News Articles

7/24/97 Christian athletes score big in football clinic in France

VITTEL, France (BP)–When Scott Case picked up a football, 38 French football players watched him closely to see what he did with it.
After all, they reasoned, Case played for the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl two years ago — the man knows football.
But during a five-day football clinic in this scenic northeastern French city in late June, the brawny players saw another side of Case — a Southern Baptist who takes his Christian faith as seriously as football. And by the time the last whistle blew at week’s end, seven of the French players had committed their lives to Christ.
“In addition to the seven players who made decisions for Christ, many others were touched and will probably make decisions later,” said Rod Boatwright, a missionary who’s starting a new church nearby in the outskirts of a larger city, Nancy.
Boatwright is one of three dozen missionaries the Southern Baptist International Mission Board has assigned to France. He has been coaching American-style football as a platform for witnessing and contacting many French people.
Case, who played 10 years as starting strong safety for the Atlanta Falcons before joining the Cowboys, was one of eight volunteers leading the workshop.
Hard-hitting practice scrimmages with lots of coaching suggestions filled the days; the volunteers used evenings and off-hours for Christian witnessing.
The French players listened closely to every word: Clearly these Americans knew about football.
Volunteer Tom Pridemore, for example, played eight years with the Atlanta Falcons. These days he runs a utility construction company in Cumming, Ga. He still holds a record — the longest interception in Falcon history, a 102-yard interception of a ball thrown by quarterback Joe Montana.
Larry C. Morris, a member of an evangelical church in Atlanta, is a 13-year National Football League veteran who played with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons. He played with the winning team in the 1963 NFL championship game, forerunner of today’s Super Bowl — and was voted most valuable player.
Case shared his testimony before the group one evening, telling how he reached a point in his life where his athletic ability could no longer serve as a crutch. He told of kneeling on a muddy dirt road in the rain and giving control of his life to Christ. The husky players listened in rapt attention as Boatwright translated the dramatic story into French.
Getting a Super Bowl ring was a lifelong dream, Case told the men. “But when you die, you can’t take it with you. Having Christ is bigger than the Super Bowl,” he said.
“The whole purpose of this is to see people come to know the Lord,” said volunteer coach Lee Kaltenbach, who was captain of Clemson University’s Tigers football team in the 1960s and coached high school football for 25 years. One hulking player wept softly as Kaltenbach told him solutions to life’s problems could be found in Jesus Christ. It was the first time the man had heard the good news about salvation.
“These French athletes had the impression the NFL was surrounded with drugs, steroids, etc. We did not fit the image they had of us. Ultimately some became open and inquired about the gospel,” Pridemore said.
Mike S. Darby, a former tight end for Georgia Tech and now a banker, said he was shocked when he pulled out his Bible on a train and other passengers sitting near him got up and moved away. Darby, who speaks some French, said, “They seem to keep religion separate from the rest of their life. Football and religion don’t mix. Their family and religion don’t mix.”
Boatwright was elated with the football camp’s results and attributed its success to prayer. His wife, Donna, was featured in Woman’s Missionary Union publications as missionary of the week in April — and received about 500 letters from GAs, Acteens, WMU groups and churches.
“I responded to each one and asked specifically for prayer for this camp. I think this prayer support from those little GA girls and others who wrote to me was crucial in the camp being a success,” she said.
Boatwright’s dream is to get four young men experienced in football to serve as short-term missionaries in France. “I could place them with different football teams in northern France tomorrow,” he said. The object, he said, would be to win people to Christ and start new churches, using football as a way to get a hearing for the gospel.

    About the Author

  • Mike Creswell