CARROLLTON—The school principal spotted the sea of blue T-shirts clustered in the middle section of the bleachers. Hollering above the background noise of cheerleaders and students, Carrollton Ranchview principal David Hicks thanked the 160 or so strangers there to cheer on the Wolves football team. He seemed to marvel at the turnout.
He’d heard they were coming to cheer, but not like this.
There at Carrollton ISD’s Standridge Stadium, not nearly a quarter full, sat the crowd from MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, each person wearing a blue T-shirt bearing the message “We cheer for Ranchview” on the front and “MBBC” and a player’s jersey number on the back.
Ranchview High is just down the street from MacArthur Boulevard Baptist and is just inside the Irving city limits, though it’s in the Carrollton-Farmer’s Branch school district. Much like the Valley Ranch area of Irving where the church is, the school is increasingly diverse, ethnically and by social class.
After Hurricane Katrina, the area drew a number of evacuees, some of whom have since joined the church. The school also drew of number of evacuee students, but attendance at football games has been sparse, the church learned last year from a coach who was visiting the church.
“There is affluence in this area, and there is also a mix of low-income housing, singles, young marrieds, different ethnicities from all over the world,” said Darren Mechling, an associate pastor at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist.
When Mechling learned from the coach last year that at one game only 38 Ranchview fans were in the stands (the coach stopped the tape and counted), he had an idea born from a desire to serve the community around them: Why not provide a cheering section of sorts for the football team?
It didn’t take long before 65 families were signed up to show up at home football games, some driving in 15-20 miles from Keller and Grand Prairie. Also, the church plans to serve a pregame meal to coaches and players at the school before four of the five home games this season.
MacArthur has already served a teacher appreciation luncheon, and it hosted a sports camp this summer for kids in the neighborhood, Mechling said.
“I’ve really been excited about how our church family has stepped up,” Mechling added. “This is an area where we have struggled to know how to reach out and minister, and this helps us to exhibit the love of Christ in a tangible way to our community.”
MacArthur’s pastor, Josh Smith, said his church has slowly grown more diverse in his five years there, and getting outside the church walls can only help as it attempts to minister to the community.
“We’ve tried really hard to be multiethnic, and the Lord has really blessed that,” Smith said.
Jamie Brooks, who grew up attending MacArthur Boulevard Baptist and graduated from Irving schools, brought his family—wife Esther and sons Caleb (6) and Zachary (3)—to the game on Sept. 3 against Prosper High School. The family was wearing shirts with the number 9 on the back, the jersey of wide receiver Chris Wimby.
“This is a good way to meet a practical need that [the team] had and to do it in the name of Christ,” Brooks explained.
Before the game and before the second half, church members raised the inflatable tunnel the Ranchview Wolves run through to enter the field, cheering on the team and offering words of encouragement. They needed it.
Down 37-0 at the half, Mechling and another MacArthur Boulevard member consoled an injured player who stood by as his teammates prepared to rally for another half.
Prosper, ranked No. 6 that week in the 3A/2A area rankings by the Dallas Morning News, prevailed, 54-13.
Bill Liggett, pastor of First Baptist Church of Burkburnett, near Wichita Falls, said such outreach to local schools is a great ministry to school district employees, many of whom have to make do with fewer resources and often need a pat on the back or an offer of prayer if they so choose.
A surprising number, Liggett said, take him up on the offer of prayer.
No stranger to public school outreach—the churches he has pastored have hosted kickoff luncheons for school district employees 20 years straight and eight years at FBC Burkburnett—Liggett said such outreach and kind gestures give him and his staff a rapport with the school district, Burkburnett’s largest employer.
When crisis ensues or a need is felt, he is often the de facto chaplain on the scene.
“We don’t abuse that access, but we do have a relationship with the school system because of the love and care we have shown to the administrators, teachers, even the people who work at the bus barn.”
On Aug. 19, the church, with gifts from businesses and school boosters, gave away about $2,500 worth of door prizes to school district employees who showed up for a simple serve-yourself, cold-cuts sandwich luncheon and a rock-paper-scissors tournament. Grand door prize: $1,000 cash. Second place: $600 package to the Gaylord Texan Resort.
“We take written prayer requests. They know I’m the only one who will see them. It’s not something I’m going to hand out to someone else,” Liggett said.
Liggett said he had the opportunity to pray with several teachers and an administrator the week following at their request. Many school district employees are already members of FBC Burkburnett.
And businesses are eager to contribute prizes. In fact, Liggett said not one business turned them down this year.
Also, Liggett is a big fan of Burkburnett High School athletics, even serving as the public address announcer.
During pre-season football, he calls a local grocer a week ahead of time and orders a pallet of watermelons. When they arrive, they load them in a truck and serve the football team all the watermelon they can eat at the end of practice.
“Those players know when watermelon day is and believe me, it’s a hit.”
Liggett said the church tries to extend the same support to local firefighters and police.
An early morning trip to the school bus barn the first week of school, two dozen donuts in hand, afforded him ministry opportunities he wouldn’t have otherwise had, Liggett said.
One conversation was with a guy he would have had difficulty connecting with in a different context.
“He spent 30 minutes talking to me about his recent open heart surgery,” Liggett said. Because of such outreach, “we’re the first entity anybody calls when there’s a need.”