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Brandon Wade/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/AP

More than a game

Sports | Texas high school coach turns contest into a calling

Issue: "The Obama era," Feb. 14, 2009

Over the course of two consecutive weeks last fall, Kris Hogan awoke each morning long before his alarm sounded, his mind racing with the particulars of an idea. The head -football coach at Faith Christian School in Grapevine, Texas, came to believe that his team's scheduled contest with youth from the Gainesville maximum-security correctional facility was more than just a game. He considered it a calling.

And so on Nov. 7, more than half of Faith Christian's fans filled the opposing bleachers of their home field to cheer the winless Tornadoes of Gainesville. They waved signs of support and rooted for Gainesville players by name even as they lost 33-14 to finish the season 0-9.

The losing team didn't act like losers, dousing their coach with Gatorade bottles and gathering at midfield for prayer with the Faith Christian players. The Gainesville quarterback led out: "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."

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Each Gainesville player returned to the correctional facility that night with a burger and fries, a handwritten note of encouragement, and a Bible.

Hogan had merely hoped to communicate some measure of kindness to a group of boys otherwise often dismissed or devalued. He never imagined the impact might reverberate to a national audience. "There was not a hint of thought that anyone outside of that stadium would ever even hear about it," he said. "But it's exploded and opened all kinds of doors."

First, ESPN columnist Rick Reilly heard about it-and wrote about it. In turn, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell caught wind and invited Hogan to address the coaches of NFL Youth Football during Super Bowl week.

The publicity has since landed Hogan a docket of high-profile speaking gigs at various corporations and organizations, including Allstate Insurance. He views such events as an opportunity to advance a Christian worldview.

The impact has legs back in Gainesville, too, where the Tornadoes request daily to watch the highlight DVD of game footage that a Faith Christian parent created for them. Other parents have taken initiative to reach out to the boys in hopes of offering further -support and an ongoing relationship.

In Grapevine, the students at Faith Christian have already begun plotting their strategy for the game with Gainesville next season. "We're going to love on them exactly the way we did or greater every time we see them," Hogan said. "In the book of Matthew, Christ gives instructions for how we're to treat those who are considered the least of society. And those kids fit that description."

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