Near the coaches on the football field, a pastor will be pacing on the sidelines at Friday night's Alhambra High playoff game against La Puente. For the first time, the AHS football team has a volunteer chaplain on the staff this season: 26-year-old Joshua Sands.
While prayer during games is an old tradition, Sands’ role is less a religious leader and more a motivational support. “I’m coming from a point where I want to serve these kids, not I want to push my beliefs down their throats,” he says. “If they ask me, I’m open with what I believe. But my goal there on the football field is to serve the kids and serve the community of Alhambra and serve Alhambra High School football.”
Last season, Sands hosted after-game parties at First Baptist Church. Inspired from First Baptist Head Pastor Lee Hamby’s philosophy that a congregation should serve its community outside of the church walls, Sands wanted to create a safe and fun space where the football team, cheerleaders and drill team could enjoy themselves on Friday nights. “I would go down to the football games, the home games, and I would record them. Then I would bring the footage back here to the church and I would play it and have food,” he says. “We call it the fifth quarter, the idea that after the football game, come over and watch the game and let’s just hang out.”
When the season ended, Sands approached Head Coach Lou Torres and the rest of the coaching staff about being directly involved with AHS football. Not long after that, Sands came on as a non-paid member of the coaching staff.
Sands says his main goal during games and practices is to encourage players to look beyond their mistakes and stay focused on success. “If a player makes a mistake, they miss an assignment, they fumble the ball, oftentimes these kids just go to the sidelines and they’re depressed,” he says. “So I just go and talk to them and say, ‘Hey, listen you gotta get over it, you gotta shake it off. And you can’t be thinking about that the next time you go on the field. Or it’s gonna mess with your head. Go and focus. It’s the past, it doesn’t matter,’” he says.
He believes this concept transcends football and helps students overcome hardships in their future. “My hope is to help them to realize that sometimes things happen in our lives and they make us stronger when they look horrible. When they look like, man this is the end of the world, this is the end of my life. There is life after that. You need to take that, and mourn over it and be sad over it, but ultimately get over it and become a stronger person because of it.”
Sands’ troubled youth taught him this lesson firsthand. When he was five years old, his mother overdosed on drugs. His father was in jail at the time and wasn’t able to take care of him. “I went up to live with my aunt in Oregon, who I consider my mom because she really raised me,” he says. At 16 he came back to live with his father in San Bernardino.
Thoughout his life, Sands says he has always been involved with youth. “I was involved in church and felt called to be in church and work with students.” One of the reasons he loves to work with students is because it was during their age that he developed and grew the most. Sitting at his desk, which has a Power Rangers poster hanging behind it, Sands explains: “They get me. And I get them.”