JJ comes through in the clutch again


Whether quarterbacking the Northwestern High School football team, or pumping in 3-pointers for the Huskies’ basketball brigade, JJ Cline always was expected to come through in the clutch.

And that is exactly what the freshman two-sport hopeful at The College of Wooster did this past Sunday even though there was no sign of a coach anywhere.

OK, that part about the absence of a coach isn’t accurate. The truth is that when members of the Oak Chapel congregation assembled on what was a delightfully sunny and cheery morning for their weekly worship, a pair of Fighting Scots mentors were, in fact, on the premises.

There seemed to be two other “coaches” at work, too. But more on that later.

Seated with family members and friends near the front of the sanctuary was Doug Cline, JJ’s father and the new head men’s hoop guru in Timken Gymnasium. Legendary predecessor Steve Moore was on hand as well, listening to Sunday’s services on the radio in the church’s parking lot (as he has been known to do during the pandemic).

Inside the tranquil chapel, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound JJ was in the spotlight for an altogether different reason. As fill-in for Oak Chapel Pastor/MCTV broadcaster/Triway head volleyball coach John Finn, Cline found himself manning the lectern to deliver the day’s inspirational words.

It may have been his rookie attempt at addressing the congregation. Yet, as expected, JJ answered the call with masterful proficiency. While it was his first time at the pulpit, his testimonial was personal, heartfelt and exceedingly relevant for a variety of reasons.

Cline, who is helping to build a blossoming youth organization at Oak Chapel west of Wooster, dubbed his sermon “Searching for Positives.” It quickly became obvious that he is an expert on the topic.

The standout student-athlete first cited some of the frustration he has experienced as the result of the coronavirus spread: lost activities as a senior at Northwestern last spring and a freshman season on the gridiron at John P. Papp Stadium, also wiped out by COVID-19. His first winter of Fighting Scots basketball remains in limbo as well.

Then JJ’s thoughts took him back to February 22, 2009, and the story he’s told a number of times before. Rest assured: the task doesn’t get easier.

That was the Sunday when, as a 7-year-old, JJ and his 3-year-old brother, Corey, went to church with a cousin. On the way home, the car in which they were riding hit a patch of ice and slid into a ditch, coming to rest in a precarious position that made getting out of the vehicle challenging. JJ emerged OK, but before Corey could he helped out, another vehicle veered out of control as well, resulting in a crash that ultimately took the life of the toddler.

“I stood there and saw it happen. There was nothing I could do,” Cline said of the tragedy. Upon learning of “my best friend’s” death, JJ said he cried for two hours near a group of vending machines in the hospital.

Understandably, shock, sorrow, and doubt ran deep in the Cline family. It wasn’t until 2016 that JJ went back to church. He said it took another two years of persuasion before JJ got his parents back in to worship.

And so, the search for positives has been ongoing, as has the healing.

Cline, quoting the scripture in Philippians 4:4, closed by confirming he has no misgivings about the source of his strength.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Thank you, young man. Clutch again.

May the God of peace be with you and yours.

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