I Really Miss These Two!

They're not exactly sporting the clothing you'd wear in the Twin Cities in early February, so I'm suspecting Chris and Jill have been on a little vacation lately -- AND THEY DIDN'T INVITE ME! But they must have had access to a computer, because I know that it was Chris who left a reply to the posting from last week. In his typical dry humor, Chris was making a comment that would leave others -- my Mom included -- reading between the lines ! But I knew exactly where he was heading.

You see, during his student days at SNC Chris worked as a sacristan for Old Saint Joe's. Never complaining to my face, at least, Chris would always join me on February 2 to help me dismantle the Christmas decorations. And I'll admit it, HE was the one who'd always go to great heights on the ladder. I felt as though my greater gift was to stand on the first rung to weigh the ladder down -- I was great at that! I'm sure he was impressed to read that I was going it alone this year, and that I was the one who went to the great heights -- it shows that you really can teach an old dog a few new tricks every now and then!

Today Christopher is advancing in chiropractic school. Therefore, when I mentioned how my back was hurting last week -- Chris implied that he was ready to come to the rescue; albeit in a very different way than in previous years! Thanks for the help, Chris; I'll take you up on your services at some point -- not necessarily to crack my back, but to carry and mount the ladder over and over and over again.

Jill is equally impressive! Jill joined us in Campus Ministry during her senior year of study. It does not always make the most of sense to hire a senior given "senior-itus" often creeps in by semester break, and that we're taking someone on without previous ministerial experience with only a year before we need to hire someone new all over again. Nevertheless, Jill was extraordinary in the work she did -- leading religious retreats for her student-peers. Jill had the capacity to draw together all sorts of students from all sorts of walks in life. In many ways, she was a church magnet. Today Jill is thriving in pharmaceutical sales -- who could say 'no' to her?

I really miss these two people -- these students-turned-friends. I look forward to the day they return to this area. I'm not sure that Jill will want to leave her native "Viking Territory;" her great parents would be the first to revolt, to be sure. But Chris is a Hodag, and while you can take the boy out of Rhinelander, I'm not convinced that you can ever take the Rhinelander out of the boy!

This weekend, after their vacation, it seems, I received an article via email from Chris. Jill and Chris came across the story and they thought of me and the work I do, or perhaps the DVDs I watch! They thought that I could use the article in some upcoming homily. I'm sure they know of my great interest in and love for Rick Reilly's work. As such, I include his wisdom from ESPN.com here. When you read this great story, I hope you'll think of those who dwell on both sidelines in life; think of the author, Rick, who always has the gift to inspire; and think of two great friends who will hopefully pierce the Cheddar Curtain back into Wisconsin some day and call DePere their home -- I look forward to that day with eager anticipation!


There are Some Games in Which
Cheering for the Other Side
Feels Better than Winning.
by Rick Reilly

They played the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas.

It was Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School and everything about it was upside down. For instance, when Gainesville came out to take the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through.

Did you hear that? The other team's fans?

They even made a banner for players to crash through at the end. It said, "Go Tornadoes!" Which is also weird, because Faith is the Lions.

It was rivers running uphill and cats petting dogs. More than 200 Faith fans sat on the Gainesville side and kept cheering the Gainesville players on—by name.

"I never in my life thought I'd hear people cheering for us to hit their kids," recalls Gainesville's QB and middle linebacker, Isaiah. "I wouldn't expect another parent to tell somebody to hit their kids. But they wanted us to.

And even though Faith walloped them 33-14, the Gainesville kids were so happy that after the game they gave head coach Mark Williams a sideline squirt-bottle shower like he'd just won state. Gotta be the first Gatorade bath in history for an 0-9 coach.

But then you saw the 12 uniformed officers escorting the 14 Gainesville players off the field and two and two started to make four. They lined the players up in groups of five—handcuffs ready in their back pockets—and marched them to the team bus. That's because Gainesville is a maximum-security correctional facility 75 miles north of Dallas. Every game it plays is on the road.

This all started when Faith's head coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to do something kind for the Gainesville team. Faith had never played Gainesville, but he already knew the score. After all, Faith was 7-2 going into the game, Gainesville 0-8 with 2 TDs all year. Faith has 70 kids, 11 coaches, the latest equipment and involved parents. Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery—many of whose families had disowned them—wearing seven-year-old shoulder pads and ancient helmets.

So Hogan had this idea. What if half of our fans—for one night only—cheered for the other team? He sent out an email asking the Faithful to do just that. "Here's the message I want you to send:" Hogan wrote. "You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth."

Some people were naturally confused. One Faith player walked into Hogan's office and asked, "Coach, why are we doing this?"

And Hogan said, "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."

Next thing you know, the Gainesville Tornadoes were turning around on their bench to see something they never had before. Hundreds of fans. And actual cheerleaders!

"I thought maybe they were confused," said Alex, a Gainesville lineman (only first names are released by the prison). "They started yelling 'DEE-fense!' when their team had the ball. I said, 'What? Why they cheerin' for us?'"

It was a strange experience for boys who most people cross the street to avoid. "We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games," says Gerald, a lineman who will wind up doing more than three years. "You can see it in their eyes. They're lookin' at us like we're criminals. But these people, they were yellin' for us! By our names!"

Maybe it figures that Gainesville played better than it had all season, scoring the game's last two touchdowns. Of course, this might be because Hogan put his third-string nose guard at safety and his third-string cornerback at defensive end. Still.

After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that's when Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. "We had no idea what the kid was going to say," remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah said this: "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."

And it was a good thing everybody's heads were bowed because they might've seen Hogan wiping away tears.

As the Tornadoes walked back to their bus under guard, they 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 saw Hogan, grabbed him hard by the shoulders and said, "You'll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You'll never, ever know."

And as the bus pulled away, all the Gainesville players crammed to one side and pressed their hands to the window, staring at these people they'd never met before, watching their waves and smiles disappearing into the night.

Anyway, with the economy six feet under and Christmas running on about three and a half reindeer, it's nice to know that one of the best presents you can give is still absolutely free.


Gainesville State players douse head coach Mark Williams in celebration.


Anonymous said...

WOW ... now that's a football game to shout about!

Too bad those events don't make the headlines.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the makin my day.

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