Roy Exum: What A Human Can Do

Monday, October 16, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

To play football at Gainesville State in Texas you gotta’ be a tough kid. You also must be a convicted felon. Truth is Gainesville State is a reform school for “troubled youth.” They don’t play any home games and, when they travel, the only crowd that comes with the Tornadoes are 12 deputy sheriffs.

Several years ago they wiggled onto Grapevine Faith’s schedule. The two teams played late in the season and Gainesville was 0-8 and every bit as ragged as their 10-year old shoulder pads. Grapevine is at the far end of the spectrum – everything is new every year. Over 70 players are coached by 11 – eleven – assistant coaches and high school ball at the top level is every bit as big as the state itself.

The game against Gainesville State started gnawing on the Grapevine coach – Kris Hogan – long before the season began. Oh, he knew his players would beat the stuffing out of kids who are locked down in maximum security all day long but what could he do – as a human being – that might make it a little different?

Coach Hogan split Grapevine Faith in half.

He told half of his huge parents’ organization to dress in Gainesville colors. He told half of his cheerleaders that they would cheer for Gainesville. He had each of his players write an inspirational letter to a kid on the visiting team. And then he did a little snooping, passing around copies of each Gainesville player’s picture with (only) the kid’s first name on it so everybody could cheer for them by name.

Well, a couple of the Grapevine players weren’t exactly … er, that “Christian” and went to have a shut-door meeting with their coach, saying they don’t practice all summer in the hot sun to dilute any Friday night under the lights.

“I want you to think for a minute. What if you woke up every morning in a jail?” Coach Hogan replied. “You already know you messed up bad but you didn’t realize you would not have any home life, that not one person cares a thing about you after what you’ve done and ain’t nobody gonna’ be there when you cry.

“Here’s the message everybody connected with our football program must send on Friday night – ‘You are just as valuable as any other person on planet earth!”

When the prison bus pulled up to the stadium, the Gainesville players immediately sensed sometime wasn’t right. And when they came out on the field, there was a 40-yard spirit line, with people on both sides cheering and calling the players by their names. The Gainesville kids actually had to be encouraged to run through the spirit line and high-five the fans.

“No, we weren’t ready for this at all … we can tell people are always a little afraid of us. You can see it in their eyes ‘cause they know we are criminals,” said one player, Gerald, “but these people were like that, not at all. I never been cheered for or heard my name …”

Another, Alex, first thought some Grapevine fans were confused. “They were hollering ‘Dee-fense … Dee-fense’ when they had the ball. It was crazy. We’re going, ‘What? Why are they cheering for us?’”

As you might suspect Grapevine clobbered the Tornadoes pretty good, 33-14, but Gainesville played its most inspired game ever, as the two touchdowns they scored show. It is tradition at Grapevine Faith for the players and fans to come together at the middle of the field but the Gainesville guys were eager to join.

One, a big guy named Isaiah, blurted, “Mind if I lead …” and Coach Hogan, the mastermind of a night not one player on either team will ever forget, nodded his head. Isaiah’s prayer went something like this, “Lord, I don’t know how this happened so I don’t know who to thank but You. I would have never known so many people would care about us … Lord, just thanks so much … “

As the visitors went to the bus, all of them got some hugs and each got a bag with homemade burgers, fries, candy, a couple of Cokes, a Bible and – best of all – a couple of letters from the guys they had just played.

The Gainesville coach wrapped his arms around Coach Hogan and said, “You will never, ever, know what you have done for these boys tonight, there are no words …”

Well, I wouldn’t have gone that far. I mean, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell heard about it he gave Coach Hogan and his wife a paid trip to the Super Bowl. ESPN did a pretty big story on it and right now there’s a big-budget movie being made.

Gainesville State and Grapevine Faith now play every year and the game is called “The One Heart Bowl” where everybody brings socks, gloves and other things the visiting team might need besides, you know …  those 12 deputy sheriffs.

royexum@aol.com



Elizabeth Baker Has Been Fighting For Us

My fellow Republicans of District 2, I have good news for you. We have a citizen who has been working for us at local and state levels to protect our county assets (fighting the Gardenhire bill), to ensure our children have opportunities of public education  (fighting for the rights of the students on Waldens Ridge to not be excluded from their county school in Signal Mountain ... (click for more)

Fortunate To Have Greg Martin

The residences of the third district in Hamilton are fortunate to have had Greg Martin as our county commissioner since 2016.  Greg Martin served District 3 as the representative on the Hamilton County School Board from March of 2012 to November of 2016. Greg and his family have attended the schools in third district of Hamilton County and Martin’s wife, Sheila, is a teacher ... (click for more)

Man Killed, Passenger Seriously Injured; Driver Of Other Vehicle Hurt In Accident On Suck Creek Road Saturday Morning

One person was killed and two others injured in a head-on crash on Suck Creek Road on Saturday morning. The accident at 8:45 a.m. at the 2100 block of Suck Creek Road involved a Kia Sedona mini-van and a Hyundai Elantra. Preliminary results indicate that the Hyundai Elantra was traveling southbound on Suck Creek Road and, while negotiating a curve, ... (click for more)

Mongar Succeeds Massey As Lady Owls Softball Coach

In an absolute twist of fate, Kerilyn Mongar has taken over the Ooltewah High School girls’ softball program following the resignation of Jon Massey shortly after the 2018 state tournament. Massey has since been named boys’ baseball coach at Silverdale Baptist Academy and Mongar, who coached at East Ridge for three years, now has the task of continuing the Lady Owls’ highly ... (click for more)

UTC Wrestling Coach Heath Eslinger Resigns

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Mark Wharton announced the resignation of wrestling head coach Heath Eslinger today.  Eslinger, who spent nine seasons as head coach of his alma mater, informed Wharton of his decision this morning.  "It was always my hope that Heath Eslinger spend the rest of his career leading our wrestling ... (click for more)