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Basketball Blessings

Blair Schaefer, a senior guard on Mississippi State’s Final Four basketball team, has been supported by FCA while playing for her father.

Published on March 28, 2018

Nate Taylor
FCA staff writer

Purple and orange confetti fell onto their bodies as they embraced. Blair Schaefer and Vic Schaefer, student-athlete and coach, daughter and father, believers in Jesus Christ, congratulated one another with a long hug.

Together, Blair and Vic helped Mississippi State’s women’s basketball team reach the Final Four for the second consecutive year. For Blair, a senior shooting guard, the Bulldogs’ 89-73 victory over UCLA in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday was another thrilling experience among a series of blessings in her life.

After the game, Blair knew the Bulldogs, who advanced to the national championship game last year, had accomplished another historic, never-before-seen feat in the school’s history. But before the game, Blair knew her father would bring up Christ. 

Throughout the season, Vic has shared Bible devotionals with the Bulldogs before their Sunday games. Inside the Bulldogs’ locker room, before their most important game of the season, Vic spoke about the 10 Commandments. He equated the importance of God’s commandments to the significance of why the Bulldogs must follow their basketball principles — such as teamwork, trust, toughness, defense and a loving belief in one another — that have made them successful.

“He’s always pouring into us spiritually,” Blair said of her father. “He’s always saying life is bigger than basketball. I’ve learned that everything comes back to your faith.”

As two of the prominent faces of Mississippi State’s program, Blair and Vic have shared their faith, and their unique relationship, throughout the Bulldogs’ remarkable rise in women’s college basketball.

On Mississippi State’s campus, both have also been instrumental to FCA’s ministry. When Vic began his coaching career in 1985 at Milby High in Houston, he learned of FCA’s positive influence on student-athletes through the school’s Huddle. Vic, 57, became the Bulldogs’ coach in 2012. He has shared his testimony with several student-athletes and has supported FCA’s fundraisers on campus.

“One of the things I’ve taken from my faith is we’re to be fishers of men,” Vic said. “For me, I’m a fisher of men and women. It’s just my opportunity. I want my kids to know that me and my staff, because they are believers, too, know that there’s a bigger picture of our impact.”

Blair, 22, has been a member of the leadership team for Mississippi State’s Huddle since she was a sophomore.

Jimmy Gilford, FCA’s campus director, met Blair at Pinelake Church in Starkville, Miss. Gilford invited Blair to join the Huddle’s leadership team, which includes 15 student-athletes. In the last three years, Gilford has watched Blair spread the gospel and help the Huddle with ideas on how FCA student-athletes can be exemplary on their respective teams.

“She might not realize it,” Gilford said of Blair, “but she has played a role in creating a vision for our future.”

Blair has enjoyed the relationships she has built within the Huddle. She has encouraged other student-athletes in their faith and has discussed the Bible with her assistant coaches and some of her teammates. Gilford’s wife, Mary Kathryn, an FCA administrative assistant, has mentored Blair in their discipleship program.

“Through (FCA), they pour into you on how you can be influential and a great athlete,” Blair said. “I feel that is my foundation for why I’ve been so successful at Mississippi State. What better way to give back than to be a part of a leadership group
Blair (center) was honored on senior night alongside her father Vic (left), her twin brother Logan (left back), her grandmother (center back) and her mother Holly (right).

When Blair shared her Christian testimony with the Huddle, the first person she mentioned was Logan, her twin brother.

On July 12, 2010, Logan sustained a head injury that left him unconscious after a wave boarding accident at a church camp. At the hospital, doctors discovered a ruptured blood vessel in Logan’s brain. After several surgeries, Logan remained in a coma for four days. Blair, Vic and his wife, Holly, stayed by Logan’s hospital bed, praying for a miracle.

Logan’s full recovery was remarkable, and it served as a transformative period for Blair, who surrendered her life to Christ through the experience. She helped feed Logan, watched her brother walk again and nine months later the siblings were on a ladder in Indianapolis watching their father, an assistant at the time, cut down the nets after winning the 2011 national championship with Texas A&M.

