News Articles

National champions’ spiritual unity key to Tenn. team, chaplain observes

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Pastor Larry Fields is the first to acknowledge God does not get involved in who wins or loses football games.
Yet, after recent experiences with the University of Tennessee football team, no one could fault him for wondering.
Fields, pastor of Central Baptist Church, Bearden, Tenn., has been the UT football team’s chaplain the past six years. He has witnessed some huge wins, but none bigger than the Vols’ 23-16 win over the Florida State Seminoles Jan. 4 which earned them the national championship.
On the Sunday prior to the national championship Fiesta Bowl game in Tempe, Ariz., Fields arranged for the team to attend the morning worship service of North Phoenix Baptist Church.
The Florida State team was supposed to have attended as well, but opted out because Florida State’s assistant coaches felt the team needed more time to prepare, Fields related. Only Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden represented his team at the service.
The entire UT team, including the coaching and support staff, attended, Fields said. UT coach Philip Fulmer and Bowden were interviewed by North Phoenix pastor Dan Yeary during the services. Both men are Christians and Bowden is a Southern Baptist.
Also during the service, UT placekicker Jeff Hall, a member of First Baptist Church, Concord, shared his testimony.
According to a news release from the North Phoenix church, Yeary told those in attendance: “We rejoice because Fiesta Sunday drew people to hear the gospel. Both coaches prioritized their relationship with God, and there was a clear presentation of the Gospel.” The news release also noted numerous spiritual decisions were made as a result of the coaches’ testimonies and Yeary’s message on building championship families.
After the service, Fields noted he joked with someone, “I hope God honors the team that attended worship together on Sunday.”
It was not the first time Fields has helped get the Volunteer team into church. The team attended services at First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., prior to their two Citrus Bowl wins in recent years, he said. Last year the team was unable to attend a service in Miami prior to the Orange Bowl. The UT team lost convincingly to the University of Nebraska. Coincidence?
On the day of the Fiesta Bowl, team members had another chance for spiritual help. Fields, who regularly schedules chapel speakers for the team, arranged for former Washington Redskins player Danny Buggs to speak to the team.
Fields said he truly believes the players’ spiritual unity was a key to their success this year. This year was the first during his six years that the entire team attended every chapel service, Fields said. Chapel services are voluntary. He attributed some of that to UT strength coach John Stuckey who has a strong Christian background. He also noted the leadership and influence of several key Christian players such as Hall and defensive standout Al Wilson.
Fields is appreciative of the opportunity Coach Fulmer has given him to serve as chaplain for the football program and to be able to have an impact on lives of both players and coaches. “Coach Fulmer encourages this. He wants his players to be good examples.”
Fields has been able to help players and coaches when they have faced crises in their lives.
In essence, he is a “pastor to the group,” and for some players he may be the only pastor they have. Many of the players do not have a strong church involvement, Fields observed.
Over the years, however, the Knoxville-area pastor has seen some players accept Christ and others grow spiritually.
While he enjoys his role as chaplain, Fields is careful not to let it interfere with his ministry at Central. He attends all home games but limits his road trips. “My responsibilities at Central Bearden are a priority,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Lonnie Wilkey

    Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

    Read All by Lonnie Wilkey ›