At 9:33 a.m. Sunday, Blue Springs pastor Joey Butler passed away after a lengthy fight with cancer. Finding the words to describe Joey to those who were not familiar with the man who co-founded Gateway Church are really quite simple. He was a man who left the world far too soon, but he will always be remembered. He taught me – and so many others – how to live, by the way he accepted his fate. He knew the end was near, but you could still find him on the sidelines at every Blue Springs High School home football game at Peve Stadium, at his favorite table at Plowboys BBQ – which he said “made sweet tea the way God intended” and with his fellow believers at Gateway Church. He loved to see his wife Dawn in a Mississippi State football jersey, and he was the proudest pop on the planet when he talked about his kids, Ty, Zac and Josy. At the Wildcats’ 63-21 state quarterfinal win over visiting Lee's Summit on Friday, the Blue Springs student section chanted “Joey Butler! Joey Butler!” throughout the last quarter. Every Blue Springs starter had JOEY written on their gloves, cleats, taped wrists and ankles and the game was dedicated to the team's inspirational leader the past 15 years. “It's going to be tough at practice this week,” Simone Award winning running back Dalvin Warmack said of his death. “But we're going to celebrate Joey's life this week, because that's what he would have wanted us to do. And we're (going) to Eureka (Friday in the Class 6 state semifinals) and get a win for Joey.” Teammate Gunnar Strickland, who first showed me the tribute to Joey on the team's gear added, “Joey is one of those one-in-a-million guys who made everyone feel special. This week is for Joey, and what better way to honor him than by getting another step closer to winning a second straight ring – a ring for Joey.” Buck Buchanan Award winner Elijah Lee moved from St. Joseph, Mo., to Blue Springs in 2012, and knew Joey just over a year. “But it didn't take long for him to affect my life,” Lee said. “I'll never forget the first time he called me 'The Prophet.' That was pretty cool. It's going to be strange to not have him here at practice this week, but we'll all be thinking about him.” There will be a Celebration of Joey Butler's life at 7 this evening at the Performing Arts Center at Blue Springs High School. Butler, 51, was buried in a private ceremony earlier in the day. I asked those who had been affected by Joey to send a tribute through my email address and the response was overwhelming. Here are a few of the comments about Joey Butler and how he touched their lives:
“Words really can't do justice to the impact he's had on our coaches and players over the last 15 years. He connected to every player in our program no matter what their background was. He was one of those rare people that was a lot more concerned for others than himself. We all feel honored to have known him and been influenced by him. We will always work very hard at carrying on those important character traits that Joey emphasized on a daily basis.” Kelly Donohoe Blue Springs football coach
“I remember first meeting Joey though the Beyer family at First Baptist Church in Blue Springs, and Joey would say my first and last name really loud with that southern accent and hit me with a huge Joey Butler handshake. It didn't matter if it was three hours since I'd last seen him or in some cases three years! It was always the same greeting, always the same enthusiasm, it was always the same level of caring.” Josh Barge Former Wildcat all-state receiver and state champion
“Joey picked me up from the airport when I was coming into town (from Wyoming, October 2005) for the first time after finding out my dad was sick (with cancer). During the 45-minute ride to Blue Springs, just he and I, we had a very tough conversation. I let God and Joey have it – all my confusion and anger. Instead of using a Bible verse to calm me, which would have really set me off at the time, he assured me that Christ invites doubt and criticism. It's how we grow. He was right.” Stinson Dean Former Wildcats all-state quarterback and state champion
"I met Joey through our restaurant. He has been in 4-5 times a week almost since Day 1. Someone introduced us on one of his first visits. After that, we'd talk every time I knew he was in. What a wonderful man. I'm blessed to have known him if only for the last two months. Joey told me that his goal was to eat as much BBQ and drink as much sweet tea as he could with the time he had left. That man enjoyed his BBQ. I'm going to miss my BBQ talks with Joey.” Todd Johns Co-owner of Plowboys
"Jordan (Chrisman), Keeston (Terry) and Tyler Brown over the summer had Bible study with Joey and even in his sickness he was still helping those young men. He brought Jordan to the Lord and told him to live his life with purpose. He gave each young man at our graduation party a cross in their card. To say you have touched so many young men's lives with a simple task to have purpose is a legacy.” Melodie Chrisman Mother of former Buck Buchanan Award winner Jordan Chrisman
Scott Sterling, the associate pastor at Gateway told me the best description of Joey came from a former student who simply said, “Joey never wrote a book or pastored a mega-church. He just made hundreds and hundreds of disciples who went on and made hundreds and hundreds of more disciples.” And I am so proud to be one of them.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at 350-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC