Chad Merrell, known affectionatly around Sterlington High as "the All-State Chaplain," has resigned as pastor of First West Fairbanks to accept the pastor's position at North Rock Hill Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Sterlington High School's team chaplain Chad Merrell is leaving Sterlington, but he said some of his fondest memories have been spent with the Panthers.
"A friend and mentor of mine called me about a year ago and said he knew of a church that needed me to be the pastor," Merrell said. "I wasn't looking for a job at all and was very content here, but after the phone call was over God began to stir something in me. It ended up being a perfect fit and the timing was perfect. God rolled it out and lined it all up for us to go there."
Merrell and his wife, Tanisha, and five children: Christopher, 23, Carrington, 19, Madeline, 17, Kendal, 15 and Ava, 5, moved to West Monroe in 2012. Merrell became lead pastor of First West Fairbanks and moved to Sterlington, and Merrell soon became SHS team chaplain.
"I came in when Jason Thompson came in," he said. "Being a part of the winning culture of Sterlington High and helping to build young men into their full potential, both on and off the field, has been so rewarding. Manhood and character are found in Scripture. We use the Bible as a basis for the attributes of a good leader. I invest in both players and coaches. Coaches influence the men of tomorrow.
"We have walked through victories and tragedies together. It has been an honor for me."
One victory was the 2016 State Championship win, and a tragedy was the death of football player Tyrell Cameron from Franklin Parish.
Merrell said the team always came together for the greater good, and remembered how they helped flood victims in 2016 by bagging sand and cleaning up the neighborhoods after the flood.
Now an assistant principal, Jason Thompson says Merrell has meant so much to him and the team, that seeing him leave is a sorrowful event.
"I am both excited and sad at the same time," Thompson said. "I am excited for his family's opportunity, but sad to know that our kids are losing a resource to call on during tough times, and more importantly, a friend. I have grown as a man during my time with him. He will be missed."
Merrell said many meaningful evenings have been spent in the fieldhouse on Friday nights with the Panthers.
"And I would have never gotten to do that if Jason (Thompson) had not given me the opportunity. There have been many highlights for me, but spending time with the players and helping to shape them into men of character has been what has counted the most," Merrell said.
"The group of men in the community are awesome and are helping to raise up men, not just players. I am thankful for men like Thompson and (SHS head football coach) Lee Doty and for the encouragement they offer others in the community. I have just been a willing servant. They are the heroes."
Merrell said Ben Hackler, pastor of First Baptist of Sterlington and a Sterlington High alumni, will step into position as lead chaplain at SHS.
The Merrell's will make their new home in Rock Hill, South Carolina where they will pastor North Rock Hill Church.
"I am originally from Virginia, so going to the East Coast will be a familiar place to us," he said. "We will be five hours away from my family and about eight hours away from my wife's. We are looking forward to being closer to family."