Mary Trank 82
Ive never been part of a sports huddle
of any sort, but I found myself at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional
High School on Thursday, May 16, 2002, attending the weekly
7 a.m. interdenominational huddle of the Fellowship
of Christian Athletes (FCA), a nationwide youth organization
founded in 1954. FCA counts itself as the largest Christian
youth organization in the United States. According to its
printed literature, weekly huddles are intended to provide
athletes with encouragement and fun within a positive
peer group as well as to nurture Christian growth
and hearts for service.
The huddle I attended before the beginning
of the school day at Rumson-Fair Haven was led by Harry Flaherty 84,
New Jersey state director for FCA. His territory also extends
to New York City. Flaherty met me out in front of the school
a few minutes before seven. I recognized him immediately
from his years playing football at Holy Cross. I remember
him more than he remembers me. He was a two-time All American.
And I was a fan.
Shortly before seven, Flaherty began unloading
boxes of donut holes from his car, as well as Path
to Victory New Testaments with shiny, colorful covers.
Once inside the door of the downstairs, tiered classroom,
he passed around the donuts to the teenagers who arrived,
a few at a time, until they reached a critical mass of around
25 students at 7:15 a.m. He later supplied copies of the
scripture to those students who had not brought their own.
Included in the gathering was an alumnus, a college freshman
who had finished with his second-semester exams and had come
back to the high school to pray with the group.
While Flaherty was getting organized, my attention
was divided into thirds. With one third of my brain, I was
paging through my new Path to Victory New Testament.
I discovered it includes, in keeping with the sports theme,
a section at the front with Winning Formula 1 and Winning
Formula 2. These are 10- and 30-minute sets of guidelines
for prayer. Both the 10- and 30-minute winning formulas end
with the injunction to pray for others.
A second third of my brain was paying attention
to Flaherty greeting kids, each of them by name. What
do you say, big man? he said loudly and warmly to one
teenager. To another he says, Let me see that smile! He
is perpetually cheerful and welcoming, either up close at
the door or from across the room, where he retreated to set
up the music he would later play.
The final third of my brain was taking in the
truth that was these kids. As they settled into their desks,
which Flaherty and some of the early arrivals had arranged
into a semi-circle, I listened to the group sitting to my
right. One girl asked another if she had spoken to a certain
boy the night before. Online for about a second, was
the answer. Another girl called out to Flaherty that she
would have to leave early for morning detention. I heard
a girl remark, I think Im going to do Pretty
Woman for my paper. The visiting college freshman
talked a little about his year. They sounded like ordinary
kids. And then Flaherty began to lead them, and they sounded
like something more.
Flaherty began with a verse from scripture,
John 15:19, in which Jesus says to his followers, You
do not belong to the world but I have chosen you out of the
world. Flaherty also included a commentary from his
daily prayer book about the passage. One line of it read, We
dont always feel welcome here on earth. He played
a song, I Can Only Imagine. It called out with
rock music from the boom box in the center of the room. Flaherty
provided photocopied lyrics to the group. The song was about
As Flaherty brought forth the scripture passage
and commentary, he asked the teenagers, What does it
mean to be in the world and not of the world? The world says
that success equals money and fame.
After he played the song, Flaherty said, I
want to get your thoughts as you listen to the song. What
kind of comfort do you get from this song? One student
said, Everybody has questions about heaven, but we
just dont talk about them much.
Flaherty introduced other scripture passages,
and after the group turned to each of them and a different
student read each one aloud, he spoke. I dont
know what could be a greater comfort than to know that God
is in charge. He told the students that Gods
word and their souls would last forever. He asked them to
ask themselves what they are doing about Gods word
and what they are doing about their souls.
To these student-athletes, he mentioned Dave
Szott, who is in his 13th year in the NFL, currently on the
New York Jets 2002 roster. He does nothing but praise
God, Flaherty said. He mentioned paralympian Jean Driscoll. She
shares her faith in Christ with everyone she can, Flaherty
said. Thats why Gods word is so important, he
said. It changes peoples lives. The huddle
ended after prayer requests were received and offered up.
Flaherty closed with the words, Lord, we ask your blessings
upon the rest of the world.
One gets the impression from being around Flaherty
that he may be the hero to one or another of these boys or
girls. He doesnt say so, but I think he knows. What
he does say, quite a bit, is the simple message you hear
on the answering machine when you call the Oceanport home
that Flaherty shares with his wife, Janine, and their five
children: God bless you.
Mary Trank 82 is a writer for The Two River
Times (Red Bank, N.J.). This article first appeared in
her Matters of Faith column.