Several weeks back we had the story of the Texas HS team that made a special effort to lift up the kids on a juvenile detention facility's team . This is a follow up to the incredible story.http://www.star-telegram.com/sports/story/1163161.html
Two schools’ football meeting has national impact
By David Thomasdthomas@star-telegram.com
STAR TELEGRAM/RON JENKINS
On Nov. 7 last year, coaches Mark Williams, left, of Gainesville State School and Kris Hogan of Grapevine Faith brought their football teams together for a game in Grapevine that is still being talked about.
Gainesville State School and Grapevine Faith Christian came together in Grapevine for one night, for one high school football game.
Two and a half months later, across the country, people are still talking about that game.
It is all over the Internet. You can find more than 450 blogs and message boards that have discussed the game.
"Wow." "Beautiful." "Amazing." "Why didn’t you warn me I’d need Kleenex?"
Both schools have been flooded with phone calls and e-mails.
"You have inspired me to help others." "Is there anything I can do to help?" "How can I send your school a donation?"
There remains a fascination over the Friday night that Faith Christian fans made their guests from the correctional facility feel like the home team. The spirit line. The banner. The Faith fans and cheerleaders on the Gainesville State side, actually cheering for the other team.
It is easy to spot the differences between the schools, but spending time on each campus reveals that they share an important purpose.
"We have in common," Faith football coach Kris Hogan said, "that we are investing in the same commodity: teenagers."
And they share a story that proves that when you give, you can receive, and when you receive, you can give.
Grapevine Faith Christian put its faith into action
GRAPEVINE — Five seniors and a coach from the Grapevine Faith Christian baseball team were eating breakfast at Cracker Barrel on Monday when a middle-aged woman and her family walked up to their table.
The mother apologized to the coach for interrupting their conversation. She had noticed their school T-shirts and wanted to know whether they were from the Faith school she had read about providing fans and cheerleaders and support for the Gainesville State School team during football season.
"Yes, ma’am," assistant coach Brandon Smeltzer answered.
"Keep it up," she told the group. "That’s the way it should be."
Oddly enough, Smeltzer had just been telling the players that there are always Gainesville State-like opportunities if the players will look for them. The opportunities, he said, might not be as obvious as the Gainesville State game, but there are plenty of people in need of a caring act.
It has been more than 2 1/2 months since the Faith Christian-Gainesville State game. Yet every day, whether it’s an e-mail, a phone call, a media request or a woman at Cracker Barrel, someone wants to talk about the school’s unforgettable gesture toward the prison school players with few fans and little hope — on and off the football field.
NFL commissioner: 'A powerful message’
The field house phone still rings with calls from around the corner to Australia, expressing their support for Grapevine Faith’s actions that night. E-mails — about 400 so far — still pop up in administrators’ in-boxes, from someone saying they read about the game on the Internet and feel inspired to help others.
Athletic director and football coach Kris Hogan said that as school officials planned to host Gainesville State, he never considered that accounts of that night would spread outside of the campus. Now, he is receiving more media interview requests than he can accommodate.
Dana Stone, assistant to the athletic director, says she feels like a press secretary.
Hogan cannot remember once over the past two weeks when he was able to spend more than 10 uninterrupted minutes on a work project. Seemingly everyone wants to talk about the game.
And the game was in early November.
"At the beginning, I was really surprised because I feel like it shouldn’t be that big of a deal that Christians take action and do things like this," Hogan said. " I just don’t think it should be that big of a deal."
Yet what happened on and around Grapevine Faith’s football field that night has become a big deal. The story even caught the attention of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was so moved while reading about that night that he invited Hogan and wife, Amy, to be his guests at the Super Bowl.
"Coach Hogan inspired an entire community in an extraordinary way and gave those young men on the Gainesville team a chance to believe in themselves," Goodell said. "It’s a powerful message and shows how football can be such a positive force in shaping values and building communities.
"Coach Hogan is truly making a difference, and we wanted to salute him and help spread his story."
Faith in action
When Hogan spoke about the football season at the school’s winter sports banquet, he talked for 20 minutes on "What Makes a Successful Season?"
He spoke for a full 15 minutes before getting to the football part. Only then did he talk about the Lions’ first season as the smallest school in the largest division of TAPPS football. About returning only four starters and still finishing 9-3. About defeating the No. 1 team in the state and eventual state champion. And about losing by six points to the next No. 1-ranked team and, again, by six points — in four overtimes — to the eventual state runner-up.
What truly made 2008 a successful season, Hogan said, were four moments at which the football team and school put their faith into action.
