About 2,000 students from the Ocoee Region poured into Benny Monroe Stadium at Cleveland High School Wednesday evening for games, music and a message at Fields of Faith 2013.
Former Harlem Globetrotter Seth Franco told of choosing to run from the pain of a congenital birth defect instead of choosing to ask for help. That one wrong decision cost Franco a basketball career, he said.
Had he asked for help when the pain in his leg first started, doctors could have sculptured his hip joints and he could have played basketball without pain.
The easiest choices facing people in life are the hardest to make, and the former Globetrotter said pride would not let him ask for help, though everyone in his family loved him. Everyone in his family was a pastor.
“My dog was a pastor,” he joked. “Not really, but you get the picture.”
Franco’s story began in New York City where he grew up with the dream of becoming a professional basketball player. However, he was born with improper bone structure in both hips.
The pain began in his left leg in about the ninth grade, but he didn’t let anyone else know about it — until everybody knew.
“I was a train wreck waiting to happen. and the only person who saw it coming was myself,” he said. “I thought I was being strong by doing it on my own so instead of crying out for help, which was the no-brainer decision.”
When the train wreck finally happened, he lost everything: his dream, his heart, his self-worth.
His train completely derailed in college when he woke up one morning and was unable to walk.
From there, he went through a series of doctors and examinations before the 12th doctor finally diagnosed the problem. That led to a hospital and surgeries.
“During that time in the hospital, I couldn’t play basketball with my [recovering] legs so I worked on basketball tricks with my hands,” he said.
“When I got back up on my feet, I had lost it all — my career, athletics. Someone who I loved passed at the same time. I felt I was worth nothing.”
The basketball tricks helped him land in a movie and in 2003, to become the first Caucasian Globetrotter since 1942.
“But even with all of that success, I stood on NBA courts signing autographs and feeling an emptiness. There was an emptiness in my heart that only one person could fill,” he said. “I was still running and hiding from the pain. There was only one person … it’s an easy choice because there is only one choice. You can either do it by yourself or ask God for the help you need.”
At the conclusion of his speech, about 100 student athletes responded when Franco asked them to make that simple choice.
“The reason I was quiet? I was too prideful. Later on, all my pride was stripped. I got to a point where I just cried out to God and said whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it with all my heart,” he said.
It is the heart of student athletes that Walker Valley girls softball coach Lauren Limburg, and girls soccer coach Nathan Brown spoke of when they told how they try to incorporate their faith into their coaching styles.
Limburg said her path to coaching began as a 5-year-old on the softball field. She described herself as very competitive and liking to win, “but the reason I coach is not for winning or any kind of triumph, but to impact the girls’ lives. You have to be a part of their lives and hopefully show them what it takes to be a godly woman and be an encouragement.”
Each time she takes to the dugout, her prayer is that she can portray Christ in everything she does.
“It’s not always easy, and I am by no means perfect,” she said.
Brown said athletics is all about the heart, and coaches do not always realize they can crush or lift the spirits of student athletes. Coaches like to win championships, “but in Jesus’ kingdom, it’s a bigger picture.”
In the New Testament, the heart is mentioned more than 100 times and Brown believes that was not by accident.
Ocoee Region Fellowship of Christian Athletes Regional Director Robert Green said Fields of Faith is a peer-to-peer ministry event through which students invite their own classmates and teammates to hear fellow students share their testimonies, be challenged to read the Word of God and follow Jesus Christ. An athletic field provides a neutral, interdenominational rally point where a community can come together.
Fields of Faith follows the method used by King Josiah. Most modern rallies are built around entertainment with professional speakers and this tends to create a separation. Fields of Faith highlights local students in the program creating a powerful connection. The success of this event is rooted in its simplicity, Green said.