Stories involving a group baptism held on the football field of Villa Rica High School gathered attention this week not just in state news but nationally. For First Baptist Church pastor Kevin Williams, student minister Justin Rich, and others, though, the story began much earlier.
Williams, who joined the church two years ago, has worked with students for 17 years and identified the football team as an area for focused outreach. “I had an idea for a ‘Gridiron Day’ at the church for a long time and decided we were going to go through with it,” he said.
Last year’s Gridiron Day, a special Sunday at church with a football emphasis, featured former University of Alabama great Jeremiah Castille and incorporated those involved with the football programs at Villa Rica High as well as Temple High School. The response was so positive that VRHS coach Chad Frazier told Williams prior to the summer he wanted to provide the opportunity for athletes to attend “a life camp and hopefully they’d get some football out of it.”
The resultant Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp, which students paid their own way to, led to 23 Villa Rica football players praying to receive Christ.
“When Chad got back he called me and was excited about it,” remembers Williams. “I talked to our student minister, who is also the team’s chaplain, about arranging a way for the kids to be baptized.”
In an atmosphere more like a Friday night than Sunday morning, members of the Temple High School band marched their way through First Baptist’s sanctuary on Aug. 9 up and onto the stage. Cheerleaders from THS and VRHS threw footballs into the crowd and led cheers. Personal testimonies followed by both schools’ head coaches, principals, and a band director. Georgia Tech football chaplain Derrick Moore preached.
Thirteen football players – 12 from Villa Rica and one from Temple – elected to wear their jerseys as they were baptized.
The testimonies to friends grew, as did the number of those praying for salvation. Included in 50 first-time professions of faith was VRHS defensive coordinator Andy Szatkowski, who wanted to be baptized on the football field where the team could watch.
On Aug. 10, that Wednesday, Szatkowski was baptized in a tub on the field . Afterwards Rich turned to those gathered and asked a common question in baptism settings, pointing to the water and seeing if there were any more who wanted to follow. Eighteen chose to do so. In all, 32 people were baptized in the span of four days.
“Since then there has been an overwhelming transformation in players and coaches,” says Rich. “We’ve seen players go from almost being kicked off the team due to respect issues to being solid, godly leaders on and off the field. God is at work and it’s so exciting to watch Him do His thing.”