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John and Cheryl Elko on Faith, Family and the Game of Baseball

John and Cheryl Elko on Faith, Family and the Game of Baseball

Parents always want what is best for their children. Sometimes, that means letting them figure out a path for themselves. For John and Cheryl Elko — parents of Ole Miss legend and national champion baseball player Tim Elko — this was the case. 

They took on the role of supportive parents and encouraged their children, Catie and Tim, to explore opportunities and not limit themselves to one hobby or interest. This philosophy proved right on target as their children have excelled in their chosen interests.

Catie has graduated from medical school and is now in her residency program, while Tim is a national champion and member of the Chicago White Sox organization.

Embracing the journey

Tim Elko’s journey was one of exploration of various hobbies and pastimes. He began playing t-ball at age five when the bat was larger than him. That was when John’s coaching career began.

Future national champion Tim Elko, here playing T-ball. (Photo courtesy John Elko)

Tim played ball with local teams until he began playing travel baseball at the age of nine. John laughs and says that’s when his coaching career ended, and he became the stats and scorebook guy.

Not only did Tim play baseball but soccer as well. He played soccer from middle school until he was a junior in high school when he, much to the chagrin of his soccer coach, chose to focus on baseball as his primary sport.  

Tim’s sister, Catie, played soccer too, and there were times when the kids’ games took the family members in different directions. For many families, this may have been too much, but the Elkos embraced their children’s love of sports even if it meant traveling to different areas of the state.  

One child may have been playing in Orlando and the other in Tampa, but they would figure it out because the Elkos knew supporting their children was essential. 

“Tim loved it,” John recalls.

Honestly, when he played soccer and baseball at the same time for years and years and years, there were times he would have soccer in the morning, and we’d get him in the car and feed him some lunch, change his uniform, and he’d have baseball in the afternoon. He just loved sports; he couldn’t get enough of it. 

John Elko

Cheryl also remembers times when Tim had to manage a busy weekend of playing two sports. 

Tim Elko was also a star soccer player, before choosing to focus on baseball. (Photo courtesy of John Elko)

“You know, in Florida, we’re not too far from Disneyworld where there’s a huge sports complex,” she began. “There were a couple of times when there was a soccer tournament and a baseball tournament on the same weekend. Tim would play a soccer game, go into the little building in the middle, change his uniform, and go to the other side of the complex and play baseball, Cheryl added.

The Elkos speak of those times with such fondness and happiness that one can tell they cherished and enjoyed them to the fullest.

Exposure to different activities

As parents, the Elkos understand the fine line between being supportive and pushing too hard. They say whatever your child is interested in, support it.  Whether it’s music, chess, or sports, wherever your child’s passion lies, make it possible.  

Cheryl tells us that Catie is older, and Tim would see Catie try things and sometimes follow in her footsteps. Soccer is an example, but so is playing the violin.  

Catie began playing the violin in middle school, and when Tim entered middle school, he began playing the violin too.  

We thought it was great. We exposed him to other things because we thought, who knows?..that might be something he has a huge passion for and loves. We have a piano, and he took piano lessons too for a while. We tried to have him do other things besides sports…. We tried to help them find out what they loved.   

Cheryl Elko 

But Tim migrated to sports. He would play basketball or hockey in the driveway when he wasn’t fishing, playing baseball, or soccer.

Tim’s Leadership

Tim’s leadership abilities have always been a part of who he is. In high school, he was a leader on the baseball field, and his teammates viewed him as such.  

Tim Elko has been a leader on and off the field since long before he arrived at Ole Miss. (Photo courtesy of John Elko)

However, when he first arrived at Ole Miss, there was a big transition.  The guys who go on to play Division I ball, the majority of them, have grown up being the best player on their team. Just because you made a D1 team doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the standout anymore.  

“We talk about it sometimes,” John says.  

You come to Ole Miss being the third-ranked third baseman in the country, and you’ve come with all these accolades, and you get to this team, and all you know is that. Then when you get there, you realize, ‘wow, this whole team is filled with guys who were the best players on their team.’ Now you realize I have to wait my turn. 

John Elko on Tim waiting his turn

Advice for Parents

Most players are not accustomed to this. Parents have to be supportive in the process and help their children navigate the new waters. 

The Elko family: (L-R) Cheryl, John, Tim, and Catie (Photo courtesy John Elko)

“God is so good, and that is part of who Tim matured into, having gone through that,” Cheryl explains. 

