MOUNT VERNON, Ga. — Steve Edwards has built a successful women’s basketball program at Brewton-Parker College. He has been coach of the year in the Southern States Athletic Conference. He has coached in three national tournaments.
But, for Edwards, who doubles as campus pastor, all those accolades pale in comparison to the spiritual victories his teams have celebrated over his eight years as head coach.
The names of all his players who have committed their lives to Christ during their time at Brewton-Parker have top billing on his office wall. They’re listed above the All-American and All-Conference selections.
“For me, basketball is only a platform that God has given me to pour into the lives of young people,” Edwards said. “It's much bigger than just winning basketball games. It’s about seeing lives transformed.”
Brewton-Parker President Steve Echols said the 33-year-old coach has seen more than 400 students make decisions for Christ since he arrived at Brewton-Parker in 2015.
More than 20 of those were on Tuesday when Edwards was preaching in a campus chapel service. At the end of the service, he gave an invitation to accept Christ, and a throng of students walked forward.
Echols said he quickly recognized Edwards’ giftedness both as a coach and as a minister.
Echols recruited Edwards from Tennessee Temple University where he was serving as a graduate assistant.
After a year as the Brewton-Parker assistant women’s basketball coach, Edwards was named head coach. He was 25 at the time, one of the youngest college head coaches in the nation.
Echols then appointed Edwards to the dual role of campus pastor.
In three years before he arrived, the Lady Barons had a record of three wins and 53 losses in the Southern States Athletics Conference.
Friends advised him not to take the job, but his love of a challenge attracted him.
“We had to start from the ground up,” Edwards said. “We began recruiting young ladies who would buy into what we are academically and spiritually.”
Edwards was named Coach of the Year in the Southern States Athletic Conference in the 2018-19 season. And, during his time at Brewton-Parker, his teams have played in the National Christian College Athletic Association tournament twice, finishing as runner-up in 2019, and in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics last year.
Though the Lady Barons lost the national championship final, Edwards saw the season as an “overwhelming success.”
“On that particular team, eight young ladies had come to know Christ that year,” he said. “That’s bigger than any national championship we could win.”
Edwards said he feels his teams have done well because they put God first.
“God has been opening up doors for my wife and I to pour into these young ladies spiritually,” he said. “To date, we’ve had 26 young ladies who came here not knowing Christ but who came to know Him. To me, that’s the reason we’ve seen success. That’s the reasonable we've been able to consistently compete for a Top 4 spot in this conference.”
While Edwards loves coaching, he loves ministry more.
“My primary role is campus pastor, and everything else falls second to that on campus,” he said. “The spiritual welfare of our young people means everything to me. I live on campus. The students know my wife and I are available to them 24/7. I don’t consider this work. I enjoy it that much.”
So does his wife, Carlena, a teacher at a middle school near Brewton-Parker, and so do their two daughters, Landyn and Makaliah.
All-American point guard Madison Evans said her coach has not only made her a better athlete but also helped her become a better person.
“He helped me get a clear understanding of who Jesus is,” she said. “He taught me to pray. He baptized me.”
Every practice, Madison Evans said, begins with a Bible study. Every game begins with the team huddled together in prayer.
Now a senior and team captain, Madison Evans, has adopted her coach’s philosophy.
“My walk with the Lord is more important than the victories or the awards,” she said.
While a Christian college affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, Brewton-Parker admits students who aren’t followers of Christ. The hope, Echols said, is that they will know Jesus before they graduate.
Other Southern States Athletic Conference coaches have taken note the kindness of the Lady Barons, honoring them for their sportsmanship.
“For the coaches to recognize how these young ladies conduct themselves publicly and privately, that means a great deal to us,” he said.
In the chapel service on Tuesday, Edwards preached about the fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. He told students those fruits should be evident in the lives of anyone who is living for Jesus, and, if they’re absent, something is wrong in their spiritual lives.
“At the end of the day, if our lives have been transformed, we should have some evidence in the fruit of the Spirit,” he said. “If you say you love God, and you have no fruits of the Spirit, you have to ask yourself a very important question: Why?”
Many of those students concluded the answer to that question was that they didn’t have a relationship with Christ, and they marched forward in the chapel to begin one.
“Their hearts were receptive and open,” Edwards said. “You know, 18- to 22-year-olds can be a tough group to reach, but they were so attentive. That comes with having built strong relationships with them, and that’s the real joy of what I do.”