“When we really just stood firm in prayer over and over, every single day, that really changed the way I lived and the way I saw life,” Blair said. “It changed my perspective on everything. That was the first personal moment for me that clicked.”

For her basketball career, Blair knew who she wanted to play for in college: her father.

Vic (left) encouraged Blair to improve by relying on her work ethic when she contemplated leaving Mississippi State after her sophomore season.
When Blair arrived at Mississippi State, she felt being coached by her father would be a perfect situation for her. But her first two seasons were difficult. Blair averaged less than 10 minutes per game as a freshman and sophomore and contemplated transferring to another school. Vic, while surprised, knew his daughter wanted more playing time. Together, the two had long discussions on how Blair could improve her lateral footwork on defense, her passing ability and her decision making on when to shoot.

Beyond her basketball techniques, Blair realized she needed to surround herself with people who would help keep her perspective on God.

“Blair has done a really good job of being transparent,” Gilford said. “We see a side of Blair that maybe not a lot of people see. She opens up to us about her stress and anxiety and the struggles that she’s had trying to balance everything.”

By staying at Mississippi State, and rededicating herself on the court, Blair became a key role player for the Bulldogs last season. She shot an impressive 38.7 percent on 3-pointers and she improved on defense so much that Vic inserted her into the starting lineup for the NCAA Tournament. Blair’s breakout performance came in the tournament’s first two games when she averaged 19.5 points and was named the regional’s most outstanding player.

After the Bulldogs’ victories, Blair praised God and shared 1 Peter 5:6 on her Twitter account.
“The first thing I base my life on is my walk with Christ,” Blair said. “I don’t think you can just be successful or just transform your career into something greater without Him. I felt like that was something I needed to give credit to because He did get me through a lot.”

This season, Blair has started every game, has played the most minutes on the team and was named to the SEC All-Defensive team. The Bulldogs, led by four seniors, have lost only one game this season.

“I believe last year’s run to the national championship and I believe our 36-1 (record) right now is a God thing,” Vic said. “I’m smart enough to know that this is God’s plan, whether there are things that are good that are happening or if something bad happens, like almost losing my son. It’s not what happens, but how you respond that, to me, is the important thing in life.”

During Sunday’s game in Kansas City, Blair demonstrated her toughness. She dove into the stands, head first, going for a loose ball. She took a painful, full-body charge — a statistic she leads the team in with 27 charges taken — to create a UCLA turnover that ignited her teammates. She recorded three rebounds, two assists and a block. In the second half, when the Bulldogs needed baskets to prevent UCLA’s comeback attempt, Blair swished three 3-pointers.

In the game’s final minute, Blair smiled alongside her four starting teammates — Morgan Williams, Roshunda Johnson, Teaira McCowan and Victoria Vivians — as they walked down the court together, their arms connecting one another, during a standing ovation from the Mississippi State crowd inside the Sprint Center.

“They are probably the most popular sport on campus right now because of their success,” Gilford said. “It’s neat to hear Coach Schaefer and Blair oftentimes incorporate messages of faith or God in their postgame statements. I love seeing it.”

As they hugged each other amid the team’s celebration, Vic told his daughter he was proud of her. He understands most coaches don’t get to coach their child in college — and that even fewer advance to the Final Four together.

“She has made herself into one heck of a basketball player,” Vic said. “It’s very rewarding as a coach, but really rewarding as a parent to see your kid continue to work hard, get better and not run.”

When Blair climbed the ladder to cut off her piece of the net, Vic, Holly and Logan all cheered. The moment was symbolic for Blair.

“The Lord has blessed me in a bunch of ways,” she said. “He’s saved my brother and He also gave me the fight and the will to get better and put myself in a position like this. I’m really, really blessed.”

NCAA Regional
Vic and Blair hugged after the Bulldogs defeated Oklahoma State to advance to the Kansas City regional of the NCAA Tournament. The game was Blair’s final at Humphrey Coliseum.

Photos courtesy of Blake Williams/Mississippi State athletics.