Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sept. 14, 2013, column:
Success grows for No Excuses University
By Mike Haynes
            During a seven-minute video, my eyes teared up three times. It doesn’t take a lot for my ducts to moisten, but I’ll bet I wasn’t the only Amarillo College employee who was touched by a football story.
            It wasn’t really about football, but about love and second chances.
            Doug Curry, former principal of Amarillo’s San Jacinto Elementary and Travis Middle School, was giving AC faculty and staff a beginning-of-school pep talk about his passion, No Excuses University. San Jacinto was the first school in Texas to join the endeavor that, beginning in kindergarten, preaches to kids that they will go to college – or at least will have the education to do so if they want.
Grapevine Faith Christian School  prepared this banner
for the opponent, the Gainesville State School Tornadoes.
         Since the program began, San Jacinto students have dramatically improved their academic performance. A couple of years ago, AC became the first No Excuses college in America, continuing the model of challenge and encouragement that is revolutionizing the future for many disadvantaged young people.
            No Excuses is a growing success story that I hope you’ll keep hearing about. We all can learn from it and from the video with which Curry ended his presentation.
It showed a 2008 football game between two Texas teams: Gainesville State School and Grapevine Faith Christian School.
            Grapevine Faith won the game handily, but that wasn’t the point. What made it news – and a story worthy of a theatrical movie expected to come out soon – was that half of the Christian school’s home fans moved to the visitors’ side and yelled for Gainesville.
            The state school is a maximum-security facility for young people who have committed crimes. Those with good behavior get to try out for the Tornado football team. They play all their games on the road and normally have no fans, no one cheering for them except their coaches and teammates.
            So in 2008, Grapevine Faith Coach Kris Hogan convinced everyone at the Christian school to show some agape love to the players from Gainesville. He and Faith administrators had pondered, “What would give them the most hope?” The answer was to make the incarcerated boys “feel like they were their own.”
            Half the Faith supporters sat on the visitors’ side, half the Lion cheerleaders rooted for the Tornadoes and the Faith people formed a 40-yard spirit line for the visiting young men to run through, complete with a banner for them to break.
            “I figured we were going to go around them,” said Alex, a Gainesville player. “I figured it was for the other team.” But the state school coach, Mark Williams, replied, “Huh-uh. They’re here for us. Run through that line, crash through that banner, and have fun all night long.”
            “You saw hope in their eyes when they came out and saw that spirit line,” said Jordan, a Lions player. “And then confidence every time our fans cheered for them.”
            “It was almost like they didn’t have to prove anything,” said Faith coach Hogan. “There was such a celebration of them, they began to think, ‘Yeah, we are a team like everybody else.’”
            “You couldn’t convince nobody on that team that we lost,” recalled Mack, a Tornado player, on the video. “I felt like God was touching upon all of us and letting us know there’s people out there that care about you – even if they don’t even know us.”
            Giving someone that kind of love and hope shouldn’t be foreign to any Christian.  Jesus blessed those who invite strangers in and who visit people in prison (Matt. 25:35-36). He said the second greatest command is to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:39) – and our neighbor is everybody.
            Even our Friday night opponents. And even those who have done bad things.
            By the way, the Tornadoes and Lions continue to play each other. The game now is called the One Heart Bowl, and this year’s contest was last night (Sept. 13).

            To learn about the upcoming film, go to