By Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach
Corky Schumacher passed away in April. Most of you reading this column have never heard of him, so I am taking a break from my typical column to introduce you to the man. We all know people who fly under the radar without getting recognized for their impact – and they like it that way. Corky was one of those people, but it is important for you to know that the Illinois softball team exists in large part because of the way God used Corky Schumacher.
I first met Corky in 1995 when I was in high school. Of course, he was just known as “Cassie’s dad” then and he volunteered hours of his time to help with our band program. He spent countless Friday nights moving props and large musical instruments on and off the football field so that we could play the halftime show.
Corky also worked with my mom at one of the local hospitals. In 1997 Corky invited my mom and dad to attend Calvary Baptist Bible Church in Peoria. He was initially my Sunday School teacher, but over time we served together through several different church and sports ministries. He taught me the art of not freaking out during a bad deacon’s meeting!
The fondest memory I have was playing several years of church softball with him. When I showed up at church in 1998, Corky was at the tail end of a really good softball career. He was a strong, left-handed power hitter who was an excellent defender at first base. It was fun playing church softball with him and then enjoying some pizza and wings after the games. More importantly, Corky was becoming a friend and advisor to me, and I embraced the relationship.
In 2011, I committed to going on a Saints softball crusade to Ohio. I wanted to see what they did and wanted to learn how to be a better minister through using sports. Of course, Corky was enthusiastic about the trip and encouraged me by making sure he hit some ground balls and fly balls to me before I left.
After the first day of that trip, I knew that the Saints Prison Ministry was something special and I called Corky during our team meal that evening. I told him that he had to see this for himself!
Shortly after the trip, I had begun trying to figure out what it would look like to start a Saints team in Illinois. Corky and I spent some time praying about it and discussing it. And then we did something that most normal Midwesterners don’t typically do; we boarded a plane and flew to New Jersey! We had an opportunity to sit down with then Southeast Director Frank Zeidler and Saints all-time great Don Conner to discuss what it would take to get a team started in Illinois. Of course, I was ready to start the team as soon as we got to the airport, but Corky was the much-needed voice of reason God used to make sure I was praying and doing it for the right reasons.
When we got back, we started laying the groundwork for who would be on our team. Corky and I spent that winter sitting down with prospective missionary athletes. Although we agreed completely from the start, his disciplined approach balanced my full-steam-ahead mindset perfectly. We almost had a good cop – bad cop routine where I would explain the ministry andCorky would grill them on where they stood with the Lord. He would make it clear that this was about the Gospel and not just playing more softball.
Our first trip as the SPM Illinois team was in 2012 at FCI Greenville. We won our first game! Unfortunately, it would be over a year before we won our second game – but it was special to share what we prayed about come into existence with him.
Corky stayed with our team through the 2014 season before retiring and moving to Arizona. Like other teams, we have had some turnover over the years. There are some guys on our current team who never met Corky, but he is one of the most vital pieces God provided to bring this team into existence.
Outside of my own dad, Corky is probably the most important mentor I have ever had. I appreciate his encouragement, and, at the same time, I appreciate that he wasn’t afraid to have a hard conversation with me and tell me things I didn’t want to hear. He taught me to take joy in serving the Lord whether it was teaching a Sunday School class, working with the youth group, or spending the day on a softball field in prison.
Corky’s passing is a tremendous loss for me. I am thankful that God provided Corky as a friend, mentor, and Saint! I take comfort in knowing that God kept His promise to Corky, and that we will get to rejoice together someday in what God has done in the prisons here in Illinois!