This was not only a first for the high school, it was a first for the entire county's history — State Champs!
As the Mainland High Buccaneer football players and coaches took the stand and received their championship metals, their eyes focused above as they thrust their index fingers upward pointing into the heavens. Hardly anyone in the stadium seats had any idea of the extraordinary miracle they were now beholding.
Coach Garner had been coaching for years and recently gave up offers to be head coach so that he could continue as assistant coach. The Lord was at work in him now ... calling him to something extraordinary.
"Many years of coaching had confirmed in me that, overall, students had 'good hearts' and were very open to change in their lives." Coach Garner continued, "Those students with bad lifestyles were the result of bad habits, not closed hearts. God put on my heart the desire to find a meaningful way to witness to these young men and start a Fellowship of Christian Athletes. However, self-made roadblocks caused me to delay and fail.
"Then things changed! During our Sunday School class time I began to hear stories and testimonies of how FAITH was changing lives. Also, the preacher told of other tremendous changes in peoples' lives because of laypeople, like me, using FAITH.
"After attending FAITH a few times I realized I had been waiting on my time to start the football F.C.A. instead of depending upon the Lord and His timetable. Little did I know this was going to be the turning point in the lives of so many players, coaches, and their families!
"In our first meetings we just had prayer requests and prayer. After our first meeting one of the players stood and said, 'I want to let the team know that prayer really does change things. When Coach asks for prayer requests everyone with something on their hearts needs to give it to the Lord.' Things had started! Players were now showing concern for others not just themselves, and it was Christian concern. Each week our meetings grew, players became more involved and interested in each other's lives, needs, troubles, and spirituality.
"The players soon wanted Bibles, and my FAITH partners, Ron and Judy, bought sixty-five Bibles. Although Ron and Judy weren't present, the players gave them a loud ovation with huge smiles of gratitude for their new Bibles. All this led to great changes in the young men's lives! Coaches started attending meetings. Some made deep, earnest commitments and recommitments to Christ. Players began to declare they were going to be extraordinary Christians both on and off the field. Before one of the games, at the last minute huddle, one player challenged, 'Hey guys, let's go out and play like Christians tonight!'
"Our son is the quarterback, and he began to kneel on the sideline to pray before and after the game. As the season progressed, more and more players began to kneel and pray. By the end of the season, the team bench began to look like an altar of prayer! Along the way the players agreed that one way they would indicate their desire to give to the Lord all praise, honor, and glory would be to look toward the sky and point their index fingers to heaven. After the games the players started reminding each other to be sure to give the victory to the Lord Jesus.
"No one would have ever dreamed where we were headed. It humbled me to see the awesome power of God at work, changing the hearts and lives of these young men.
"Our team went on to win the State Football Championship. (Coach Garner's modesty keeps him from noting that their son, Jonathan, the team's quarterback, was selected the Most Valuable Player of the championship.) The post game awards ceremony found all of us standing on the victory stand with Championship metals. That moment will be unforgettable. However, what is eternally priceless is when my eyes suddenly got very moist and I thanked God for letting me see the changes in these young men, twenty of whom had prayed to receive Christ as their Savior."
Everyone has a God-given place where they can build extraordinary champions for the glory of God. Are we making the most of the opportunities God has given us?
Bobby Welch is pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., and originator of the FAITH evangelism strategy.