I had so many parents of younger Ole Miss players come up to me and thank me for how Tim treated their children, for how he understood how hard it was for them to sit their freshmen year and kept encouraging them. They had been in the position of being the best player on their team. Tim understood it because he lived it. I think that was such an important part of shaping him into the leader and person he is because there are hills and valleys, right….and because of that valley, now you understand and help the next person get through it.

Cheryl Elko on Tim’s Leadership

When asked if they had any advice for parents as their children enter the recruitment process, the Elkos said to be encouraging because your child may have his/her heart set on a particular team, and that team isn’t interested. 

Cheryl notes that happened to Tim, and she and her husband told him, “That’s not the team you’re supposed to be on. There’s another plan for you.” 

Ole Miss is an example of that because Tim was not looking for the Rebels to recruit him, but he landed right where he was supposed to be and found a home in Oxford, MS.

Trust the staff and program

John Elko, here with Tim, felt comfortable leaving his son at Ole Miss. (Photo: Elko Family)

There are boxes parents want to see checked to ensure their child’s well-being, not just as a student-athlete but as a person who is evolving and maturing.

When families enter the recruitment process, parents look for things to assure their child has found the right fit. 

For John, what was important was leaving a recruiting trip with the feeling he could trust the staff with his son — not just for sports but as a young person who would be away from his family. 

It’s part of the process that is not easy for most parents, but I wanted to feel like I could trust the men and women I was leaving him with….When we went to Ole Miss, I felt we could (trust them).” 

John Elko 

Following the Rebs in 2022

The Elkos were fortunate to be able to move to Oxford and follow the team all season. They saw the highs, the lows, the comeback, and the peak of Ole Miss baseball this season.  

Omaha was the cherry on top of the sundae for them. 

See, when you have belief, and you believe in each other, and you believe that God had you there for a reason, that he is not going to drop you, that was amazing and powerful. 

John Elko

When the team started the turnaround, Cheryl knew they had something going and others agreed with her view that the players just looked like they were enjoying playing the game.

The team just seemed loose, not nervous or tight, and was just having fun. “Some people call it playing with house money,” John says. “The guys were just playing so loose.  Not that I want to say they had nothing to lose because that’s not how they felt. Every kid wants to win, end of the story. But it’s the way they approached it. They were just having fun, really enjoying the game.” 

The team was playing for each other, which included the coaches.  The players knew how good they were and that they were one pitch away, one swing away, one play away from a game going a different way. When the pitching solidified against Arkansas, one could see a rhythm form. From there, the team went 18-4.

Enjoying the season

The Elkos did not have a particular series they always looked forward to. They just always wanted Ole Miss to win.  

However, this season’s intrastate rivalry with Southern Mississippi brought some extra joy.

John excitedly recounts:

It was incredible. Ninety-five degrees, shoulder to shoulder, loud, smoke coming from grills, it was a party. Then Ole Miss came in and beat them. I turned around at the end to talk to someone, and then I looked up, and it was empty.  It’s crickets….I think they expected to take care of Ole Miss because they beat us in Pearl. There was a different intensity, and it was that way in the super regional games too.

John Elko on playing Southern Miss

Cheryl doesn’t have a particular series she always looked forward to, but she has one specific instance that she finds unique. 

“When Tim tore his ACL last year, the first game when he came back and had a pinch-hit and ended up hitting a pop up and got the standing ovation, the boy that was pitching for South Carolina, his name is Julian Bosnic, he and Tim played together when they were ten years old,” she recounts. 

“Julian lived in the neighborhood across from us, and they used to go fishing together. What are the chances of that? What are the chances Julian would throw Tim his first pitch back?”

There is a camaraderie behind the scenes between players, a brotherhood, which transcends what team you play for or the uniform worn. There were many instances when Tim went down the line after a game and got pats on the back and hugs from players who followed his story of injury and recovery. 

When you get down to the heart of it, all baseball players are in the same fraternity with a love of the game and mutual respect for one another. 

Social media

When asked how they taught Tim to deal with social media, John and Cheryl explain the coaches encourage the players not to look at it, and they did the same because once you look at it, you can’t undo it.  

Cheryl equates it to a tube of toothpaste, “It’s like once you get it out of the tube, you can’t stuff it back in,” she says. “So, just try not to look at it and make that a habit. That’s probably the best approach.” 

Unfortunately, parents see the comments, too, as John explains. 

