My life changed on August 15, 2006 when I stepped onto the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University.
I was a bright-eyed 17-year-old with dreams and visions of a future. In the fifteen years that followed, those dreams and visions were realized beyond what I could have possibly imagined.
And then on May 6, 2021, my life changed again when I was terminated as our head women’s lacrosse coach.
Like my own name, I know Palm Beach Atlantic.
It hasn't always been that way. I knew nothing about Palm Beach Atlantic until I found it listed as a "similar school" when I was dead-set on attending Pepperdine.
In the mid-2000s, PBA was known by a fairly generic blue website that didn’t do the institution any favors. If you didn’t know it, you might gather the school was located in West Des Moines, not West Palm Beach. In fact, I didn’t know much when I emailed our head coach with the signature line,
The future of PBA Lacrosse
Albeit a little over-confident, that little line turned out to be prophetic. The recruit turned into a player who turned into a coach. The kid turned into a young adult who turned into a man.
When I stepped onto campus for my freshman fall, I was awash in a completely unfamiliar environment. It was an ocean of newness in both the literal and figurative sense and it paved the way for deep friendships, a beloved education, and a lacrosse career that changed my life.
What I found is that you have a choice of where to plant yourself and how to view your circumstances. When I chose PBA, I had an expectation of good things and that’s a valuable lesson for anyone reading this. I lived an experience that little Jayson would’ve dreamed about.
Over the course of my career as a student-athlete, I chose to see a future that I could influence. Despite any true leadership ability, my teammates voted me as their captain during my sophomore season. And I leveraged that into growth as a man and leader.
Eventually, it forged a path toward coaching. First, as a “part-time” assistant coach making $5,000 and working 40+ hours a week. A brilliantly terrible financial move that sparked my desire to leave corporate marketing and start my own business to make more room for lacrosse.
Then, five years later, as our head women’s lacrosse coach, making $54,000 and working 80+ hours a week (another brilliantly terrible financial move). But it was an opportunity to plant myself and see the world (and lacrosse program) I wanted to create.
The entire thing was born on a whim of an email sent to our athletic director late at night, with an eight-point list of why I was a slam dunk hire. For whatever reason, she saw past my tendency for clickbait-via-email and offered me an interview. That led to another interview. Along the way, familiar faces greeted me and it felt like a coronation of sorts.
Michael Brown, our assistant athletic director, helped create The Fish Tank (our basketball student section) when I was a student. And while our original name was so much better (The Sea Section! Come on people. That’s amazing.), he was there to pull me aside when I needed guidance.
He was also there for that interview eight years later.
So too, was President Bill Fleming. A man who knew people well enough to greet me in my final interview and ask, “How is your mom?”
There are dozens of people who bleed Sailfish blue and had a tremendous impact on my Sailfish experience because of moments like those. Their steadfast dedication to the confluence of faith and love in higher education are why I will be thankful for my experience at Palm Beach Atlantic.
Building a legacy of love, honor, and unity.
When I set out to build our program five years ago, I vowed to see a world where we could make anything happen. And we did… in the toughest conference in NCAA Division II, no less.
It all stemmed from a moment in the dorms at Lebanon Valley College while at FCA Lacrosse Camp a few years ago. While there, I asked God for strategic direction for how to move forward. While so many told tales of how the Holy Spirit moved powerfully, I left with a deep sense of joy and identity for our program. We were to be known by three things: love, honor, and unity.
Love. Of the creator, ourselves, and each other.
Honor. Recognizing and celebrating the best in people.
Unity. Pursuing one other and putting them and the group before us.
Did we always adhere to these principles perfectly? No.
But we saw players come to know Jesus and get baptized. We saw our team find community and dive deeper into ministry. We offered bibles to opposing teams and prayed for them.
This year’s team was a favorite of mine because of what we accomplished spiritually. Each week, we’d meet for Worship Wednesday and talk about the incredible things God has done and encourage one another. To see their zeal for Jesus is something I’ll treasure forever. It was a picture of heaven being made manifest in West Palm Beach and they exalted Him beautifully.
It can be said that the level of honor we have for someone directly affects our ability to receive from them. While it was a gift to teach and to lead my players, I am forever blessed by their moments of joy – delivered with a great, big smile – every time they’d peek into our office.
My story is a story of faith.
In the time since I was fired, I have been trying to make sense of all of this.
How do I move on? What do I actually do with all of those dri-fit shirts? What is God revealing to me… and how do I make sure I don’t miss it?
While this has been a dreadfully vulnerable season that has illuminated all sorts of feelings I wouldn’t normally care to feel, I’ll say this:
While my heart longs for decades more as the leader of the program I created, I believe that every decision can be used to further the kingdom of God and the flourishing of his people.
I believe that wisdom and revelation abound when you submit yourself to an agenda free of self. As a person committed to the full understanding of God and his grace, it makes sense that sometimes you must say goodbye to certain aspects of your temporal experience on this planet. John 15:2 says:
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
When presented with a fork-in-the-road opportunity where both options lead to a trimming, I’ll choose to partner with the Lord to prune every fruitful branch and yield a greater harvest.
Jesus goes on to say in John 15:4 that your life will be fruitless unless you live intimately joined to Him. By choosing to adhere to the promises of God, I don’t lack pain in the aftermath of PBA – the pain is fully there, I can assure you – but the joy set before me endures the pruning because the dream of being intimately joined to Him far outweighs the dream of winning a championship.
So that’s what I’ll do.
I’ll keep the faith. I’ll keep pursuing intimacy with Jesus above everything.
I’ll keep loving my players through games, graduation, and weddings galore.
I’ll support their new coach, who I love. I’ll scream alongside the parents from the other sideline.
And yes, I’ll wear the damn Sailfish lacrosse shirts with pride. Obviously.
Just like the kid that arrived on PBA’s campus fifteen years ago, I’m choosing to see a blank slate and a world of opportunity.
While this is the end of a beautiful fifteen year chapter of my life, it’s not a full-on goodbye.
To all of the people who have helped me throughout my time at Palm Beach Atlantic. You’re a friend. Thank you for supporting my dreams and visions.
To my assistant coaches– you poured your life into making our girls the best people they could be for pennies or no pennies at all. I am indebted to you.
To every Sailfish player past, present, and future– “My office is always open.”
And I can’t wait to share what I’m building next.
Coach Jayson Schmidt
Thanks for reading.
Creating Future Wins is my blog about life, leadership, and athletics. My heart is to create a mixture of writing that you can’t find anywhere else and I’d love for you to be a part of this journey. Let me know your thoughts. Email me or @ me on Twitter (@JaysonSchmidt).