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Mission For UD's Chamberlin Is To Be More Than a Coach
His first night in Africa, at a mission outpost in Zimba, Zambia, he was asked to tell a story to children in a Bible study class.
“The way they do it there, the children all sit outside in a circle, and the storyteller sits in the middle of them,” Rick Chamberlin said. “I decided on the tale of David and Goliath, but I didn’t just tell it to them, we acted it out. So you can imagine what part I played.
“Yep, I was Goliath.
“And three days later, I’m coming down a dirt path toward the school and there’s these two little boys walking my way. They stop and look at me and one of them — he was maybe 5 or 6 — finally says, ‘I know you … you’re Goliath.’
“I started laughing and said, ‘Yes, you’re right. I am Goliath.’ “
Although that story is from three years ago, these days the Dayton Flyers’ new head football coach still could be considered something of a Goliath.
He may not be that towering Philistine warrior, but he’s certainly someone who stands out from most other men in his profession. And that’s not just because he spent 28 years as a loyal Flyers assistant before finally taking over the UD job from Mike Kelly, who retired and became an assistant athletic director at the school.
The 50-year-old Chamberlin is also the missions director at Northridge Wesleyan Church on Neff Road. In that job, he led members of the congregation on the Zambian trip to help build a church, a school and work with the children.
Before that, there was a trip to Mexico to build a seminary school. And around the Dayton area, his church has aided soup kitchens and food pantries and helps support the Oasis House, a shelter and ministry for the dancers at the strip clubs along North Dixie Drive.
“It’s what God calls all of us to do — to be of service to your fellow man,” Chamberlin said as he took a break from the Flyers’ spring football drills this weekend. “It’s part of living a Christian life.
“And when it comes to those mission trips, I think you’ll hear this from anybody who goes on them. You think you go strictly to help somebody else, but you soon find out you receive much more than you gave out.
“I’m talking memories, the way it makes you feel, and especially with your perspective once you come back to your own life.”
Parents showed the way
The seeds for this mind-set were first sewn back in Springfield, where Chamberlin and a younger sister and brother grew up the children of an Ohio Steel foundry worker and a church-going homemaker.
“I’m adopted,” Chamberlin said. “All three of us are. Our parents were very giving people, and nothing says that more than when they took in three kids as their own.”
A football standout at Springfield North, Chamberlin became a small-college All-American linebacker at the University of Dayton in the late 1970s. Today, he’s a member of the UD Athletic Hall of Fame. About the time he began coaching, he said he developed “a personal relationship with the Lord.”
Eight years ago, he became the missions director at Northridge Wesleyan.
“I never wanted to be one of those guys where my job was all there was to me,” he said. “There’s more to life than that.”
That attitude may have been what enabled him to remain a top assistant all those years. While he did have dreams of running his own show — he was a finalist for the Austin Peay job several years ago and turned down the Butler job — he said, “I had it awful good here at UD and I knew there was more to life than just being a head football coach.”
And so while he honed the Flyers defense, he also extended a helping hand to a variety of nonfootball folks:
“Our church has become quite involved in the Oasis House,” he said. “It’s run by a lady who helps the adult club dancers with living problems, clothing, working on their education. It’s to try to show them there’s another way of life they can enjoy.”
When he led a group of six to the market town of Zimba in southern Zambia, he hooked up with the Nakowa Pilgrim Wesleyan Church — which runs both a school and a hospital there — and did everything from teach physical education to help build a new church there.
As he sat in his on-campus office the other day, he opened his computer and clicked on a file of photos from his African trip. As one image after another filled the screen, he literally was beaming as he shared the stories and feelings they evoked.
One photo showed him towering over a bunch of children whom he had taught volleyball. Another pictured him working on the church alongside a Zambian woman stooped in labor, her child strapped to her back.
“From the standpoint of our lives, there was real poverty there — just pitiful conditions,” he said. “But the people smiled and treated you so graciously, and I left there thinking, ‘If they can have that type attitude in this situation, nothing could get that bad for me here that I have to walk around with a sour attitude.’ “
‘Goliath’ goes shopping
In a little more than a month, Chamberlin will be on the recruiting trail for the Flyers. While he searches for athletes who are big, fast or especially skilled, he said he looks for something else:
“I’m looking for well-rounded guys, not just ones who eat and live for football. We want guys who were in the drama club, the Spanish club, the president of their student council. We try to stress that you’re not just coming to the University of Dayton to be football players, you’re coming to be student-athletes. Guys who show they can handle several things are guys who make good teammates.
“On the football field, it’s players like that you can count on when it’s fourth-and-one.”
While he easily relates real life to football around here, in Africa he found it a little more difficult to explain the sport. Soccer is huge in Zambia, but American football is foreign.
“When I told them about football, the men tried to figure it out and finally one said, ‘Well, you look so powerful,’ ” Chamberlin said with a laugh. “I told him, ‘Hey, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been powerful.’ “
Maybe as far as wearing pads and a helmet, but that’s not so otherwise.
Away from the field, Rick Chamberlin still is a Goliath in so many ways.
Mission for UD football’s Chamberlin is be more than a coach
By Tom Archdeacon, Dayton Daily News