Three came in the season’s first two weeks. Although they have not received the national attention of the Gainesville State game, they have made lasting impacts among those involved.
Two days after Grapevine Faith defeated Grace Prep in the season opener, Grace Prep player Shane Allen died in a car accident. Faith players asked coaches if they could go to the funeral. Hogan received an OK from the Grace Prep coach, and the players, wearing their jerseys with "Faith" on the front, attended the funeral to express their sorrow to Allen’s family, teammates and friends.
When John Curtis Christian School from near New Orleans came to play Euless Trinity at Texas Stadium on Labor Day, Faith let the team use a bus and its practice facilities.
When Hurricane Ike made landfall and prevented some of the players from returning to Louisiana, Grapevine Faith parents quickly raised money to cover the unplanned expenses and put together a cookout for John Curtis players and family members, with Faith players serving the guests.
The next week, in a home game against Fort Worth North Side, North Side’s Martin Rodriguez was injured near the Lions’ sideline. With an ambulance on the field, Faith players walked across the field, as a group, and prayed with North Side players. Faith’s cheerleaders then did the same with North Side’s cheerleaders.
A few Faith parents also went to the hospital to be with the player’s family, and at least one spent the night at the hospital with the family. Even when Rodriguez was transferred to a Dallas hospital, Faith families stayed with the family.
Rodriguez was diagnosed with a pinched spine and returned to play football a few weeks later. The images of Faith players kneeling on their opponent’s sideline remain with those from both schools.
The fourth moment, the Gainesville State game, is the one that has made an impact nationwide. Players, though, say the death of Allen has impacted them more.
"It’s important to know that football is just a minor thing," Grapevine Faith senior Nathan Alcantara said. "People are the most important thing."
Grace Prep coach Dale Meinecke called Grapevine Faith’s support during his school’s tragedy "definitely unique."
Meinecke saw Faith players, in their jerseys, lined up across the street from the church after Allen’s funeral. He also read about Faith’s game against Gainesville State.
"They showed that football is more than a game, that there are important things other than the outcome or the score," Meinecke said. "It’s about people, it’s about relationships."
Faith, hope and love
Hogan said there is energy and momentum on the campus of 635 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. The widespread affirmation concerning the Gainesville State game has been an inspiration.
"To see all that we’ve been taught over the years come up in real life, and more than that, see the impact it has had on people around us has definitely given me perspective," senior Jordan Dunnington said. "That perspective makes me look beyond the immediate, to see how simply being a leader in action can have a ripple effect of impact on others."
Alcantara was on the field for the Gainesville State game, and he also was at that breakfast table when the mother said his school’s actions represent the way things should be. Alcantara said that Faith’s coaches have taught players to focus "not just within our little world here at Faith," but on others who need hope.
"It’s important to reach out your hand," Alcantara said, "and say, 'There are people who care about you, there are people that love you, that want to help you out.’ "
Gainesville State School is a different place now
GAINESVILLE — Chris Styles will never forget Monday, Nov. 10.
He reported to work at 7:30 a.m., as usual, and walked through the guardhouse at the front of Gainesville State School. He heard teachers and staff members talking about Friday night’s football game.
When the 12 students arrived for Styles’ first-period welding class at the back of the campus, they were talking about the game, too. In fact, in all six of Styles’ classes that day, all anyone wanted to talk about was the game.
The Tornadoes lost 33-14 at Grapevine Faith Christian that night to finish their season 0-9, and the Gainesville State campus has not been the same since.
"The culture," Styles recalls, "just switched."
Gainesville State is a different place now.
"It’s like people’s hearts really have changed," superintendent Gwan Hawthorne said.
Ever since the players stepped off the bus and began telling their friends about how the fans of Faith Christian formed a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through. How half of Faith’s fans sat behind their sideline and cheered them — by name — throughout the game. And how the Tornadoes had fed off that emotion to score two touchdowns after scoring two through their first eight games.
Ever since, staff and administrators started describing to each other how those fans in Grapevine — complete strangers, no less — had treated the Gainesville State players as though they were their own. How a group of people from outside the fence had not rejected the players because of what they had done wrong in the past, but had accepted them because of what they could do right in the future.
"A lot of us aren’t used to anyone’s love and support," said Mack (team members’ full names are not used for confidentiality purposes), a team manager on the sideline that night. "To us, it was a whole bunch of people we didn’t know. But it felt like the connection that they had toward us and we had toward them, it just looked like that day we knew each other forever."
