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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Faith on the Field

By David Thomas
Jan. 30, 2011

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The final game of the 2008 regular season looked to be meaningless for the Faith Christian Lions of Grapevine, Texas. They had secured their slot in the private school state playoffs, and the Gainesville State School Tornadoes would not even make a good tune-up game. They were winless in eight games and had scored only two touchdowns all year.

Gainesville State School is a maximum-security correctional facility whose students are teenage prisoners. The football players are among the best students, because they must earn the privilege to play. Every game is a road game for the Tornadoes, and their only fans are school personnel and volunteers, usually 20 or 30 people. With barely a handful of substitutes for most games, the players are used to being outnumbered, outplayed and out-cheered.

Which is what made the game in Grapevine so different. For that game, Faith Christian fans decided to treat the visitors like the home team. To make the Tornadoes their team.

Before the game, Faith parents and students formed a 40-yard-long spirit line and held a banner for Tornadoes players to run through when they entered the field. Then about half of the Faith fans and cheerleaders moved over to the visitors’ side of the stadium and cheered for Gainesville State players throughout the game.

Among those cheering were parents of Faith players, encouraging kids they did not know to tackle their own sons. And the fans did more than cheer for Tornadoes players; they cheered for them by name. That support, an overwhelming surprise, inspired the Tornadoes to their best effort of the season. They lost again, 33-14 this time, but they scored two touchdowns in the second half to double the number of touchdowns they had scored all season.

When the game ended, Gainesville State players high-fived and embraced each other. Little did they know when they had stepped off the bus almost four hours earlier that the game would end like this. That they would feel like this. That people out in “the free world” would root for them. That a high school football game could change their lives.

After the game, the teams met at midfield for prayer with Faith fans standing all around. Mark Williams, the Tornadoes’ coach, asked Faith’s head coach, Kris Hogan, if Gainesville’s quarterback could pray. In a simple manner but with heartfelt depth, the player thanked God for the things easily taken for granted, from the sun coming up that morning to the opportunity to play football that night. There was one thing, however, for which he said he did not know how to express thanks, because he never knew that so many people cared for him and his teammates.

At that point, in that circle of several hundred fans, you would have been hard-pressed to find a dry set of eyes. I was in that circle, as a sportswriter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram following up on a tip that something special would take place at the game. The story and photos ran in the Sunday sports section, and the e-mails and phone calls began pouring in to our newspaper. Our readers began e-mailing the story to friends and family.

When sports columnist Rick Reilly wrote about the game for ESPN.com, the attention exploded. Hogan’s assistant, Dana Stone, said she felt like the school’s press secretary as Hogan found himself in the unexpected and uncomfortable position of choosing which newspaper, radio and television interviews he had time to accept. The story that had never been intended to be known outside the Lions’ quaint stadium had literally gone global.

The circumstances, senior Greg Wright explains, may have been more dramatic for the Gainesville State game, but the opportunity was one like many others Faith coaches have taught players to look for in using football as a platform for reaching out to and helping others.

For the 2007 season, the Lions were ranked No. 1 in the state and favored to win the school’s first football state championship. Yet despite the expectations from those outside the program, and despite the season-long pursuit of a perfect record and state championship, football remained secondary to a greater purpose.

The question most asked by those who have read or heard of the Gainesville State game is pretty simple: Where did this school get the idea to provide fans for a team of prisoners? The answer is simple: Their way of life. What took place that night on Faith’s campus was not a one-game occurrence or confined to one season. Or even to one sport, or sports in general. It is a lifestyle the coaches teach and model, and football fields are just one place where those lessons play out.

I first met Hogan during his second season as Faith’s head coach, in the fall of 2004. During conversations with him, I could see that coaching football meant much more to him than merely coaching football. Hogan truly cares about his players and has a driving passion for developing teenage boys into men of high character.

I have heard many coaches state similar admirable goals, and I also have witnessed how difficult it is to put those goals into practice. But through spending one season with the Faith Lions, I learned how football can become a platform for developing the next generation of husbands, fathers, businessmen and voters — how a football field can become a place where life-changing impact can be made.

More important, I learned how any place — an office cubicle, a grocery store line, a car ride with a son or daughter — can be a place for ministry. e

Adapted from Remember Why You Play by David Thomas (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010) with permission of the author. Visit RememberWhyYouPlay.com for more information.


DAVID THOMAS is a senior writer and sports columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Both he and Kris Hogan attend Abundant Life Church (Assemblies of God) in Grapevine, Texas.

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