the wounded man on a donkey and took him to an inn where he paid for a room and care for the injured man.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Miller asked.
The neighbor was the one who had mercy on the injured man.
“Jesus said to go and do likewise,” Miller said. “I want to remind you of some things. First, that man had no business on that road. He should have known better. If you traveled between Jericho and Jerusalem, that road was where robbers lived in caves. It was a dumb place to be. It was a stupid place for him to be, but there he was.”
Miller told the audience that religion is a good thing, but it can create comfort zones that won’t let you get involved in the lives of people and Jesus knew that. In his story, he told of two religious people who did nothing to help the injured man.
“But there was one guy who created a brighter future for a guy who really didn’t deserve it. He just cared,” Miller said. “If you want to create a brighter future, you have to care about people.”
He encouraged the students and adults to create a brighter future by getting involved in FCA, volunteering to coach, mentoring in high school and touching the lives of kids.
“If you want to create a brighter future, make sure people matter and make sure you take the time to do the things that are important,” he said. “If you want to create a brighter future, if you want to make a difference in the world, you have got to move out of your comfort zone.”
Miller said there was a economic and racial difference between the man on the side of the road and the Samaritan and had the story been told where he was raised, the Samaritan would have been a black or Hispanic person.
“These other guys would have been part of the in-crowd and they didn’t notice. He crossed the line and helped a guy that he shouldn’t have. He was willing to get out of his comfort zone,” he concluded.
Richie Hughes emceed the FCA banquet; FCA Ocoee Region Board Chair Marty Gregory offered the invocation; Voices of Lee provided entertainment; Del Wright, vice president of Field Ministry, Region 8, led the fundraising segment; and Jay Fowler, FCA Greater Chattanooga multi area director gave the benediction.
The Ocoee Region FCA covers a four-county area which includes Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Meigs counties. “It is a time for us to also honor area athletes.