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Darrell Huckaby - 07/19/09

I didn't really know what to expect when I walked into Cross Pointe Church in Duluth Thursday night. I was actually there under duress because I had to leave camp meeting at Salem Campground to attend the Third Annual FCA Gala. Now understand, I don't usually miss the evening service at camp meeting for any reason. But this wasn't just any reason. This is because Chappy had asked me.

"Chappy" would be Kevin Hynes, the head of the campus ministry that serves athletes from all sports at the University of Georgia. Chappy has the zeal of the Apostle Paul and the impetuousness of Simon Peter, and when Chappy asks you to do something on behalf of Jesus Christ - well, it's hard to say no.

I know that good things went on at Salem Campground Thursday night, but I have to concede that I was where I was supposed to be because I learned an awful lot about a program that I thought I already knew everything about. What was it the sage once said? The most important lessons in life are the ones we learn after we think we know it all?

That was me Thursday night - and what an impressive night it was!

To begin with, the facility was beautiful, particularly decked out in red and black. There were giant screens showing constantly streaming video of UGA athletes in action and the large crowd of people gathered for dinner was dressed primarily in red and black.

Please don't stop reading just because you aren't a Bulldog. This story transcends collegiate allegiance. I promise.

As I looked around the room I saw a lot of current and former Georgia athletes. D.J. Shockley was holding court in one corner of the room. Joe Cox was standing nearby. I couldn't help but wonder about the parallel. D.J. waited his turn to lead and led his team to an SEC Championship. Joe C. has been waiting three years now. It will be interesting to see if he does the same thing.

Rennie Curran was on hand, and when you look at him you wonder how so much energy can be packed into such a compact body. Jeff Owens was there, too. There is nothing compact about him. And A.J. Green was in the house and before he departs for the NFL he may hold every receiving record in the book. There were dozens of other student athletes - male and female - from a dozen sports milling around, talking to those in attendance.

There were long tables set up, full of items to be auctioned - framed photographs, helmets, jerseys - along with trips and jewelry and other memorabilia. It was, in short, the typical corporate benefit. Except it wasn't.

On this particular evening, the funds we were trying to raise weren't going to be used to expand the stadium or the weight room or the practice facilities. None of the money would go into the general operating fund and, quite frankly, the general athletic fund at the University of Georgia is in great shape. Tens of thousands of rabid fans, who will spend just about any sum of money to watch their red-and-black-clad heroes perform, keep the athletic department ledger in the black.

These funds were going for a far loftier purpose. These funds were going to help spread the good news of Jesus Christ and to help make his unconditional love available to young people who, despite the adulation they receive from the adoring masses, need spiritual guidance as much as they need physical training - and probably even more.

You see, Kevin Hynes followed Mark Richt to Athens from Tallahassee, Fla., and became the chaplain of the football team. He quickly began to expand the chaplain's role and now the chaplain's corps at Georgia consists of three full-time ministers - Chappy, Jill Perry and Thomas Settles. They make themselves available to athletes and coaches from each Georgia athletic team. They meet the players where they are. They share Biblical principles with the athletes and help them understand the Christian world view. They listen to the young people. They value the young people. They encourage them. They try to help them become better people. They offer them a glimpse into eternity. They force none of this on the student-athletes. They just make it available to them.

But the FCA ministry gets none of the millions of dollars that people pay for the privilege of attending Bulldog athletic events. They operate on a shoestring budget that is funded purely by donations from people who believe that the lives these students live after college is much more important than their won-lost record while they are on campus. Quite frankly, there aren't nearly as many of those folks as you'd think there'd be.

Bottom line? Chappy needs about $150,000 to keep his program operating for another year. If everybody who came to a football game would toss a dollar in the bucket this fall he'd have over half a million bucks. But everybody won't - and Chappy can't even put out the bucket.

But if you believe that an athlete's eternity is as important as his game stats, you can log on to www.uga.edu/teamunited and toss a ten in the online bucket. Help them really finish the drill.

We hear a lot about what's wrong with college athletics. You can be a part of what is right.

Darrell Huckaby