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Millsaps Reverend Joey Shelton Speaks on Being a Former Athlete and Personal Development

From the time kids are little to the time they grow up, playing ball is a staple in many neighborhoods. The same is true for Reverend Joey Shelton—the Dean of Chapel and Director of Church Relations. Reverend Shelton played football for Millsaps in the 80’s, went on to law school, and is now our very own Chaplain. Before Reverend Shelton began his career at Millsaps, he played football—like many other kids—in his neighborhood.

“I have always been crazy about athletics. From my earliest memories I had a ball. There were a lot of kids in my neighborhood, so we were always out playing ball. In my neighborhood, we had two huge German Shepherd dogs, and when we would choose teams, you had to choose one of the German shepherds. If you got tackled by the one on your team, you could get up and keep going, but if you got tackled by the one on the other team, you were down” said Reverend Shelton.

Reverend Shelton went on to play football in high school. Although being one of the younger ones of his class, he earned a scholarship from a community college. Eventually, he settled on Millsaps and continued playing the sport he loved.

“My senior year I was 16 years old for half the season. I knew I still had a lot of growing to do. I ended up getting a scholarship to a community college and gained 15 pounds and got two-tenths faster in the forty. I had a good time there, but I realized my goal in life was not to play football, it was to go to law school, and I knew Millsaps would be by far the best avenue for that” said Reverend Shelton

After Millsaps, Reverend Shelton pursued law. Even though Millsaps’ win-loss record was impressive, Reverend Shelton discovered that football centered more on the relationships that were built around the sport.

“I’m very proud of the fact that my junior year we went undefeated in football, and my senior year we only lost 2 games, but just barely. We had statistically the best defense in the nation that year. But those wins and losses are not really what it’s about, it’s the relationships. It’s being able to remember the interactions with my teammates. Being able to still be in relationships with those guys. To be able to pick up the phone and talk with somebody, and you just pick up where you left off. Those relationships are priceless, and they are invaluable. That is what I think the spiritual journey is about- relationships. Being with people. Engaged with other people for the common good,” Reverend Shelton said.

Many athletes claim that they learn lessons on the field that they wouldn’t teach in a classroom. Reverend Shelton is no different in this aspect, who says football helped prepare him for the professional world.

“When you are playing a team sport, it really emphasizes that there is this dual thing at work. That is, trying to make yourself better. You work out, you do the things you need to do to play. And you know when you do that you have a really good chance of getting in the game. You’re going to be out there contributing. But if you’re only doing this personal work for yourself then what’s the point? It’s a team sport, so you have a higher purpose than just yourself. When there’s a higher vocational aspect to it, it helps you be much more productive and successful in what you are doing” Reverend Shelton spoke.

“That was the attitude I took. I went to law school after Millsaps and practiced law for ten years. It was always about more than making a paycheck. I got a lot of joy out of helping my clients, it really was a cool thing. In that sense, playing ball helps you to dig deep. You gotta dig deep when things are hard. It helps you face adversity; you’re going to face a lot of adversity in life. You reflect on what went well, and what didn’t, and you’re constantly doing that in the professional world” he continued.

Not only does being a former athlete build and strengthen character for Reverend Shelton; he also recognizes that it touches every part of his life. In the same way education stays with a person, lessons from athletics can stick with people.

“It impacts all the areas in your life to a certain extent. Who I am now is an accumulation of everything that was before. The lessons that I learned in athletics are lessons I carry with me today. The lessons and the education I had from practicing law, I still use those skills everyday as a clergyperson and a teacher. So I think athletics are a tremendous way to help form us as people.”

As awe-inspiring and unique as Reverend Shelton’s story is, there are more just like his. Many athletes agree that the work they put in was worth all of the lessons they learned. For Reverend Shelton, his number one takeaway from Millsaps Football is no different.

“It taught me that I could be stretched mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually – and that stretching even though sometimes it seems not worth it, it’s totally worth it, and I am grateful for every minute of it.”