Wiedmer: SCORE's Bishop one of the best

Wiedmer: SCORE's Bishop one of the best

April 3rd, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Thirty years ago, Ron Bishop never dreamed that SCORE International would accumulate millions of dollars in assets, send more than 100,000 American athletes and coaches on mission trips around the globe or run three orphanages.

"My wife Pat and I started it in the basement of our Ringgold home in December of 1984," said Bishop on Wednesday. "And that's where it stayed for 10 years. We just wanted to take young people overseas for cultural, spiritual, social and physical exchanges with young people from other countries. I never envisioned anything like this."

SCORE stands for Sharing Christ Our Redeemer Enterprises, and when Bishop founded the charity, he was wrapping up his 10th season as Tennessee Temple University's wildly successful basketball coach and athletic director. Over the decade that he ran the Crusaders they won four National Christian College Athletic Association championships and finished second on two other occasions.

"But I never wanted my life to be defined by a piece of leather," he said. "I wanted to share the Gospel through sports."

He's shared his faith with so many people from so many countries -- especially those in Central America -- that a few months ago, as he boarded a jetliner to fly home from the Dominican Republic, the pilot made his way to Bishop's seat, stuck out his hand and said, "How are you, Coach?"

While happy for the hospitality, it also forced him to reevaluate his life and his priorities.

"When a Delta Airlines pilot in a foreign country knows your name, you're traveling too much," Bishop said. "I realized then that I've been away from Pat, our children and grandchildren far too much. I realized then it was time to retire."

So he'd done. Already SCORE's executive director, former Tennessee Temple baseball caoch John Zeller will now completely run the enterprise from his Tampa, Fla., home, though headquarters will remain in Chattanooga, where Bishop's son-in-law, Tim Swaney, will oversee much of the day-to-day operations.

"This doesn't mean I'm going to be playing golf and fishing all the time," Bishop said. "Pat and I are actually going overseas on a mission trip this month. I'll still be raising funds for SCORE projects that I'm passionate about. I'll just be going to a lot more of my grandkids' softball and baseball games, which I've already seen more of in the last three months than I have in the past 10 years."

When you've taken all the trips Bishop has, run all the clinics, piled up all the airline miles -- "I've got enough frequent flier miles to go to heaven, I just don't want to do a round trip," he laughed -- you've also got a lot of stories to tell.

There have been the baseball clinics in the Dominican, with such major league stars as Yankees greats Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, Atlanta's Brett Butler, current Braves pitcher and Rhea County native Cory Gearrin and Baltimore slugger Nelson Cruz.

There were the summer basketball trips that featured UTC greats Brandon Born and Chad Copeland, and Arkansas standout Oliver Miller, and Ole Miss star Gerald Glass.

There was the trip to Haiti with Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari in 2010, just after Cal's Wildcats had raised over $1 million during a telethon for that country's earthquake victims.

"I'll never forget washing those kids' feet with John before putting new shoes on their feet," Bishop said. "What a moment."

Though he'd like to, he also won't forget his first mission trip for SCORE in the summer of 1985, when he took a bunch of high school basketball players to Mexico City.

"The bus that was supposed to take us to our game broke down," Bishop recalled. "So I pile all these kids in taxis with a slip of paper that gave the address of where we were going to play. These cabs were really just VW Bugs, so you could only put three in a cab. We had six cabs total."

Unfortunately for Bishop, only four of the cabs promptly made it to the gym.

"Here we are in a city of 25 million people and I've lost six kids right off the bat," he said. "I'm thinking, 'We're going to be sued so bad. Our first mission trip and this is already the end of SCORE International.'"

Fortunately, the other two cabs arrived within 30 minutes. The game was played. The tour continued. Thirty years later, SCORE is bigger than ever.

But his proudest moment came a few years ago on the fields of the Dominican baseball complex the charity co-owns with the Rawlings Foundation of Louisville.

"We had six major league players there that day and over 2,000 kids," said Bishop, who'll turn 69 this summer. "Hundreds of them gave over their lives to Christ that day. I stood there thinking, 'This is what it's all about.'"

This is what Bishop's all about: On a weekend in which most of the country will be focused on the Final Four, he'll be in northern California, preaching to two churches, his return flight for home still high in the sky during Monday night's title game.

"It's what I do," he said. "I'll hate missing the game, but I'll preach the gospel whenever and wherever God opens his doors to me."

Retired or not, when it comes to Bishop, score one for the good guys.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com