Football and niceness don’t typically go together. Football is a rough and often violent game. However, the following story reminds us that football is still a game, and sometimes the game is secondary to lessons that are taught when people do something nice.
On Nov. 7, 2008, a high school team from Faith Christian School in Texas made national headlines playing the Gainesville State School Tornadoes, a school with about 290 males ages 12-19 whose home was a state-operated maximum-security correctional facility.
Players at Gainesville have to earn the right to play. They must have served at least half their sentence and not have any behavioral issues. As a result, the team composition changes weekly, depending on whether a player is released from the facility or is removed for violating school rules.
Every game for the Tornadoes is a road game and, normally, their only fans are the ones they bring with them. When they came to play Faith Christian, they brought 20 faculty members and staff. Some of the Gainesville kids don’t even know their parents.
Compare that to Faith Christian, located in one of Tarrant County’s most exclusive suburbs, where parental support is virtually a given.
But this night, something was different. Something special happened.
Imagine the feeling experienced by the Gainesville State players when they came onto the field and saw a spirit line of about 300 people that stretched halfway across the end zone in their honor. The players, all 14 of them, ripped through the paper sign that read “GSS Go Tornadoes” as the line turned toward the playing field, then extended past the 30-yard line.
It turns out that Faith Christian coach Kris Hogan wanted his school to show support for the visitors. Hogan e-mailed Faith parents during the week requesting they form a spirit line for their opponents, and asked for some to sit in the Gainesville State stands during the game and cheer the Tornadoes as though they were their team.
His challenge was well received, and half of the Faith Christian fans went to the home side and half went to the visitors’ side. The junior varsity cheerleaders also went to the Gainesville sideline.
Hogan said he wanted to “make sure the kids knew that there were more people on their side than just their faculty at Gainesville State School.”
All night long, Faith parents encouraged players they knew only by their jersey numbers to tackle their own sons, along with teachers and administrators rooting for the team playing against their students.
It hardly mattered that the Tornadoes were overmatched against Faith Christian, a nine-time state championship team.
After trailing 33-0 at halftime, the Tornadoes reached the end zone twice and their fans for a night cheered. Faith Christian won the game 33-14, but the final score hardly mattered.
Although Gainesville State wasn’t No. 1, they felt like they were.
Faith Christian has a tradition of praying at the end of the game with the opposing team, when the teams are willing.
After the game, all the players gathered on the field. The Tornadoes’ quarterback prayed aloud that he was thankful that people cared about them.
On this one special night, Tornadoes coach Mark Williams said his players were “one step from heaven.”
Finally, each boy was escorted back to the bus under the watch of 12 uniformed police officers. Each player was handed a bag for the ride home: a burger, fries, soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player.
The Gainesville coach grabbed Coach Hogan by the shoulders and said, “You’ll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You’ll never, ever know.”
Normally, people look at the Gainesville kids as criminals. This time, however, they saw love and were filled with gratitude.
Coach Hogan wasn’t sure who got the most out of the game, and said, “I would argue that our people received the biggest blessing.”