"The boys, a lot of them, just hadn’t had anybody care about them," said Styles, who has taught at the school for five years. "When they saw that, they brought that back. And then their peers heard that these people cared about them — really cared about them, not just throwing money at them or throwing a bag of stuff at them.
"They actually cared about them, and they showed it through their actions."
Hawthorne saw an immediate change, not only in the attitudes of the students in the maximum-security correctional facility but also in staff members.
At the time of the game, the school, with a population of about 285 males ages 12-19, was implementing a new treatment program. What happened that night in Grapevine reinforced the program’s emphasis on earned privileges and rewards that come without monetary value attached. Suddenly, staff members were coming to meetings filled with ideas.
"A lot of people are bubbling; everybody’s excited," said football coach Mark Williams, in his sixth year at the school. "The kids are excited. When the staff and the teachers are excited and they’re upbeat and positive, and when the kids are excited, everybody gets along better."
Kanita Maxwell is president of the student support council, a nonprofit organization that supports the school through volunteer activities.
Maxwell said the school "has always had a bad rap," but that the positive publicity from the Faith Christian game has helped area residents see the school, and its students, with a different perspective.
The publicity, Hawthorne said, has created opportunities for the school to present "the full picture" of the youth.
Students who earned off-campus privileges helped ring bells for the Salvation Army before Christmas. Some rode on the school’s float in the Gainesville Christmas parade, smiling and waving.
Maxwell told of a man who read about the Faith Christian game, where Tornadoes players responded positively and graciously, and told her that he had changed his opinion of the campus.
"Everything has been positive," Maxwell said.
Opponents in basketball are showing more support for Gainesville State, with some providing cheerleaders and their fans also applauding Tornadoes players.
Hawthorne met a couple "from the other side of Fort Worth" at a game last week. Their pastor had talked about the football game during his sermon and the couple decided to drive up to cheer for the Tornadoes.
An appellate court judge visited the campus and volunteered his time to help students.
Administrators have fielded phone calls and e-mails offering donations. The owner of a sporting goods manufacturer said he would design and supply new uniforms.
One Gainesville man offered to purchase a helmet and a set of shoulder pads. He said that was all he could afford, but he wanted to help.
"It’s like, a lot of us, we’ve always been known for what we do wrong, what we don’t achieve," said Isaiah, the Tornadoes’ quarterback. "But now, it’s like people recognized that we can achieve something."
A night to remember
They’re still playing the last game of the season on the Gainesville State campus.
A Faith parent who owns a digital media production company provided DVDs of the game. In addition to game footage, the video includes highlights with music and freeze frames of each player, with his number and name on the screen. When each player leaves Gainesville State, he will receive his own copy.
"We’ve watched the DVD at least 30 times," Mack said.
During recreation time, students will go outside and re-create plays from the game they watched on video.
It is a night worth reliving.
"I don’t care if I’m 50 years old," Isaiah said, "I’m going to remember that spirit line."
Faith football coach Kris Hogan said it is a night worth repeating.
"Every time Gainesville comes to Grapevine," he said, "we’re going to split the fans. Every time."
Hogan figures that with the turnover in Gainesville State’s program, there will be a new set of players each year and the night will be a new experience for them. There have been discussions at Faith of making next season’s game a community-wide event.
Because of what they experienced in Grapevine, the Tornadoes who were there that night are encouraging others to do what it takes to play football next season.
To play, students must have served half of their sentence, maintain good grades and commit no behavior incidents.
"I feel like the ones who did mess up," Mack said, "when they heard the story that we told them, now they’re gonna cherish it more and do whatever it takes not to make the same mistake again."
There may not have been a better season for Faith Christian to appear on Gainesville State’s schedule.
The Texas Youth Commission, which operates the state’s juvenile correctional facilities, has suffered through scandal and the resulting negative publicity for the past two years.
With the agency in a transitional period, Hawthorne said, the positive publicity from that game provided a boost, not only on her campus but also throughout the agency.
Said Williams: "The pendulum swung the other way."
It certainly has swung the other way for Gainesville State’s faculty and staff.
"This is a blessing," Styles said. "This made us feel good that we work here. Made us feel better about our jobs."
And the pendulum certainly has swung the other way for the students.
"Usually, people, when they wake up," Isaiah said, "they’re all down. Like they ain’t got nothing to live for. But when we came back from that game, after we told everybody, you could see a light in their faces. It was, like, in the atmosphere. You could feel it.
"It was, like, they weren’t down. They were feeling up. Like, 'I can achieve something.’ "