CHURCH AND SPORTS: Sports ministry attracts many in Plano area

PLANO  Ed Hancock grew up in a small Southern Baptist church just outside of Tampa, Fla. He accepted Christ at the age of 12, but for reasons he can’t explain, his family stopped going to church shortly after he was baptized. During the most crucial years of his life as a teenager and into adulthood, Hancock doesn’t remember stepping foot in the church he once loved.

Little did he know that more than 20 years later, he would come back to his first love?Jesus Christ?through his second love?football. At age 27, Hancock met and married his wife, who had also grown up the same way he did. She also went to a Southern Baptist church as a child and had given up on going when she grew older. “Throughout the course of our marriage, she never pushed me to go to church?she just prayed,” Hancock said.

In 1997, with two small children, the Hancocks moved to the Dallas area because of a job change. “My son was five years old at the time and the first thing I did was sign him up for football.”
Hancock began as a coach for the City of Carrollton football league, which was often not the most wholesome environment. After two years of coaching, he met someone who would help change his life?Monty Roberts, a fellow coach and member of a nearby church.

One thing led to another and Roberts invited Hancock and his family to Prestonwood Baptist Church one Sunday. They accepted, attended, and later agreed to return, although they only went sporadically thereafter.

The following year, before football season, Hancock began communicating with Roberts, who had been coaching a league at Prestonwood, about working together again. Over lunch and after several meetings with sports ministry leadership, Joe Perry, minister of sports outreach at Prestonwood, asked Hancock to be a football division director.

“I thought he was insane because he didn’t know anything about me,” Hancock said. “But for someone to show that kind of faith, trust, and later what I recognized as love was what became the pivotal moment in rededicating my life to Christ.”

Today, Hancock is the director of the football program through the Prestonwood Sports & Fitness Center and his family is active in the church. “This is more than coaching football ? this is an outreach program,” Hancock said. “This is a chance to affect the lives of young men. Last year, five young men on my team accepted Christ as their Savior.”

The Prestonwood Sports Organization (PSO) began as a far-fetched vision for Joe Perry. Perry said that after attending a football event in Louisiana, he realized that sports leagues were where crowds of people gathered. Upon his arrival at Prestonwood, he presented his dream to the pastor, Jack Graham, and they set off to make it happen.

Today, more than 6,000 children participate in leagues and camps at Prestonwood each year, and more than 60 percent of the children and their families do not attend church. There are six children’s leagues including basketball, soccer, football, cheerleading, volleyball, and baseball/softball, and three adult leagues. This ministry also sees hundreds of children trust Christ each year through sports programs, with many of their families becoming involved in the church.

“Every year, we see young people step up and accept Christ at the awards banquets,” Hancock said. “There are parents that have said, ‘I’m here because my kids came first.’ Parents are there with their kids when we pray with them before a game, and at the awards ceremonies when people share their testimonies and others are accepting Christ.”

Many of the lay leaders involved in PSO have come to faith through various sports programs. Volunteers and ministers active in PSO not only make their faith evident in church on Sunday, but they are integrating it into basketball games on Tuesday, football practice on Thursday, and cheerleading practice on Saturday.

Mike Boate, director of the Mavericks basketball program for children, is just another example. Boate grew up Catholic and never really attended church. In 1999, he accepted Christ, and began attending Prestonwood off and on. Though his heart had changed, Boate was still very leery of his new church because of the rules and guidelines he thought might be similar to the Catholic church.

Not wanting to become overly involved in church activities, Boate decided to sign up for a basketball league through PSO. “I just wanted to enjoy myself,” he recalled. “I didn’t expect anything else, but the very first basketball league I was a part of soon became my Bible Fellowship class.”

The devotional and prayer time before his team’s games became very important to Boate, and he found himself excited about going to experience the fellowship. Boate said the experience he had through the basketball program was immeasurable, and it helped him see the value in walking with Christ.

“My wife and kids began to see a change and how important it was to me, and that transferred over to them.”

During awards banquets for the kids, Boate said he and other leaders have seen children and parents raise their hands when the gospel was presented. People from many backgrounds pass through the doors of the Sports & Fitness Center or onto the playing fields daily.

“Sports and games present life challenges,” Boate said. “With every child coming through the doors, there comes a mom, dad, grandparents, and siblings.” This sports ministry is now a method of reaching out to a large number of people in the community with the message of Jesus Christ.”

“I took my experience when I accepted Christ and how important it was knowing the effect that the sports ministry had on my life, and put that into sports outreach,” Boate said. “Through the use of sports outreach you can share the love of Christ with them by the use of a simple basketball, soccer, or football game. We don’t know all those we’re touching with our words and actions at each game, but we make sure we do it consistently with Christ’s love. “

Online Editor
Aaron Earls
Lifeway
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