It was not your usual Friday night football game. In November 2008, Grapevine Faith Christian School, a 9-time state championship team, was playing Gainesville State School, a maximum security correctional facility for boys 12 to 19.
At Gainesville, the boys who are juniors and seniors in the facility have to earn the right to play football. Their ability to play is based on the fact that they have served half their sentence, they have no behavioral incidents and they have good grades. They have no cheerleaders and zero fans sit in the stands each game.
“We discovered when we were reassigned to a new district, that our week 10 game was Gainesville State School. Immediately, we looked at this as a ministry opportunity as soon as we saw it,” said Coach Kris Hogan, athletic director for Grapevine Faith Christian School.
Grapevine Faith has a reputation in the community for winning numerous state championships in the last four years. They have a big following and lots of parental involvement. Kris decided to send an email to all of the parents in the school.
“I told them that we had was an opportunity. I wanted to send a message to these Gainesville kids that they are just as important and valuable as any other kid on planet earth. We wanted to show them that Jesus loves them and we loved them,” Coach Hogan said. “And I wanted to affirm their good choices for them having earned the right to play football.”
It would be the first time the two teams played each other. Gainesville State played other high school football teams in other districts, but no one ever cheered for them. So Coach Hogan asked the Grapevine parents to sit on the opposing side so the Gainesville team would have fans.
“In the case of the Gainesville kids, some don’t even know their parents,” Coach Hogan said. “And if they did, they couldn’t come because technically they are incarcerated. These kids have never had anyone cheer for them.”
Coach Hogan printed off a roster.
“We cheered for them by name,” he said. “We divided our cheerleaders in half and formed a 40-yard ‘spirit’ line. We treated them like it was their home game.”
Normally, people look at the Gainesville kids as criminals. This time, the Gainesville kids saw love, and were filled with gratitude.
“They had no idea what to do. They sprinted through the spirit line and were pumped up. They acted like they just played in the Super Bowl because people were loving on them,” Coach Hogan said. Even though Faith beat Gainesville 33-14, the Gainesville kids were so happy that after the game they gave their head coach, Mark Williams, a sideline squirt of Gatorade, just as if he had won the state championship.
After the game, each boy was escorted back to their bus under the watch of 12 uniformed police officers. Each were handed a bag for the ride home: a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player. The Gainesville coach grabbed Coach Hogan by the shoulders.
“You’ll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You’ll never, ever know,” he said.