By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
A welcome sight for Fort Gibson boys basketball coach Gary Hendrix when school started in the fall was the return of Coleman Crawley, who played basketball at Fort Gibson through the eighth grade until his family moved to Edmond.
While at Edmond, Crawley helped Deer Creek to back-to-back state championships in cross country his freshman and sophomore years. However, Hendrix has seen the junior guard every summer during his time in Edmond when both, along with Crawley’s father Lance, went on mission trips to teach basketball and spread the word of the gospel.
“I’ve actually gone the last three years myself but Coleman’s a big part of that,” Hendrix said. “He’s gone on mission trips to Latvia and Lithuania where they’ve actually done basketball camps in those countries. And he’s been a big part of that.”
Coleman has been going on these trips for four years and said he has had more fun doing that than any other summer activity.
“I get a good feeling out of spreading the word to people in another country,” Coleman said. “Just seeing the joy on their faces, getting to meet Americans and becoming friends with them is awesome.”
Lance is quick to point out that seeing his son interact with people from another country is more that he could ask for and makes him proud. He also feels that the bond he’s developed with Coleman is stronger than if they stayed at home during the summer.
“Pride’s a tough word but yeah, absolutely I’m proud,” Lance said. “The great thing for me is I get to spend, selfishly, a lot more time with him that if we were just here.”
While the trips are a group effort, Lance gives credit where credit is due when it comes to a successful trip.
“The young people that have gone with us are really the key to our mission,” Lance said. “They’re the ones that develop the relationships with the kids and getting them to want to play basketball and to hear the gospel message as well.”
Since his return to Fort Gibson, Coleman has made an impact on two athletic programs. In cross country, he qualified for the Class 4A state meet as an individual and finished 17th while his prowess on the basketball court has taken some of the heat off of Jordan London, the Tigers’ leading scorer.
“Coleman’s a great kid,” Hendrix said. “He’s done us a really good job. He shoots the ball real well, is intelligent and has a great attitude.”
When asked about the fun he has, Coleman talks about the redeeming qualities of the trips.
“We’ve had a pretty good success rate of kids accepting Christ,” Coleman said. “So, when they do that, it’s pretty awesome. It started with just Fort Gibson kids the first couple of years. Now it’s players, coaches and families from all over Oklahoma.
“I’m going to do this as long as I can. I love it.”