Wednesday, October 18, 2006

ATH: William Fifer

More than meets the eye
By Bill Begley, The Daily Times, Published October 18, 2006

When William Fifer stands before his congregation, before the students he counsels, before his friends, they see a man who has dedicated much of his life to the service of others.

They do not see a former professional athlete.

And that suits Fifer just fine.

“I am more satisfied by what I do now than I ever was playing sports,” said Fifer, who was a three-sport star at Tivy High School, an All-American offensive lineman at West Texas State University and a starter at tackle in his first NFL game after being drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1978 .

“I rarely talk about it. There are people here who know me that don’t know I played in the NFL, because it’s not what I talk about. I talk about being a pastor, about my job helping kids. Sports are just something I did as a kid growing up. What I do now means so much more than playing a game.”

Although, Fifer played them well — very well, in fact — enough to be a unanimous pick for the new Tivy Athletic Hall of Fame inaugural class.

A 1974 Tivy grad, Fifer was a two-way star for the Antlers, playing offensive and defensive tackle. He was a high-scoring, rebound-grabbing standout in basketball, and a record-setting competitor in the shot put and discus in track.

He was good enough his senior year to earn high school All-American status in all three sports.

Fifer went on to star in football at West Texas State University, where he earned second-team All-American honors after the 1977 season. The same talents he exhibited on the basketball floor and while throwing in track — a nimbleness that belied his mass — impressed scouts enough to make Fifer a fourth-round pick in the 1978 draft.

“The NFL is a business,” Fifer said. “It was a lot of fun, but it was a serious business. When I played, you had two-a-day practice for six or seven weeks, seven days a week. They would bring in 120 people for 43 spots on the roster. They’d keep seven linemen, but bring 30 into camp. It was constant, cut-throat competition, but I enjoyed my time playing.”

After three seasons in the pros – with the Lions, the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints – Fifer returned to West Texas State as an offensive line coach. It was there his life took a turn that led him on a path he said he was destined to follow.

“The staff got fired,” Fifer said. “I had an opportunity to get other jobs, but I just felt the Lord was calling me to do other, better things.

“Even as a little kid, I wanted to be a preacher. In 1985 and ’86, I became really, intensely interested in God and the church and finally accepted the calling to become a minister.”

Fifer followed the calling … and beyond.

Today, living in Tulia, which is near the West Texas campus in Canyon, situated nearly exactly between Amarillo and Lubbock, Fifer is the minister at the Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ in Amarillo. He works at the alternative school for the Tulia Independent School District, helping counsel kids who have had disciplinary issues.

“I really love my job,” Fifer said. “A lot of people think it’s a crummy job, dealing with so many discipline problems and kids with bad attitudes, but I look forward to going to work every day.

“A few years ago, there was a kid who was ready to quit school. But, we talked to him and got him to stay, and he ended up graduating. He never attended a day of regular high school — he went from the eighth grade straight into the alternative program, that’s how bad a kid he had been. But, he graduated, and now he’s working in Amarillo. Whenever he sees me, he says thank you and tells me how much a difference staying in school made in his life.”

A lot of what Fifer learned as a successful athlete translates in his dealings with the students at the alternative school.

“It’s the never-give-up attitude,” he said. “Athletics builds so much character. It teaches you how to deal with adversity, to keep working hard and playing hard until things get right.

“I encourage every kid I deal with to get involved in some kind of sport. Even if they aren’t a ‘star,’ just being on the team teaches you so much that you will use later on in life.

“I remember my senior year at Tivy, we lost 59-58 in the district playoffs to the state champion. Gonzales went on to win state by 15 points. We should have beaten them, we should have won state that year. I still think about that. That’s why I tell kids to play hard and practice hard every day, because when you get older you think that maybe if you had tried harder or worked harder, things might have turned out a little better.”

Fifer became an ordained minister in the of God in Christ in 2004, and said a lot of how he approaches his work with the students at the alternative school carries over to his work as a minister.

“A lot of the principles I use in my job, I use in my church,” he said. “You have to be honest with kids, and you have to be honest with your congregation. You have to be caring with kids, and you have to be caring with people in your church. It’s the same thing — you have to be a man of your word, both with the kids I deal with and the people I deal with at my church.”

For the first time since 1991, Fifer is taking time off from a prison ministry. Ordained as a non-denominational minister in 1986, Fifer first began going to prisons once or twice a week 15 years ago, counseling inmates and holding services.

“I always liked working with people, I always wanted to do something that mattered,” Fifer said. “I wanted to work as a counselor in the prison system, to try to help people who have gone wrong.

“I preach about my life experiences and how God can turn your life around, that one mistake shouldn’t bury you for the rest of your life, that you can make changes and make your life better. But, it’s up to you. I get letters and calls from prisoners, even from parents thanking me for helping their son out while he was a prisoner.”

Married since 1979 to Yvonne, a San Antonio native he met “when I was four years old,” Fifer is taking the break from prison ministry to spend time with their daughter, Til-Lois, who is a senior at Tulia High. Like her father, she is a star athlete. A standout on the volleyball team, Til-Lois just recently committed to play basketball next year at Eastern New Mexico State University.

“It’s a special time in her life and in our life,” he said, “and I want to make the most of it. But, I will go back to the (prison) services after this year. That is very important to me, too. It’s a big part of who I am.”

Fifer said he was surprised by his selection to the new hall of fame, but that it is just another good memory anchored in his hometown.

“I didn’t know Tivy was doing something like this” he said, “and I did not think I would be considered one of the best athletes to come out of that school.

“Kerrville was just a great place to grow up. I had great teachers, great coaches, just an all-around positive experience while I was at Tivy High School. Had I to do it all over again, I’d want to come back to the same family, the same house, in the same town, go to the same schools, play on the same teams with the same players. I had a blast in my time there, I just cherish those memories.”

Nearly as much as the life he’s carved out since then.

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