Oklahoma City church 'adopts' high school football team

Brian Meister, student pastor at Oklahoma City's Cherokee Hills Baptist Church, shows Keaire Wilkins a photo of his touchdown catch for the Putnam City High School Pirates. Cherokee Hills is connecting with the football team by "adopting" various players and cheering them on at home games. (Emily Brashier)How can a church impact its community? How about adopting a high school football team?

Cherokee Hills Baptist Church is investing in Putnam City High School as families "adopt" players on the Pirates' football team by going to home games and cheering them on. The idea happened as Pastor Mike Keahbone was looking for ways the Oklahoma City church could have a community presence.

"We started praying for God to open doors," Keahbone recounted. "And Kyle Hale [Putnam City assistant football coach] started coming to our church earlier this year."

Keahbone got to know Hale better as church members served lunch to the players during the preseason two-a-days practices.

At one of the lunches, Keahbone asked Hale how many players are on the team, and Hale said about 80 guys are on the roster.

"And the Lord prompted me to ask the next question," Keahbone said, "which was, 'Out of those 80, how many would not have anybody out there watching them play on Friday nights?' [Hale] thought about it for a second and said, 'I'd say about 80-90 percent of them.' It broke my heart."

Right then, Keahbone knew what his church could do. He asked Hale to send him a roster, particularly noting the 60 players who did not have any family supporting them at ballgames.

"What if our church adopted those 60 players?" Keahbone said of the idea that came to mind. "What if we could rally around them and have people sign up to 'adopt' a player, wear a shirt that had that kid's [jersey] number and make a commitment to make it to every home game? Whether they play or not, they can look over their shoulder and see someone in the stands just for them. After the game, go where the team is at, shake the player's hand and tell him you're proud of him."

The church was on board and already has made its presence known early in the season.

"The goal is to build a relationship with the kid, so that we can have an open door to build a relationship with the family," Keahbone said.

"Then we can figure out is the family not coming because they do not care? And there's some of that. Or is it because they can't afford it? If they can't afford it, we'll figure out a way to get them in the game. Or is it because they are working and can't afford to take off work? In that case, our people, whoever adopted that player, can take pictures. They could do special things for the family.

"If it's because their parents don't care, then we'll have somebody there who does care," Keahbone added. "[A]nd if the Lord opens the door, we'll share the Gospel with them."

Keahbone said he also is thinking about the 11 seniors they adopted when they observe senior night this season.

"They'll call out every senior's name and say they are the 'son of so and so,' and what does that look like if the parents aren't there standing with them? Our heart and goal is to get that parent there to stand with them, but if not, we will stand with them."

"The fan club that CHBC is doing is incredible," said Hale, who said the experience has strengthened his walk with Christ. "A church reaching out to a community that is in desperate need of positive leadership and, most importantly, to be shown the love of God shows the community mindset that makes CHBC a great church to call home.

Cherokee Hills already has had an impact "by simply caring and being there for our athletes," Hale said. "I can feel and see the athletes more motivated and happier to be at school, and our team is more of a family now than it has ever been because of the love that has been shown from the people of CHBC."

Chris Doyle is associate editor of the Baptist Messenger (www.baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

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