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Church provides real food for high school football players

VELMA, Okla. (BP)–Any good football coach, from neighborhood Pee Wee competition to the National Football League, knows that most games are won at the training table. Good nutrition is just one part of a overall package of preparation — including repetition of plays, honing blocking and tackling skills and emphasizing good physical conditioning — leads to victory on the field.

Coach Greg Gothard in Velma-Alma, Okla., is no exception. He knows his players need good food to prepare them for Friday night battles, and when the idea hit him a decade ago to ask his church, First Baptist Church, Velma, to help provide some of that, he recognized an opportunity to provide some spiritual nourishment as well.

Gothard, now in his third season at the Velma-Alma High School helm, came up with the breakfast idea when he was the team’s defensive coordinator in 1991. Since then, an untold number of bacon slices, sausage patties, scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits and gallons of gravy have been served to the team by the men at the church.

Virtually all of the players show up for the weekly feed, although participation is strictly voluntary.

“It has become a tradition now,” said Gothard, who has forged a 26-2 record as head coach. “We don’t get into a numbers game with this. We just announce every week after Thursday’s practice that breakfast will be served the next morning and most of them show up.”

Gothard said one very special aspect of the weekly breakfasts is the special bond that develops between some of the men and the players. “These guys are really neat,” he said, nodding at the half-dozen or so men busily preparing the fare recently. “You can just see the love on the faces of the guys doing the cooking, and they all show up for the games; there is a definite bond there.”

The men show up at the church and begin cooking at 5 a.m. each Friday during the football season.

“These guys are here to be servants,” said pastor Greg Hall. “It’s their way of ministering to the football team.”

After the meal, a short program is always presented. Gothard lines up all of the speakers himself. Included are other coaches and area pastors. Gothard always speaks at the year’s first breakfast.

“I think some of the main qualities of being a good football team are togetherness, fellowship and love,” said Gothard, a deacon at the church. “As it says in Ecclesiastes 4:12, a cord of three strands is not easily broken. That’s what we hang our hat on as a football team, and as a head coach, that’s my goal. I want to have a team that’s a family; that’s hard to beat.”

The Comets have, indeed, proven to be a team hard to beat, especially over the last decade. Velma-Alma posted a 109-18 record in the 1990s, winning the state Class A championship in 1993 and 1994, finishing as runners-up in 1992. The Comets put together a 40-game winning streak from 1993-95.

The 109 victories in the 1990s ranks Velma-Alma fourth in the state behind such traditionally strong programs as four-time defending Class 6A state champ Jenks, Class 5A’s Ada and Class 4A’s Clinton.

As good as his team is, Gothard asserts that the players knowing they are loved is far more important than putting numbers in the win column. “What’s important to me is the kids learn, first of all, that I love them, but more importantly, that Jesus loves them and his love will carry them farther than any state championship will,” he said.

Still, the coach says he and his staff don’t “beat the players over the head” with religion.

“If the kids go to church because we encourage them, that’s great,” he said. “If they don’t go to church, but think about it, then the seed has been planted; that’s the important thing.

“I talk all the time about life’s choices and life’s decisions,” he said. “Every Saturday, we watch film together and when the players leave, we always tell them tomorrow is Sunday and it’s the Lord’s day all day long, you honor him and be in his house.”

Gothard admitted that a few people have told him he is too religious. “But, hey, I’m not changing,” he exclaimed.”

By contrast, he has had young parents carrying babies approach him and tell him they like what he is doing and they want him to coach their son when he gets to high school.

“I tell them, if I can stay here that long, that’s fine,” he said. “But, I want to go where God leads me.”

Gothard also knows he has made a lasting impact on some of his players over the years. He spoke at a coaches’ clinic last year and saw five men he had either coached with or coached as a player who are now coaches. The event attracted about a total of 150 mentors.

“We were the only six guys there who weren’t drinking,” he said. “I was pretty proud of that.”
This story first appeared in BP Sports, www.bpsports.net.

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  • Bob Nigh