Grace on the Gridiron
Although this story is a couple weeks old now, it's still worth passing along. Last November, a Texas high school football game took an odd turn of events when half the parents from Grapevine Faith started rooting for the team from Gainesville State School. The Gainesville State players and coaches had never before felt so blessed or been so moved. And why not?
Because Gainesville State is a maximum security prison for male juveniles.
From my favorite sports columnist, ESPN's Rick Reilly:
This all started when Faith's head coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to do something kind for the Gainesville team. Faith had never played Gainesville, but he already knew the score. After all, Faith was 7-2 going into the game, Gainesville 0-8 with 2 TDs all year. Faith has 70 kids, 11 coaches, the latest equipment and involved parents. Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery—many of whose families had disowned them—wearing seven-year-old shoulder pads and ancient helmets.
So Hogan had this idea. What if half of our fans—for one night only—cheered for the other team? He sent out an email asking the Faithful to do just that. "Here's the message I want you to send:" Hogan wrote. "You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth."
Some people were naturally confused. One Faith player walked into Hogan's office and asked, "Coach, why are we doing this?"
And Hogan said, "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."
Next thing you know, the Gainesville Tornadoes were turning around on their bench to see something they never had before. Hundreds of fans. And actual cheerleaders!...
It was a strange experience for boys who most people cross the street to avoid. "We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games," says Gerald, a lineman who will wind up doing more than three years. "You can see it in their eyes. They're lookin' at us like we're criminals. But these people, they were yellin' for us! By our names!"...
The Gainesville coach saw Hogan, grabbed him hard by the shoulders and said, "You'll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You'll never, ever know."
I shared this story in Colorado at the National Episcopal college student conference. I was attending a discussion with the semi-keynote speaker, Fr. Michael Battle, who said we should seek out active ways to promote and implement non-violence rather than just not being violent. This story, which I first saw that morning in an e-mail from my birth mother, came to mind as a wonderful approach to prison reform. Read the whole thing at ESPN.com. The Waco Tribune has a similar story. It is without a doubt one of the most inspirational things I've come across in a long, long time.