Touching Lives with Hope

A mother is weeping. Her son, who was in a coma for three years due to a tragic car accident, lies conscious on his hospital bed. But these are not tears of grief. Someone special has come to visit and pray for him. It is Stevie Baggs, a professional CFL football player, and local legend. For this boy and his family, it means so much.

Professional athletes using their platform to do good in the community is a prevalent theme that Rod Alm, Director for Athletes in Action (AIA)’s Campus Division in Saskatchewan, remembers about this year’s Grey Cup Breakfast – including the week leading up to it.

Held at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan on November 23, 2013, the fun and inspirational event brought 700 guests and featured good food, prizes, and special guests from the two competing teams, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Hamilton Tigercats. Mike “Pinball” Clemons (Vice-Chair, Toronto Argonauts), who hasn’t missed the yearly event in 20 years, and Rod Sawatzky (AIA chaplain for the Calgary Stampeders) were the emcees.

Alm recalls that one of the highlights of the event was hearing directly from some of the players like Kent Austin (head coach, Tigercats), Henry Burris (Quarterback, Tigercats), and John Chick (defensive lineman, Roughriders) who confessed their faith in Christ openly.

“It was really encouraging to hear players from both teams, particularly Roughriders defensive lineman Keith Shologan,” he says. “When he shared about the tragedy of losing his two sisters, it was touching to hear him speak about the grief and loss his family experienced, and that it was only the Good News of Jesus Christ that gave them hope in the situation.”

While the Grey Cup Breakfast is the pinnacle event of the week, it is one part of AIA’s various community outreaches that are organized in conjunction with local partners such as Youth for Christ, Prison Fellowship, and more.

And of course, the athletes played pivotal roles too. Several CFL players participated in these events throughout the week, including Stevie Baggs (linebacker, Calgary Stampeders), Keron Williams (defensive tackle, BC Lions), and Henoc Muamba (linebacker, Winnipeg Blue Bombers), who often spoke about their personal lives and testimonies to young audiences in schools, universities, and other venues.

Partnering with Youth for Christ, AIA organized one of the main events, a series of high energy gym blasts which took place in 11 schools across Regina and Saskatoon. With the theme of living in the “Red zone,” students would hear football players give an inspiring message about the importance of living life with values and convictions and making wise decisions. These gym blasts culminated in a final sports-oriented youth event at the Golf Dome, where hundreds of high school students, as well as ten local youth groups, participated.

These outreach events not only impacted kids and youth, but the wider community, touching and inspiring lives of men and women too.

AIA organized three prison outreaches, including the Saskatoon Penitentiary and the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, where Keron Williams and Lorne Korol (AIA chaplain for Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Winnipeg Jets) both spoke to groups of men and women. “We received so much positive feedback from these events,” Alm recalls.

This year, another special event was added that made a unique connection with people close to the athletes’ hearts: their own mothers. Partnering with Women’s Journey of Faith, AIA hosted a special dessert evening for 60 single mothers featuring inspirational talks from Stevie Baggs and Keron Williams. “When the guys, especially Keron, spoke about the faith and strength of their own moms, women were actually walking out of the room,” says Alm. “But they were running out, because they were crying.” The event even garnered a great story by  a local reporter from the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Impacting the community for good through the language of sport is what AIA is known for. Throughout the week, opportunities were given for people to respond in faith to the message of salvation. From youth, single mothers, men and women in prison, and university students, this year’s Grey Cup week and Breakfast has touched and inspired many lives.