The realms of sports writing and church ministry don’t have a lot in common—that is, unless you’re Jamie Plunkett.
Plunkett occupies both.
The 2009 TCU graduate and managing editor of SB Nation’s TCU blog Frogs O’ War spends Saturdays at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth and Sundays at Northway Christian Church in Dallas, where he serves as the director of youth ministries.
They are seemingly unrelated tasks that “live in their own buckets” most of the time, Plunkett said.
But that doesn’t mean both sides never intertwine.
For Plunkett, sports have a way of opening doors to get to know know the students in his youth group. One of his students is a huge Kansas City Royals fan, and naturally, the two had a lot to talk about during the World Series.
“I think [sports and ministry] intersect in interesting ways when it comes to finding kids that have those similar interests and really being able to connect with them on those things,” Plunkett said.
The only downside? Figuring out how to manage it all. Running a sports website and leading a group of junior high and high schoolers aren’t the only things on the 28-year-old’s plate.
Plunkett is also a student at Brite Divinity School, a husband and a father to his nearly one-year-old son.
Thankfully, the support from his wife and friends keep him going as he pursues his call from God, he said, although it can be quite stressful.
However, Plunkett doesn’t plan on backing out.
He’s tried fighting God before, he said, and that didn’t work out so well.
Plunkett first felt his call to ministry in 2003, when he was in high school. He was already going to church at Northway, and at that time, Plunkett’s youth minister was Northway’s now-executive minister, Mark Bender.
Plunkett had the “cool” kid persona, being “goofy as ever” and involved in sports, Bender said.
Baseball was Plunkett’s sport of choice.
The winter of his sophomore year, however, Plunkett underwent shoulder surgery, which prevented him from pitching in the baseball tournament scheduled on the same weekend as his church’s youth retreat.
Bender saw Plunkett’s injury as an opportunity to invite the young man to the retreat instead.
“I wouldn’t say that I forced him to it, but I strongly encouraged him,” Bender said.
Plunkett remembers the story a little differently.
“Mark kind of cornered me and my buddy and said ‘Hey, you guys are going to this, just so you know,’” Plunkett said. “We kind of looked at each other and had that ‘Well, I’ll go if you go’ kind of moment.”
But he wasn’t ready to follow just yet.
High school passed and college beckoned. Plunkett had only applied to one school—TCU.
He had heard a lot about TCU from the ministers at his church. One minister went to TCU to study for an undergraduate degree, while Bender went to Brite, a TCU-affiliated divinity school nestled within the TCU campus.
“I was always at church where I felt most at home, always hearing about TCU,” Plunkett said. “So when it came time to apply, TCU actually ended up being the only school that I applied to. So it’s pretty fortunate that I got in.”
Plunkett went on a crash course of self-discovery. He tried courses and hated them, changed his major a number of times and realized he did not want to become a philosopher nor a veterinarian.
He also found what he was passionate about: writing. Plunkett finally settled on majoring in advertising/public relations, now known as strategic communication.
As for his call to ministry? That was put on hold.
Plunkett was enjoying his major. After college, he got a job in marketing communications with the American Heart Association.
But he felt something was missing.
“I loved the people that I worked with, loved the job—it just wasn’t satisfying,” he said.
So Plunkett made a decision: quit his job, follow his calling and enroll at Brite.
His decision, however, remained that—a decision, but not an action. He balked at enrolling at Brite and instead took another marketing communications job for an organization called MD Buyline.
Third time’s a charm
One day, Plunkett was sitting in a meeting at MD Buyline, discussing the organization’s mission to help hospitals reduce healthcare costs. It was a noble, “mission-oriented” cause—something Plunkett thought God would approve of, right?
“It finally sank in that this is something that I could potentially be doing in this field for the rest of my life,” he said. “And it would be very mission-oriented and that would be wonderful.”
But Plunkett said he knew God wasn’t calling him to that mission and MD Buyline wasn’t his mission field.
“I just had this very distinct remembrance of sitting in that meeting thinking, ‘Okay, no, this is not what I’m going to do for the rest of my life because it’s not what I want to do, and it’s not what God wants me to do,’” he said.
Finally, Plunkett said “enough is enough.”
In 2012, Plunkett and his wife became co-youth ministers at Northway. And in 2013, Plunkett finally enrolled in Brite.
Plunkett said he ultimately hopes to become the pastor of a church.
