“Faith and Football"
First Prize - $10,000
Bill Campbell has transitioned out of pastoral ministry into serving as a church consultant in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has published numerous articles, including three books: The Magnificent Journey; The Magnificent Church; and The Magnificent Life. Possessing degrees through the doctoral level, Bill has been an adjunct professor at St. Louis Christian College and Cincinnati Christian Seminary. As a mentor to pastors, and a community leader, Bill has been an active contributor to many lives.
I want to tell you about an unforgettable Texas high school football game. It was a game unlike any other football game that’s ever been played. I wasn’t there. But I heard about it. Then, I read the story of the game in more detail.
The game was between Grapevine Faith and the Gainesville Tornadoes. Grapevine Faith’s head coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to do something extra kind for the Gainesville team. The two teams had never played each other before. But Coach Hogan knew who would win before the game began. For Faith touted a record of 7 and 2, and Gainesville was 0 and 8 going into this game with only two touchdowns all year to their credit.
Coach Hogan made the strange request of having half the Faith fans cheer for the other team, the Tornadoes. The Faith fans and players were in shock at the request. One Faith player even pleaded his case, “coach, why are we doing this?” Hogan replied, “imagine if you didn’t have a home life. Imagine if everybody had pretty much given up on you. Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.”
Well, the unusual happened. As the Gainesville team entered the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for the team. At the end they crashed through a huge banner that read, “GO TORNADOES!” Over two hundred Faith fans seated themselves on the Gainesville sideline. They were loud, spirited, and cheered the Gainesville players on by each of their names.
The Tornadoes quarterback and linebacker, Isaiah, said he couldn’t believe his ears. He admitted his shock and surprise. He stated: “I wouldn’t expect another parent to tell somebody to hit their kids. But they wanted us to!”
Grapevine Faith was the final victor in the game by the score of, 33-14. But Gainesville’s coach, Mark Williams, was given a Gatorade bath at the end of the game. You would’ve thought the Tornadoes had just won the state title. But it was a night Gainesville never forgot. For at least once in their lives they experienced receiving an abundance of cheers.
Many of the kids on the Gainesville team had known convictions for illegal drug use, assault, robbery, and a variety of other crimes. They had been disowned by their families and others. And they were wearing old worn out shoulder pads, and ancient helmets.
Gathering in the middle of the field at the end of game, the two teams prayed. Surprisingly, Isaiah, asked if he could lead the prayer. Coach Hogan had no idea what he would say. But here was Isaiah’s prayer: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank you, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”
The Tornadoes were not disowned by those associated with Grapevine Faith. They gave the Tornadoes a night to remember. They cheered for them coming on the field, while they played the game, and when they left the field. Even before departing on their bus, the Grapevine fans gave the Gainesville players and their coach a very special brown bag meal.
Following the game twelve uniformed officers escorted the Gainesville State School Tornadoes off the field in handcuffs. Now in custody, the officers marched these player prisoners to their bus. For you see, Gainesville is a maximum-security correctional facility 75 miles north of Dallas. Every game played by this team is just another road game.
But can you imagine the inner excitement experienced by these young men. Fans were yelling for them. And actual cheerleaders were cheering them on. They left aglow, and staring through the bus window at all the people as the bus drove away.
A story like that is just too good to sweep under the rug. To ignore. To brush off. To consider as a strange fluky incident that’ll never happen again. With the economy running on fumes, and people everywhere distraught about their lives, it’s nice to know that you can still experience something that’s nice, good, encouraging and free. Don’t you agree?
Yet, get this. Christianity will always act differently than the world acts. It knows about love. It’s deeply acquainted with grace. And it finds more joy in giving than it does in receiving. For did not Jesus teach, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (see Acts 20:35)?
I really believe that as genuine faith is set in motion, it can even make football a very fun experience!
Published in the February 19, 2009 issue of The Clay County Advocate-Press; Flora, IL.
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