By DAVID HAYS
Lander Sports Information
GREENWOOD – When Lander University assistant women's basketball coach DeCole Shoemate was being named Lakelands Fellowship of Christian Athletes 2014 Coach of the Year, she almost missed it.
Lakelands FCA Area Representative Linda Tyner made the announcement at the chapter's annual development dinner recently at Piedmont Technical College's James Medford Family Event Center where former NFL coach Dan Reeves was the guest speaker.
Thankfully, Lander head women's basketball coach Kevin Pederson was listening to Tyner's announcement.
"She (Shoemate) was actually in the kitchen working at our development dinner and Coach Pederson realized who I was talking about. I don't reveal the name until the end. But he put two and two together and realized that she was the one who was going to win the award," Tyner said, with a laugh.
"He went to the back and grabbed her and said, 'you need to come out here and hear this.' Just about the time he said that, I announced that it was her," Tyner added. "So I think she was really surprised."
Shoemate confirmed that, yes, it was a surprise.
"I come to the banquet every year. She (Tyner) said, 'I would like for you to sit at my table.' But I thought she just wanted me to sit up there with her," Shoemate said, with a laugh.
"So I am in the back, serving food and cleaning up, and Coach Pederson comes back there and says, 'Shoe, I think you need to come out here.' And I'm like, 'what is going on?' And he said, 'I think you are about to win this award.' And I come out there and I hear them call my name. I had no idea!"
The Lakelands FCA Region includes approximately 39 middle school, high school and college ministries in Abbeville, Greenwood, Laurens and McCormick counties as well as the Belton-Honea Path area of southern Anderson County. The award is in recognition of "outstanding spiritual leadership."
"I am humbled. It is a very big award," Shoemate said. "There are a lot of coaches in the area that do so much to serve God. The fact that they chose me, I am kind of in disbelief. I don't feel that I do anything different or anything more (than other coaches). I just try to be a good steward with what God has blessed me with."
Tyner said Shoemate is very deserving.
"She is 100 percent sold out for Christ in her life," Tyner said. "She is such a great minister to the girls on the team. She does Bible study with them at her house. She really encourages them. She is very involved in the female athletic staff Bible study. She is just an all-around outstanding lady.
"She is also the FCA huddle coach at Lander on Sunday nights. In the summer, she works FCA basketball camps and girls multi-sports camps. They sponsor FCA Day through the girls basketball team.
"The year before last, we worked together and set up a mentoring program where we got strong Christian ladies in the community to mentor one-on-one the girls on the (basketball) team who wanted to be part of the program," Tyner added.
"They really don't have much time off during Christmas because they are playing all during the holidays. DeCole spearheaded getting churches to feed the girls and share some ministries with them during the holidays," Tyner continued. "You name it, anything that you would expect a Christian coach to do, DeCole does it."
Shoemate said she did not "get to know the Lord" until after graduating college at Anderson University. She soon became involved in an FCA Chapter in Virginia.
"I got involved with FCA after I graduated from college," Shoemate said. "I was working (for Aramark food services) at James Madison University, straight out of college, and I was going to a church in the area. Some of the students who went to the church assumed that I was still a student. So they actually asked me about coming to a Bible study and then we went to an FCA camp.
"When I moved down to South Carolina (to become a volunteer coach at Lander while still working for Aramark), I had only been to that one FCA camp. I was determined to find an FCA and reached out to Linda Tyner and just told her, 'I don't know what capacity that I can help or what I can do to be involved in FCA. But I just want to serve.'
"Linda hooked me up with a couple of people to work FCA camps throughout the summer. That was in 2006. From there, it has been an ongoing journey."
Shoemate became the head coach at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga., for two years and continued her FCA work.
"With Brewton-Parker being a faith-based institution, we had a lot of different faith-based ministries but they did not have an FCA established," Shoemate said. "So we established an FCA Chapter at Brewton-Parker and it just continued to grow.
"And every summer, I continued to work camps. When I came back to Lander (in August 2011), Coach Steve Roberts pretty much had a good foundation here and I jumped back in."
Roberts, the Lander assistant men's basketball coach, was Lakelands FCA Coach of the Year in 2011. Roberts has since moved on to Presbyterian College.
Shoemate has a Bible study for her players about once per week.
"It presents the young ladies with opportunities to expand, explore or deepen their faith in Jesus Christ," she said. "We find an area or topic that they want to discuss or a direction they want to move in in reference to the Word of God. We just use that time to discuss His word and pray.
"My biggest thing with my players regardless of where they are at in their faith – some of them are not believers, some are new in their faith and some are a little bit more stable in their faith – is I try to further develop their faith."
The Lady Bearcats also serve at the annual Lakelands FCA golf tournament in the spring and the annual development dinner in the fall. Some have participated in the college retreat held Memorial Day weekend at St. Simon's Island, Ga.
"We have about 150 college athletes (at St. Simon's)," Shoemate said. "We have football players from Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami. We have soccer players from Georgia. All your colleges from the Southeast. It is good for the girls because when they get there, they realize there are other athletes that are living out their faith. It's good for them to make these relationships that last for a lifetime.
"We get down there and you have football players, girls basketball players, soccer players, volleyball players, and they are out there competing for Christ. It is good to see college athletes who love the Lord and love each other. When our players come back from camp, they are different. They come back with a new passion and approach their teammates with a new level of love."
Lander's FCA huddle meetings are Sunday nights at Sproles Recreation Center.
"About half the participants who come are student-athletes," Shoemate said. "Men's and women's soccer are probably our two most faithful teams. Our student president is (men's soccer player) Brian Riehl. We have a couple of men's basketball players, baseball, softball, all the sports."
Shoemate says her faith is everything to her.
"Apart from my faith, I would not be a coach," she said. "Apart from my faith, I would not have the ability to coach and lead these young ladies. I would not have the ability to serve in the role that I am even as an assistant for Coach Pederson. He does a phenomenal job for our team but there are times when he looks to me for insight or encouragement if things are going tough."
Shoemate lived in San Diego, Florida and Virginia before moving to Beaufort, S.C., where she played basketball at Battery Creek High School. She played basketball two years at Florida International University before transferring to Anderson where she played for Coach Pederson.
Shoemate helped Anderson advance in the NCAA Division II Tournament as a player and also helped Lander reach the NCAA Elite Eight in San Antonio in 2012 as a coach. But there is more to life than winning basketball games, she believes.
"I want to win just as bad as anybody else. I want a championship. I want another ring. I am trying to get to another Elite Eight with our program. But at the end of the day, if my players are growing in their faith, if they are becoming spiritually mature and developing into young women who love the Lord and live for the Lord, my job has been done," she said.
"While I want championships, those things will fade," Shoemate added. "But knowing that my players have eternal security, those things last forever. That is the ultimate victory."
Shoemate credits her time at Anderson University as being very instrumental toward who she is today even though she was not yet a Christian.
"Although I did not know the Lord, I felt his love and his presence at Anderson," she said. "A lot of people loved me despite where I was at. They didn't judge me. They didn't condemn me. But they loved me unconditionally. One of those people was Coach Pederson. He has been a very instrumental person in my life."
The Lakelands FCA Chapter serves between 2,500 and 3,000 people. Their mission is "to see the Lakelands area impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of athletes and coaches by having an effective FCA presence on every campus and in every community in our area."