January 25, 2012 - With so many coaches out there under scrutiny these days for cheating, violating rules and covering up criminal acts, it's nice to know there are coaches who still embody and extol the virtues of integrity, hard work and sacrifice.
It's nice to know there are still coaches like Joe Bullen.
On Friday night, Bullen, a longtime Oxford Village resident, was honored for his 33 exemplary years of coaching boys basketball with a special ceremony at Lake Orion Baptist School, located on Scripps Rd., just east of M-24.
"The investment of time that he has put into the lives of young men over the years cannot be duplicated," said Jim Kester, pastor of First Baptist Church of Oxford and former athletic director for Oxford Christian Academy (OCA), which is now closed.
Bullen retired last season after spending 24 years coaching the OCA's Warriors and nine years coaching the Lions of Lake Orion Baptist School (LOBS). He actually helped found the basketball programs at OCA in 1973 and at LOBS in 2002. It's interesting to note that the Oxford church actually planted the Lake Orion church way back in 1904.
Over the years, Bullen's teams won a total of five conference titles and two state championships in 1985 and 1993 as part of the Michigan Association of Christian Schools. He and his players were also invited to participate in two national tournaments.
A large group of former players and cheerleaders from both Christian schools attended Bullen's retirement celebration during which the blazers he proudly wore as coach – bright red for OCA and burgundy for LOBS –were hoisted in the air and formally retired before a cheering crowd.
It was also announced that LOBS is planning to formally rename its athletic facility the Bullen Gymnasium.
Bullen was presented a beautiful plaque recognizing his 33 years of "coaching excellence" and honoring him "for investing your life in the lives of others; sacrificing your time for the sake of your players; influencing young men through your love of basketball; modeling humble Christ-like service; demonstrating a genuine heart for God; and glorifying God both on and off the court."
But to Bullen, the true honor of this wonderful evening was hearing what some of his former players had to say about him as a coach, a man and a mentor.
Former player Matt Dobis, a 2008 LOBS graduate, noted how Bullen never failed to lead by example.
"He always backed up what he said with actions," Dobis said. "I don't think I've ever seen him lose control or get upset. Even when things were hard, he always knew how to handle the situation with integrity."
Former player Jeff Burr, a 1989 OCA graduate, indicated one of the biggest lessons he learned from Bullen was how to truly value people, not because of who they are or what they can do, but simply because they're people and everyone has value.
"I was not one of his stand-out players and I didn't play on one of his state championship teams," he said. "But I never felt any sense of Coach feeling less (for) us. Obviously, he wanted to win, we wanted to win, we wanted to do better. But it was (about) much more than the game for him . . . He was investing in us as young men."
Burr noted how Bullen also taught him that "nothing of significance is gained without sacrifice."
"Having a family of my own (now), I've come to realize what it was for him to give up two-plus hours every night through the basketball season," he said. "He chose to spend that time with us."
It's interesting to note that Burr is now pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church in Grand Rapids and he's one of 16 of Bullen's former players who became ordained ministers.
"We must never underestimate our ability to influence people for God," Burr said. "I think sometimes we lose sight of the impact that we can have on the lives of other people."
Following all these kind words, Bullen quipped, "I've been standing here wanting to meet this guy they were talking about."
But seriously, Bullen said he was honored to hear all these "men of integrity" speak so highly of him.
"I really appreciate each one of them," he said. "They've been great."
Bullen was quite humble about his accomplishments and the tremendous amount of respect he's earned over the years.
"I just thank the Lord for havifg these opportunities," he said. "When we're given opportunities, we need to take them."
Joe wasn't the only Bullen honored during the ceremony.
His wife of nearly 51 years, Lanette, was recognized for her role as the most "faithful fan" and the team's unofficial laundress, given she washed all the uniforms after each and every game.
She was presented with a lovely bouquet of flowers and a $500 gift card to spend on whatever she wishes.