On November 8, 2008, the strangest game in high school football history was played in Grapevine, Texas. It was the game between Grapevine Faith versus Gainesville State School and from the very start, everything about it was upside down. For example, when the visiting Gainesville Tornadoes came out to the field, the hometown Faith fans lined up to make a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through complete with a huge banner painted “Go Tornadoes” for players to crash through. Not only that, half of the Faith cheerleaders was rooting for them.
The Tornado players also noticed that in the stands reserved for the visiting team, it was filled with Faith fans and Faith parents cheering them on and encouraging each of the players by their names. In the first quarter of the game when the Gainesville team received a penalty flag, Mark Williams head coach of the Tornadoes heard boos and when he looked behind him, discovered it was Faith fans disagreeing with the referee’s call.
The Grapevine Faith football team beat Gainesville State team by a score of 33-14. Still, the Gainesville players were so overjoyed that they gave their head coach a Gatorade squirt bottle shower as though they had won the state championship even though their record was 0-9.
Then you saw twelve uniformed officers with handcuffs ready in their back pockets escort the Tornado players back to the team bus. Gainesville State School is a maximum-security correctional facility for boys who had committed crimes of assault, robbery and drug possession and drug dealing. Boys who wanted to be on the team were able to do so by good behavior and good grades. It was a way to feel normal and free again even for a short period of time. Every game was an away game and often they were not well received.
Chris Hogan, the Grapevine head coach, wanted a way to extend kindness to the Gainesville team and so he wrote an email to the Grapevine Faith players, their parents and the fans. Though the Gainesville State players had committed crimes, had turned their backs to what was right and true and now were incarcerated for those actions, he wanted, with the help of the community, to send a message to the players and coaches of the opposing team. The message he wanted to send was this: “You are just as valuable as any person on planet earth.” Despite the past these boys might have had, he wanted to send them a message…that message was a message of hope.
Chapter 17 of The Story begins with the newly minted boy-king, King Manasseh with these words: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” We read in the following pages that, except for five good kings, the kings of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms “…did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Despite God giving them second, third, and fourth chances through the words of his messengers, the prophets, his people continued their evil ways. Finally, God raises up a pagan empire, the Assyrians, who conquer the Northern Kingdom. He then allows another pagan powerhouse, the Babylonians, to conquer the Southern Kingdom, destroy the city and the temple of Jerusalem and deport its people. The future looked bleak for the Southern Kingdom of Judah that comprised the tribes Judah and Benjamin. It looked bleak because God had promised a Messiah from the line of David who was from the tribe of Judah.
As the people of Judah are being carried away into captivity by the Babylonians, God asks the prophet Jeremiah to stay behind to witness the events that were taking place. Amid the ruins of the Temple and the marching of captives in bondage, Jeremiah writes these words:
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning: Great is thy faithfulness (Lamentations 3: 21-23).
God was going to bring his people back to the land that he had promised them long ago. Despite their unfaithfulness, despite the evil they had done, and despite their turning their backs on him, God was again going to remind them how valuable they were. God sent them a message…a message of hope.
Come check in with Centreville Presbyterian Church as we explore THE STORY together on Sunday mornings.
Jesse G. Mabanglo