Written by: Madison Reinschmidt and Xander Ordinola
On April 25, Southern Adventist University students and alumni surprised Gym-Masters Coach Richard Schwarz with a new truck at a surprise retirement party. Schwarz has been coaching Southern’s Gym-Masters team for 22 years and plans to retire at the end of the Winter 2022 semester.
Jason Shives, MD, one of Schwarz’s first Gym-Masters team captains now working as an emergency room doctor in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, thought it would be a good idea to give Schwarz a truck, and other alumni agreed, according to Shives.
Shives worked with others, including Gym-Masters assistant coaches, on various stages of planning to raise money, purchase a truck and throw the surprise party, according to Jon Benson, another Southern alum and former Gym-Master, now working for a mission organization in the Collegedale area.
Altogether, close to 200 individuals participated in the project, raising a little over $65,000 in less than two weeks, Shives said in a video posted on social media by Southern Adventist University. The group used the money to purchase the truck and pay for the taxes, he said. They also gave Schwarz about $7,000 in cash.
“All the Gym-Masters know how much coach sacrifices for his team,” Shives said in an email to the Accent. “Over the past 20 years, there have been multiple examples of him paying out of pocket to help as if they were his own family –– sometimes even to the detriment of himself and his own family members. Those examples have never left our minds.”
Shives said Gym-Masters team members have witnessed Schwarz driving “beater” vehicles that broke down or left him stranded over the years. During this year’s home show weekend, Schwarz shared a testimony with his final gymnastics participants, according to Shives. At that time, he mentioned wanting to buy a new truck, but never having the opportunity to do so. Schwarz told the group that he planned to purchase a truck and trailer in retirement and travel around the country to visit former Gym-Masters.
According to Shives, Schwarz also shared multiple stories about his broken down vehicles and how God provided a way for him to stay safe despite the challenges. He emphasized how God can provide, even if resources are lacking, for those who are faithful to Him.
Upon listening to Schwarz’s testimony, Shives said he and several other alumni and students felt compelled to do something about his driving situation.
“We felt if we can get enough interest in the idea that we could spread the cost out among enough people to where it could be affordable for us to buy at least a certified pre-owned or gently-used truck,” Shives said. “However, within a few days of fundraising, we quickly realized how much motivation there was to buy coach a vehicle. We decided to get him a brand new Ford F150.”
Current Southern student and junior biblical studies major Kedrick Larson expressed his emotions regarding Schwarz’s retirement.
“It would probably take hours just for me to explain how much he [Schwarz] has done for me … from me learning more about myself to becoming more of a man to figuring out what I actually want to do with my life,” Larson said. “He was probably the best coach that I will ever have. I’m really glad that God put me here and introduced me to him so I could become a better person and get closer to God in general as well.”
Benson said he started to recognize the extent of Schwarz’s dedication to his students over the years.
“Seeing Coach turn around to see the truck we gave him was such an awesome experience!” Benson said. “Being on the team, though only for a year, meant a lot to me. It has taken me a few years to realize just how much he loved us. But moving back to the area and seeing how he talks about his team, students and alumni made it clear how much we all mean to him.”
Shives recalled how Schwarz impacted him over the years as well.
“Coach Schwarz made having a personal relationship with Christ a significant emphasis on the team,” he said. “My wife and I met at gymnastics tryouts, and we can trace our spiritual journey as young adults to the influence of coach and the leaders he chose to be captains and pastors of the gym team. He was not overly religious, but consistent in his patience. He felt more like a father away from home than a gymnastics coach. We have kept in contact with coach over the years, and he helped us to develop our own gymnastics team in academy, providing guidance and equipment.”
Schwarz expressed his gratitude for the gift and retirement party.
“To be gifted a truck — I still am having a hard time realizing it has happened,” Schwarz stated in an email to the Accent. “The truck is really nice. But what it represents is way way better. All the relationships it represents — humbling … the blue [of the truck] represents our mats, which we call our Blue Church. So, now there is a Blue Church Truck!
“My time as the Gym-Masters coach has been some of the best times of my life,” Schwarz continued. “Getting to work with so many awesome people [and] leading the Gym-Masters has taught me a lot about myself and God. … I have met some forever friends that I plan on spending eternity with!”
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