Congregations Get in the “Spirit” by Adopting Sports Teams

Date Posted: 11/13/2014

Investing in the Young is a TAC goal that each congregation can approach in its own way. First UMC Nacogdoches has adopted the local college basketball team and First UMC Brookshire, the local high school football team.
We were so nervous waiting for the boys to ring our doorbell—would they like us?  Would they eat the food we’d prepared for them?  Would they be nearly seven feet tall?  FUMC Nacogdoches member Linda Thorsen Bond says, “As it turned out, yes, yes and yes.”
Last year, individuals and families of First United Methodist Church, Nacogdoches “adopted” the members of the Stephen F. Austin (SFA) State University basketball team.  Linda now believes it was one of the most rewarding things she’s ever done. She shares, “Two very polite, very tall young men came to our house once a month for supper.  We went to their games, cheered for them, prayed for them and texted them messages of encouragement.  In turn, they took the highest ornaments off our Christmas tree for us, gave a neighbor’s son basketball pointers and complimented every dish we put before them.”
How did this come about? Brad Underwood, who joined the church upon accepting the coaching job in 2013, asked the Board of Trustees if he could try pairing his basketball players with members of the church. He hoped to help ease the students’ transition to a new town by having them meet some of his church family. In no time, project volunteer Leon Hallman had 60 adults agreeing to ‘adopt’ 15 players.
The FUMC/SFA relationship started with a dinner in the church Family Life Center where arrangements were made and phone numbers were exchanged. During the games the church members sat together wearing T-shirts that featured the cross, the flame and a great big basketball.
FUMC member Betty Ford says, “It was a tremendous joy to participate in the sponsorship of the team. Getting to know them made watching basketball games even more exciting. I mailed birthday cards, newspaper clippings, notes of encouragement, and sometimes just a text, and every time their response was that they were very appreciative!” 
The best-ever season of 32-3 earned Stephen F. Austin the conference championship and men’s basketball’s first-ever win in a NCAA tournament. More importantly, the team ended the season with relationships that brought generations together. Player Thomas Walkup shares that “it is a great feeling knowing that we have a specific group of people who are going to be at every game, cheering us on and supporting us.”
Meanwhile, Brookshire was Hosting Falcon Fridays
First UMC, Brookshire has enjoyed a similar experience. Each Friday before the local football game, the church hosts the Royal Senior High (RHS) Falcons football team along with managers and coaches.  A meal gives them the nutritional boost for playing and “pep” talks provide the encouragement they need.  Pastor Dottie Dumas and member Kim Branch share devotional and inspirational messages reminding them of God’s grace and love for all.

Investing in the Young is not a new endeavor for FUMC, Brookshire. For many years, the church has had a relationship with all five campuses in the district. Adds Dottie, “So, when the district superintendent called to ask if we would host the football team for a dinner prior to the game, I said yes.” The district had planned to use a different church each week, but FUMC, Brookshire got another call to host a second week and signed on to be the official host. Notes Dottie, “Our Ad Council was in full support of our hosting the team and some of our members also help out with serving and just being present for encouragement.”
While many of the students already have a home church, she suspects there are quite a few who may only hear God's name when it is taken in vain. The church has invited the players to participate in the youth group, T.A.A.C.O.s (Teens All About Christ and Others). “We are taking it slowly,” she says, “we just want to establish a relationship with them, not take members from other churches. We are praying about how to continue this connection when football season is over.”
Pastor Dottie has been using a book of devotions for sports fans that includes stories about various professional players in a number of sports. She adds, “I also try to let them know that no matter what happens, God loves them and we do too. We pray together and a group of us from FUMC, Brookshire attend as many games as possible, staying until the end for the traditional high 5, hand slap as the team, managers and coaches walk back to the field house through a line of fans encouraging them whether they win or lose.”
“When we were asked to host the team each week, we felt privileged and blessed to be able to spend time with these fine young men, their managers and coaches.  Each week we are reminded once again of how important it is to encourage our young people at every opportunity,” stated Rev. Dumas.
Feedback from these special guests is encouraging. One team member shares that the Falcon Fridays “make me feel welcomed and hopeful that even after we lose they still believe in us and help us to get better. Their trust helps me to do better, not only for the team but in life.” A fellow team member adds that, “it shows that the community really cares for us as Royal Falcons, as a unit and as teammates. They make sure that each one of us have a meal to eat and they treat us like a loving parent should treat their children.”
Step One in Building Relationships
Coaches have also been touched by this hospitality. “We greatly appreciate you welcoming us into your home and allowing us to be a part of your family. We look forward to working together in the community in the future,” adds Coach Mattingly. Adds Coach Anderson, “I just want to say thank you for all that you do for this football team. It goes way beyond just the food you serve to us. With community support like this, I know we are all going to get these kids headed in the right direction.”