I took a picture Saturday that is in my top 5 of all pictures I have ever taken while in this position.
I had just finished taking a picture of the Catholic Central and Steubenville Big Red girls track and field teams after they won their respective Class 2A and 4A Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championships at St. Clairsville High School.
After the girls were high-fiving and hugging each other, I then heard a voice say, "Can you take a picture of all of us?"
That was an easy answer.
So, they assembled themselves, interlocking arms and just loving each other.
"This is the way we do it in Steubenville," said another.
I knew right away what picture was going to be on the front of the Herald-Star Sunday morning.
It was a pleasure to see girls genuinely happy for each other.
Although competitors with the mindset to whip each other throughout the day, they are still friends and want the best for each other, contrary to what people may believe.
Their spirit caught me and was infectious.
To me, it was a great ending to a fabulous day of track.
And, that got me thinking about our spirits and what we do to help others on a daily basis.
As I was working this column through my feeble mind, I had about far more avenues open than I wished.
I couldn't take them all, obviously, so I was trying to steer toward one.
And, that avenue was taken Sunday morning.
I tell Pastor Randy Sells all the time that I have something in my head for my Monday column and, more times than not, his Sunday school lesson or sermon puts a nice little bow around my thoughts.
Sells is out of commission for a while after having surgery, so Youth Pastor Scott Abercrombie, a teacher at Follansbee Middle School, was behind our large pulpit.
And, there, in Sunday school, he said it.
"Others do not create our spirit, they only reveal it."
"Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit." - Matthew 12:33
I did not see one girl from either track team all pushed out of shape because she had to stand next to and touch and interlock arms and hug a member from the other side.
There was nothing corrupt about that picture.
It was all good fruit.
I didn't see coaches from either team rushing in to split up the picture.
In fact, both head coaches have been sent the picture per their request.
Here, the tree was good and the fruit was good.
Now, bear with me on this.
When we purchase fruit, we do our best to find the best fruit available. We keep the bananas with the brown spots, the mushy grapes and the soft apples alone.
We want to hear that special sound when we thump a watermelon or cantaloupe.
We want the ripe plums, peaches and pears.
We want that for our kids.
We want our kids to see the best in people.
We want our kids to pick their friends like we pick fruit.
We want the fruits of our labor to be for good.
You know, smiles and hugs and genuine appreciation for each other, including the fiercest of competitors.
Can you fathom picking out the bad fruit and feeding it to your family and friends.
Yep, wouldn't happen.
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me." - John 15:4
Weeds grow naturally.
We always have to prune a fruit tree to help it produce.
That's what we do with our children, our kids in the classroom, our athletes.
We prune them.
If not, we put them in a position to be weeds.
And, once that happens, others will reveal the spirit that is inside of them.
And, if we let the weed fester, the result is never good.
Trees are pruned for many reasons - to lessen the chance of it falling during a wind or ice storm, to remove dead, dying, diseased or improperly balanced limbs, reduce wind resistance, thin a dense canopy or eliminate crossing branches.
For looks, tree maintenance is appealing to the eye - kind of like watching kids be good kids instead of royal pains in the behind.
Are we producing corrupt fruits?
Are our children abiding in us? The teachers? The coaches? The employers? Their friends? Their families?
"Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." - Matthew 7:17-18
I have had the occasion to talk to Rich Donnelly about a lot of things.
I like to get into his head about coaching, since he is really good at it and has done it for a long time.
I asked him one day what he does with people who just don't get it.
"If you have told them 5,000 times, tell them 5,001 and then 5,002 and then 5,003," he said.
In other words - don't give up on them, keep at them, make them hear you, be a bearer of good fruit.
Patience, although bitter at times, can be a wonderful thing for everyone involved.
We cannot pat people on the back with one hand and stab them in the same place with the other.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." - Galatians 5:22-23
It's OK to be a good kid.
It's OK to do the right things.
It's OK to be a leader by example.
And, as athletes and teams have their seasons come to an end one way or another in the next four weeks, how will the athletes who return to high school next season be leaders?
Good tree, good fruit?
Corrupt tree, evil fruit?
Love? Joy? Peace? Gentleness?
(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org).