Tommy Fountain remembers well his days as a hockey team chaplain for the Columbus Cottonmouths.
When Fountain was part of the organization in the 1990s, he remembers the Cottonmouths’ players being as ornery as the team namesake. It matched the gritty, rough environment of minor league hockey. There, your ability to fight got you noticed just as well, maybe even more so, than how you could handle a puck.
And success was often determined in different ways. “The first year we were terrible, but we won a lot of fights,” he remembers.
A lifelong minister, Fountain’s experience working with sports teams also includes the Columbus RedSticks, an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, and local schools in Alabama and Georgia. Recently, that involvement with Monroe Area High School led to several members of the football team being baptized at Grace Baptist Church in Monroe, where Fountain is pastor.
Lessons from Scripture
As team pastor, Fountain provides Bible study opportunities for interested student-athletes. This is Grace Baptist’s first year partnering with the Purple Hurricanes as a Gold Star sponsor, which means church members feed the team every game – home and away. In addition, around 50 church members operate the home side concession stand, where proceeds benefit the team. Also, brother and sister duo Dawn and Todd Parker video all games for coaches.
“Other local churches have done this in the past,” Fountain explains of Grace’s partnership. “Kevin Reach, the head coach, talked to us about it. Last year he was at Collins Hill High School, where [North Metro Baptist Church Pastor] Frank Cox was his team pastor.”
The Purple Hurricanes are off to their best start in four years. However, MAHS experienced its first setback of the season Oct. 13, dropping a 22-21 heartbreaker to Morgan County.
The loss all but cemented the Hurricanes finishing second in Region 8-AAA in addition to dashing the goal of an undefeated regular season. In the weekly Bible Study offered voluntarily to interested players, Fountain approaches subjects that include disappointments as well as victories.
“We study different topics like having the mind of Christ, loving each other, and being loyal,” he says. “When they team was 6-0, I talked about going 7-0 and how the number 7 in the Bible refers to perfection.”
At the beginning of each game Fountain prays with players and coaches in the end zone. The process is repeated at the end of the game, including parents who also want to take part.
‘We need to be baptized’
Relationships take time, but they usually lead to something.
Two of the five players baptized Oct. 22 at Grace’s Monroe Area High School Purple Hurricane Day attended the church’s Vacation Bible School this last summer. VBS classes are offered, says Fountain, “from babies up to adults.”
“They made decisions [to be saved] but never followed through with baptism,” he explains. “Then, they got involved in school and soon came to me and said, ‘Brother Tommy, we need to be baptized.’”
Grace plans to move into its new facility Dec. 17. Since leaving its former location the church has been temporarily filling up an old government building across the road from the construction site located four miles from MAHS.
Fountain points to Nick Chambers, Grace’s missions pastor, for leading the effort in ministering to the team.
“He oversees the concession stand, helped by his wife, Megan. Nick’s a soul-winner. He’d witness to a sign post.”
Without an indoor baptistry at its current location, the church used one built years ago by Grace member Pierce Marlow. Teammates showed up to support those like Jesse Mack, a defensive tackle who told Fountain he’d like to talk to him and prayed in the pastor’s office to receive Christ. Chambers baptized team captain Javion Heard, a 6’2” 245-lb. defensive end who recently received a scholarship offer from Western Michigan.
Things change …
Fountain’s love for being on the sideline passed along to his sons. Tommy Jr., collegiate pastor at Beech Haven Baptist in Athens, serves in the same role at Clark Central High. Stephen Fountain, pastor of First Baptist Buford, does so for Buford High.
“On Friday nights we stay in touch texting each other, getting updates on our games,” the eldest Fountain laughs.
From his point of view, high school football has changed since he first began as a team pastor. But, Fountain points out, some things don’t.
“The game is faster, with more open offenses. The players are larger, stronger, and faster,” he says.
“And kids have changed a lot, too. But you still present the love of Christ to them.”
Fountain and members of Grace Baptist don’t take the time serving these student-athletes lightly.
“I believe the biggest needs are teaching them that spiritual matters are most important in their individual lives and corporately as a team,” he notes. “It allows them to accept responsibility individually and hold each other accountable on and off the field.”
Success looks different according to the definition. This season the Purple Hurricanes see it in the win/loss column. But Fountain, Chambers, and others observe even more important wins, like the victory seen in an outdoor baptismal pool.