He’s not planning to give up being a sportswriter either. Which means the routine of hopping between church and stadium will likely continue. As for the latter job, that came much more easily.
On football blogging and Boykin’s wrist
Plunkett used to post most of his sports writing work to his own website, “The Dallas Sports Rant.” The site served as a way for him to cleanse the sports opinions from his system.
Former Frogs O’ War editor Patrick McCullough, known as “FungoFrog” on the site, became a fan of Plunkett’s work. In 2012, McCullough asked Plunkett to join Frogs O’ War.
When McCullough decided to step down from the editor position, he handed the baton to Plunkett.
And basically, Plunkett gets paid to “relax.”
“That’s really just one way that I can let go of other things and issues, and things that are bothering me, and just go and talk about football for awhile,” Plunkett said.
And with the Horned Frogs air-raiding their way toward the College Football Playoff, the 2014 season has been especially exciting.
Plunkett and his group of Frogs O’ War writers are talking Top 25 rankings, a spot on the playoff bracket and a possible Heisman Trophy winner.
“Just making the trip over from Dallas and hanging out with friends, watching the game,” Plunkett said. “[I’m] loving this year. It’s great. It’s fantastic.”
But it’s not always fantastic. Not when you get it wrong.
The Tuesday morning of the week of TCU’s matchup against Oklahoma State, Plunkett received a report from one of his writers that quarterback Trevone Boykin had surgery on a broken bone in his left wrist and would be out for four to six weeks.
Plunkett would not reveal the writer’s sources, but he said they were “quality sources” that he trusted as well.
Plunkett sent an email to his superior at SB Nation that Frogs O’ War would soon publish a report on Boykin’s injury, said Matt Brown, the assistant league manager for SB Nation’s college blogs.
“It wasn’t something that we had heard,” Brown said, “but because Jamie had been writing the blog so well, and was somebody that had every indication of being able to trust on that sort of thing, we were like, ‘Okay. Thanks for letting us know. We’ll keep our eyes out.’”
Plunkett also contacted TCU sports information director Mark Cohen and athletics director Chris Del Conte for confirmation of the report. Neither responded, so Plunkett, trusting his writer, decided to go ahead and run the story on the site.
Within minutes, TCU’s social media fan base began to explode into mourning. Some posted well wishes to Boykin’s Twitter account @OGcURIOUSDEUCE, while others pledged support behind backup quarterback Matt Joeckel.
But head coach Gary Patterson said the report was not true, according to FOX Sports Southwest.
In the moments that followed, Frogs O’ War faced a flurry of bullets in the form of social media posts, questioning the site’s credibility. The incident even gave birth to the parody Twitter account @TrevonesWrist.
“My first line of thinking was, we have to correct our misinformation,” Plunkett said. “We owe it to the people that read our site to acknowledge we were wrong.”
Plunkett immediately posted a follow-up article headlined, “UPDATE: We Seem to Have Made a Mistake.”
“It’s frustrating, though, when something like that happens,” he said. “It damages more than just your credibility as a writer or as editor. It damages the credibility of Frogs O’ War and of SB Nation as a whole. So it’s one of those things where it’s definitely a learning experience.”
The day after the report was posted, Patterson confirmed that Boykin did have a wrist injury, but not to the severity that would keep him from playing against Oklahoma State that Saturday.
Nonetheless, Brown said he was proud of the way Plunkett handled the situation.
“I still feel good that he’s in charge,” Brown said, “and I feel good about that process, and I’m glad it was fixed quickly and transparently.”
The situation blew over relatively quickly, and Plunkett is still doing his usual routine of writing sports articles and leading Bible studies.
At Northway, Bender said he likes to mess with Plunkett, especially when Saturday night games leave Plunkett a little groggy on Sunday mornings.
Plunkett has a good excuse, though.
“It’s interesting as far as time delegation, how do I manage both of those things,” he said, “and how do I really prioritize one thing over another.”
But between ministry and sports, Plunkett said ministry takes the higher priority.
“If someone said, ‘Who is Jamie Plunkett?’ If someone’s asking that question, I guess I would say just someone who’s passionate about sports, loves to write and is also passionate about his ministry,” he said.
And over at SB Nation, Brown said he appreciates that many SB Nation writers have “heavy ecclesiastical ties.”
“If you can decipher Isaiah, and you can decipher the Old Testament,” Brown said, “then you can decipher a 4-3 defense.”
Or a 4-2-5 defense, in Plunkett’s case.