When things are going good, you enjoy looking at it.  When things aren’t going well, it’s another story. It can be hurtful, not just for you but for all those boys that are his brothers on the team. 

John Elko on social media 

Cheryl echoes John’s thoughts. “You can understand it when it comes from the rival team, and you see comments and what not from rival teams, but when you see it from your own fan base, it’s pretty tough,” she says. 

Message to Ole Miss Fans

What would they say if John and Cheryl could send a message to the fan base? 

John says, “I think it came out in Omaha.  All those people showed up. You listen to Peyton (Chatagnier) in one of his interviews when he said, ‘It really makes a difference when you are all here for us.’ I think getting behind your team through the good and the bad and supporting them is so powerful for them, and I don’t think people even realize it.  I think it was a big part of it at the end,” he remembers fondly.

I think that’s why many good players choose to go to Ole Miss because of their fan base and the environment.  They (fans) really do make a difference.” 

Cheryl Elko on Ole Miss fans

John believes the atmosphere at Swayze is electric, and there’s no better place to be during a baseball game. “When your boy is competing, and the team’s having success, that crowd roars with the beer showers, and everyone’s on their feet; it’s baseball heaven right there,” John notes. 

Faith and love during Tim’s injury and recovery

The Elkos appreciate the love and how many people showed concern for Tim after he tore his ACL. Cheryl recalls Tim’s injury and time in rehab. “For Tim, I know when he was injured, so many people praying for him made a difference,” she says. “It was so powerful that people cared that much about him.” 

John filmed Tim’s return to the field after his injury and says he does not watch it without tearing up. 

I was standing there taking the video, and I felt it. I knew God was moving. I get goosebumps even now.  From that point forward, you could see the hand of God.  He just carried Tim along, and it continued.” 

John Elko on Tim’s return after injury

John and Tim even discussed it, both feeling as if a miracle was going to happen; it did. Tim’s time came. His faith was rewarded.  You can’t control every situation or what life throws at you. As John says, “The only thing you can handle is how you respond. That’s the only thing you can control.”

New season of life

Now that Ole Miss baseball is over and the kids are in new seasons of life, the Elko family will begin a new chapter. John and Cheryl will continue to be empty nesters, with the family still getting together, just in different places.  

Tim recently signed with the White Sox — and John grew up a Cubs fan.  So, John will be trading in his blue hat for a black White Sox cap. 

Catie recently graduated from medical school and her residency is in Winston-Salem. Most White Sox affiliates are in North Carolina, with the high A being in Winston-Salem.  

Tim does not know his assignment yet, but hopefully, one day, he will join his sister in Winston-Salem. This would be a blessing for the Elko family because Catie and Tim are very close.  

Cheryl talked of Catie’s strong faith; John spoke of how Tim was “built on the rock.” It warms Cheryl’s heart to see how Catie is a sounding board for Tim as she was when Tim called her after the Mississippi State game looking for some helpful words from his big sister. Tim later recounted the impact of that phone call in a post game press conference. 

When we lost to Mississippi State at home, I called my sister (Catie) in the car and she knew we were struggling and it was taken a little bit of a toll on me. I remember talking to her and she said, “You’ve just to trust God. He didn’t bring you back here for no reason.‘”

Tim Elko on his conversation with his sister

The siblings being together in North Carolina would be ideal.

In a time of filtered photos and fake profiles, genuine people are not always easily found. There is no doubt the Elko family is genuine.  

With a love of family and a strong faith that guides them, the Elkos strive to be a beacon of light and hope. They are encouragers of not just their children but also those of us who love the game of baseball. 

Rebels everywhere will miss the Elko family, but their impact continues through the memories and legacy they leave behind. 

Here are some more photos of Tim Elko and his family throughout the years, courtesy of John and Cheryl Elko.

Donna Sprabery

Donna Sprabery

Donna Sprabery is a former teacher, graduation coach, and academic coach for boys basketball. She graduated from the University of West Alabama with a major in business education and from Arkansas State University with a MA in Educational Leadership. A native of Meridian, MS, Donna enjoys traveling, gardening, writing, volunteer work, and cheering on the Rebels.

About The Author

Donna Sprabery

Donna Sprabery is a former teacher, graduation coach, and academic coach for boys basketball. She graduated from the University of West Alabama with a major in business education and from Arkansas State University with a MA in Educational Leadership. A native of Meridian, MS, Donna enjoys traveling, gardening, writing, volunteer work, and cheering on the Rebels.

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