Faith leads Southmont’s Craig Carrell down path of coaching and ministry

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It was a Saturday afternoon, and in the basement of Southmont High School Craig Carrell was busy doing laundry.

He had just guided his Mountie junior-varsity team to a win over North Montgomery, and had to prepare for the varsity Sugar Creek Classic game at Crawfordsville just a few hours later.

With the uniforms fresh, and players arriving to catch the bus, Carrell moved into the fieldhouse to watch the wrestling team in the Mountie Invitational.

It was one Mountie coach supporting another.

After-all, wrestling coach Jamie Welliever brought Carrell onto the baseball staff just a few years earlier, and he had coached many of the wrestlers in football the past two seasons.

This is the story of a lifelong Mountie, who went from hating his first coaching job to coaching three high school sports. A born-again Christian that went from running from God to a senior pastor — and a college dropout to working toward his teaching license.

Carrell was 21 years old when his niece called in need of someone to coach her fifth and sixth grade basketball teams at Ladoga.

Quick to say yes, it wasn’t the type of first experience of coaching Carrell was hoping for.

“It was absolutely an eye-opening experience,” he said. “I got done with the season and I was like ‘I’ll never coach again’ to be honest with you. ‘My wife was like no you can’t let one year of girls basketball affect you.’”

Not a month went by and Carrell had his next coaching gig as the boys’ sixth-grade basketball coach at New Market.

The coaching opportunities have snowballed from there, first with a bump up to the middle school level and eventually to the freshman coach at Southmont.

“Craig loves sports,” former Southmont basketball coach Jon Sparks said. “And really has a passion for learning, and came in with such a humble attitude, and he would ask questions, but wouldn’t do it in a way that he acted like he knew the answers. After his season was done he would come and watch and chip in. He did a lot of listening and learning that way, so we just kept elevating him.”

Carrell graduated from Southmont in 2008, before enrolling at Ivy Tech. After just a few months an illness forced him to drop out of school and enter the workforce. Within five years he had become the store manager at the Crawfordsville northside McDonald’s, making an honest living to support his family, and finding time to coach on the side.

“He’s a hard worker,” Southmont basketball coach Jake Turner said. “A guy that when he was working at McDonalds, he was working 80-90 hours a week trying to support his family. He’s not afraid to work hard, he’s not afraid of adversity. He’s just a grinder. He is somebody who I think his faith helps him stay positive in a profession like coaching that can have a lot of negative and a lot of failures, but I think his faith really keeps him strong.”

Life was steady for Carrell, but God had other plans.

“I put my notice in and took a $30,000 pay-cut to become a pastor, and God has taken care of the rest,” he said.

Carrell had known he wanted to be a pastor for almost his entire life, but the timing was truly on God.

“My grandpa is my hero, who is no longer with us,” he said. “He was a minister, and him and I were super close. My grandma died in 2000, so I would spend weeks upon weeks with him to help him with loneliness and different things. Some people don’t understand it, but I knew from the age of four that I was going to be a pastor. My parents are divorced, and there would be times that they would be arguing and I would go out and be like ‘you need to read this,’ and have the Bible in my hand.”

While working at McDonald’s, Carrell’s grandpa past away, and he found himself running from God.

And then the phone rang.

“I was at McDonald’s and my grandpa passed away and I didn’t want anything to do with church,” he said. “I purposefully made sure I worked Sundays and then eventually my aunt called me and said ‘I’ve got a position if you would want to come — have you ever thought about leaving McDonald’s?’ and God was tugging on my heart at that time, and I went down to Greencastle as a youth minister, and God opened the doors at Lebanon.”

Carrell is now the owner of Helping Hand Chauffeur Service and on year No. 5 as the senior pastor at First Community Church in Lebanon.

The coaching gigs have elevated too.

Despite absolute no baseball or football experience, Carrell was a volunteer baseball coach at the junior-high level, before Welliever asked him to join the varsity staff a few years ago, and more recently has joined the football staff under Southmont coach Desson Hannum.

“His great character, ability to create positive relationships with kids and parents, and his always positive approach made it an easy thing to want Craig around as much as possible,” Welliever said. “I immediately noticed the great character Craig had and the positive relationships he had with the kids and parents. No matter what level of understanding of a sport a person has, I value a person’s character and ability to build positive relationships as important or more important. Any head coach would love to have this kind of person on their staff.”

The mission for Carrell continues to remain the same.

“I view coaching as an extension to my ministry,” he said. “I’m not in here giving sermons or forcing God down anyone at all, but the thing that has kept in is the relationships with the kids. I’m as competitive as anyone when it comes to winning and losing, but at the end of the day, my goal is to make these guys better men.”

And his impact on Southmont sports runs much deeper than the athletes.

“He’s an absolute servant,” Sparks, who coached the Mounties from 2013-17 said. “There was no job too small for him. He doesn’t feel like he’s above it. He’s willing to drive the long distances and scout. He’s willing to drive the long distances and scout.”

Turner, who took over the basketball program during the 2017-18 season has seen his passion for basketball splinter out and affect others.

“I just met him three years ago, but he’s been great,” he said. “He’s been a very loyal supporter of me, and loves Southmont. I think basketball is his true passion, and his favorite to coach. He does a lot of stuff that I don’t want to do. A lot of the little things, and makes my life easier. I can’t say how much I appreciate all the that he does for me.”

Sparks, who grew up as a pastor’s son, and is a former youth pastor, and now an assistant basketball coach at Northridge High School, understands the challenges of being a coach and a pastor, and has watched Carrell take on the challenge of positively impacting everyone he meets through both professions.

“I think a lot of his choices have sort of the same motivation,” he said. “His desire to impact others by spending time with them in whatever way possible. Neither job is easy both a pastor and coach there is a lot of scrutiny, but you do it because you love the people you are with, and you love trying to impact their life, and that’s not always neat. It’s often times painful, and a very vulnerable position, but it is the most important way to make an impact in people’s lives.”

Carrell is now working toward his teaching degree through Ivy Tech and Purdue, with the hopes of continuing in coaching and ministry.

I’m a Southmont guy,” he said. “I pray that I’ll get through Purdue and a job will open up here to where I can teach here. As coaches we want to take care of the place, and I think players want to represent Southmont.”

Making an impact — on each person he meets — that’s Craig Carrell.

“I think that his faith allows him to love people well, and to not think of himself too highly,” Sparks added. “Craig is an incredibly humble man. I’ve mentioned the word servant, and that really resonates with Craig. He does a great job in that area. And I think him modeling his life after Christ is seen in his family, his church, and his coaching, and everywhere he goes.”

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