by Stephen Copeland, Sounding Board Staff Writer
The Pennsylvania triumvirate came to Winona Lake on a whim – because for some of them, Grace College was the last thing on their minds.
The PA Pact knew one another before they got here. Joel Bartholomew and Devin Kemmerer (Faith Christian graduates) had played against Emmanuel Lumbayi (Liberty graduate) in high school, which is crazy in itself considering the size differential in the schools. The three of them also knew Grace’s men’s soccer head coach Matt Hotchkin from a recruiting visit he made to Pennsylvania in April.
Their futures, however, were already seemingly decided. Lumbayi was supposed to attend preseason with Div. II Bloomsburg University; Bartholomew was highly considering NCAA Div. III Geneva College; and Kemmerer was pretty set on NCAA Div. III Widener University.
It looked as if the three Pennsylvania boys would end up at three different Pennsylvania schools – but three radical last-minute decisions brought them together in northern Indiana, of all places.
Hotchkin’s complicated string of connections to Pennsylvania are as long as Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1 – so it’s going to go unexplained. All Lumbayi knows is that he was playing FIFA in his basement when his best friend and probable 2011 Lancer Marcus Sherper (just YouTube him and prepare to be wowed) came down to get him.
“There’s a coach here to see us,” Sherper said. So Sherper and Lumbayi walked outside, hopped in the car and met what-would-be their future coach, Matt Hotchkin.
Of the Pennsylvania crew, Hotchkin felt most confident about Lumbayi coming to Grace. Lumbayi’s decision, however, is still incomprehensible to most.
Without stepping on campus and without even getting accepted, the Liberty grad committed to the Lancer program. He knew nothing about the school and nothing about Indiana. Literally, nothing.
“My mom said, ‘Where is Grace College?’” Lumbayi recalled. “I said, ‘It’s toward Texas…Probably the reason why I have a C in geography.”
Lumbayi managed to avoid any departures to San Antonio, thanks to Google, and found himself flying to a place that, from the research he gathered, was rampant with corn (a strange transition for a city boy) and was the home of the KKK (not real encouraging for a Congo native).
And that’s all he knew.
“You really have to trust God with your life for you to make a last minute decision as such as one I made,” Lumbayi said. “I have never looked at soccer as a way to glorify God until I played for Grace.”
Toward the end of each summer, most high school graduates go into freak-out mode as they prepare for their freshman year at college. Not Bartholomew and Kemmerer, however. They couldn’t prepare because they were still going on campus visits. Redefining procrastination.
Hotchkin had called Bartholomew throughout the summer but could never get a straight answer. On the brink of giving up on the Faith Christian duo, Hotchkin stopped contacting them for a week and a half – then decided to make one last phone call in July.
“I just kind of went with the flow,” Bartholomew said. “He (Hotchkin) called me, so I went with it. For some reason, I just felt led to come out.”
So there they were, two kids making the painstaking (although Joel claims that Devin slept the whole time) 10-hour drive to northern Indiana just two weeks before Grace’s preseason soccer festivities began. “I don’t know why, but we were just like, ‘Let’s go check it out,’” Bartholomew said.
Bartholomew was never exactly psyched about playing for Geneva, the frontrunner of schools he was considering. But God provided a school for Bartholomew and a steady player for Hotchkin that has started in all 11 games this season.
“It was God’s will for me to be out here,” Bartholomew continued. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have driven out here. It just took a lot of faith to be okay with it and realize that this is where God wants me to be.”
When Kemmerer got a phone call from Bartholomew late in the summer about visiting Grace College, he had to have thought his best friend was sniffing glue.
“I was like, ‘Probably not. I already have my school,’” Kemmerer laughed, considering the ridiculousness of the situation.
Right when he hung up with Bartholomew, Hotchkin called. And before he knew it, Kemmerer was making the journey, too, traveling to Grace College with Bartholomew to see a coach that he hardly even remembered.
Just getting the two of them to merely visit was huge for Hotchkin, considering the predicament he was in. Darrell Goff, last year’s leader in goals and assists, was not returning to Grace, and Sherper (Lumbayi’s best friend) could not play in the fall. Offensively, the Lancers were hurting.
And Kemmerer was the solution. Through 11 games, he leads the Lancers in goals (4), assists (3), points (11) and has already earned his first collegiate hat trick.
“It took a lot of faith,” Kemmerer said. “I’d never even heard of Winona Lake. And I’d never been to Indiana. It was pretty crazy. God definitely planned that.”
Despite the whirlwind of the last few months, the Pennsylvania Trio is here…somehow.
“They trusted me to a large extent with this whole idea of coming out here,” Hotchkin said. “And they trusted the Lord with the whole process. That type of faith and comfort in trying something new – those are the type of players you can really build a program around.”
Whether it’s switching colleges weeks before, driving 10-hours to meet up with a coach you can hardly remember, or booking a flight to a campus you’ve only seen on your computer screen, it was faith that brought the Pennsylvania trio to Grace.
Faith the size of Texas.
This story was published in the October 15 Edition of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.