It was one of the most unusual football games ever played

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 9, 2010

One of the most unusual football games ever took place in Grapevine, Texas, on Nov. 7, 2008, when the Gainesville State School Tornadoes played the Faith Christian School Lions.

The Lions won the game by a score of 33–14. That was no surprise since Faith Christian’s record was 7–2 going into the game and Gainesville was 0–8, with only two touchdowns scored all year. But, the Tornadoes still doused their head coach Mark Williams, giving him a squirt-bottle shower with Gatorade in celebration.

Gaines-ville State School, located 75 miles north of Dallas, is no ordinary high school.  It’s a maximum-security facility of the Texas Youth Comm-ission, housing 300 juvenile offenders between the ages of 15 and 18 convicted for drugs, assault or robbery.

Unlike public schools, Friday nights are always away games, so there’s never a home field advantage and no fans. Many of their families had given up on them. When the team travels, 12 uniformed guards with handcuffs in their back pockets escort the 14 Gainesville players on and off the field.

What makes this football game one of the most unusual ever played? Faith Christian’s Coach Kris Hogan contacted Gainesville Tornadoes Coach Mark Williams with an idea.

What if, on that one night, half of the Faith fans cheered for the other team? ESPN reporter Rick Reilly writes about an email Coach Hogan sent.

When one of his players wondered why they were 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.”

In Grapevine, Texas, that Friday night, more than 200 Faith fans sat on the Gainesville side, cheering them on by first name.  Some of those fans formed a 40-yard spirit line for the Tornadoes to run through and a “Go Tornadoes” banner for the players to crash through at the end.

After the game, both teams met at mid-field to pray. The Gainesville quarterback Isaiah asked to lead in prayer. Coach Hogan recalls how that surprised everybody.

Isaiah said, “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.”

As the Gainesville Tornadoes walked back to their bus under the watchful eye of their guards, each player was given a bag with a burger, fries, soda and a Bible, along with an encouraging letter from a Faith player. Their parents patted players on the back and told them, “Nice game!”

Romans 12:6-8 describes the different gifts God has given each of us and our responsibility to make use of them. Verse eight says, “If it’s encouragement, let him encourage.”

George M. Adams once said, “Encouragement is oxygen to the soul.” Encouragement made a lasting impact in the lives of boys who desperately needed it during one of the most unusual football game ever played.