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Aaron Thomas (white cap) and two AP athletes spoke to the Union Fields of Faith gathering.

The lights of the Union High School football field could be seen for miles around. The parking lot was full of buses and cars as athletes, students and parents filed into the stadium.
But Wednesday night’s event was not about athletics or school pride; it was all about faith.
The students of the Union Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) huddle led the Union participation in the national Fields of Faith event. On Wednesday, Oct. 13, student-led services at hundreds of schools from all over the U.S. took place as students and athletes shared their faith with their peers.
Nearly 500 people from several surrounding school districts and even students from as far away as North Tama and Aplington-Parkersburg met to share and hear speakers who shared the message: God is with you.
When you finally get your first high school start, and jump offsides on your very first play, God is with you.
When the NCAA eligibility panel loses your high school transcripts and declares you academically ineligible to play collegiate football, God is with you.
When your grandfather and best friend dies, God is with you -- and can even help you find a way in the sadness to get closer to him.
When you lose a mother or a daughter to cancer, God is with you.
And when your perfect life is suddenly turned upside down by a murderer, God is with you.
“It does not matter what school you are from,” said Joe Hadahcek, the Union football head coach and the leader of the Union FCA huddle. “Tonight we are all on the same team -- team Jesus.”
Several high school students and UNI football players shared their stories of faith. They spoke about how things that happened on the playing field, and in life, helped them understand more about God.
Shay Feld, a Union football player, spoke of his excitement as he started his first game for the Knights. But on the very first play, he jumped offsides, costing his team five yards. Feld told the audience that as he thought about that mistake, he realized he needed to rely on God to be with him in everything he does.

Facing death
The audience heard several stories from people who have recently lost a loved one.
Stephanie Schroeder, a North Tama student, shared the story of her mother’s 8-year battle with cancer. Her mother, Ella, died just over a year ago. Schroeder told the audience that fighting cancer led her mother to a life of faith in God.
Ella had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and was told she may only have a few months to live, said Schroeder.
“But God gave us eight more years with her,” she said.
Shroeder said her own faith has helped her to face the challenges of growing up with a mom with cancer, as well as adjusting to life without her mom.

Union student Baylee Hess told the audience about her grandfather, Larry Mether, who died April 2, 2010.
“He was my best friend,” she said. Yet, she told the crowd, being with her grandfather as he died gave her a stronger faith in God than she ever had felt before.

The family of Union alumnus Denean Abbot Bauer shared part of her story.
Denean was a senior at Union when she was diagnosed with cancer. She fought the battle for years, but died shortly before last year’s Fields of Faith event. She had shared her testimony during the first two Fields of Faith gatherings at Union.
Denean’s mother, Bev Abbott, read a poem Denean had written shortly before her death. That poem addressed the different ways that people find a connection to God.

UNI football players share their faith, experiences
Some University of Northern Iowa football players also shared their faith.
John Hubbard, who played football for Ed Thomas at Aplington-Parkersburg, told the audience how he had planned to attend UNI and try to become a walk-on long snapper for the Panthers. But the summer before he was to go to college, the tornado destroyed his family’s home along with many others.
He thought about staying home to help his family rebuild, but they encouraged him to go to college. He attended the walk-on tryouts, only to hear that only two or three of the 25 or so players would make the team.
But he was chosen.
Then a few weeks later, he learned that a problem with his school transcripts led the NCAA to declare him academically ineligible to play.
This, he told the audience, led to a couple days of moping. But his brother encouraged him to keep working out. Soon the NCAA cleared Hubbard to play. He is now the starting long snapper for the Panthers.
Through all of these experiences, said Hubbard, he learned to rely on God.
Hubbard’s teammate Bob Boothby told the audience that the grew up thinking that religion meant rules.
“I didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs in high school, although I went to a school that was known for those things,” Boothby said. “I was doing all the right things, but for the wrong reasons.”
Yet in college, he said, he learned that religion is not about rules, but a relationship with God. When Boothby failed to live up to his rules, he realized that he needed faith.
“Salvation is a gift of God,” he said.

The students also heard from Amanda Poyner, who spoke about her difficulties and how they led her to faith.
“Without God I was scared, lonely and sad,” she said. She talked about her eating disorders and the challenges she faced in her marriage, and how she found faith in God while hearing her 3-year-old daughter talk about the things she had heard at Vacation Bible School.
“Let your challenges make you grow more and don’t be afraid to share your faith,” said Poyner, who told the crowd that her best friend is an atheist.
“She challenges me, but my conversations with her only make my faith stronger,” Poyner told the audience. “I just hope I can shine my light so she can see it.”

The Thomas family story
Aaron Thomas, the son of the well-known Ed Thomas, told the audience that for 30 years, he had had a perfect life.
“I had good Christian parents who set a good example. I had a great job as a teacher and a coach,” he said. “I used to tell people that my testimony was boring -- I always had an easy life.”
That perfect world was turned “upside-down” the day in June 2009 when Thomas was riding to Des Moines.
That’s when he received the call informing him that his father had been shot in the AP weight room. Soon, he learned that his father had died from the gunshot wounds.
The family gathered together as their house filled with friends, and their yard filled with TV cameras.
Because of the success Ed Thomas had enjoyed on the football field -- four of his players reached the NFL-- and because of Thomas’ role in rebuilding Parkersburg after the tornado a year earlier, Thomas had become well-known around the country.
At 4 p.m. the day his father was killed, Aaron Thomas had to stand before the cameras for a press conference.
“I told them that I would spend the rest of my life doing what my father would do,” he said.
The A-P administrators asked Aaron to leave Union, where he was a teacher and coach, to take a position there.
“It was hard to leave,” he said. “I loved it at Union.”
Also, he said, at Union, he was known as Mr. Thomas, but at AP, Mr. Thomas is his father.
Thomas told the audience that his father’s death has given new meaning to several of the lessons his father had taught to hundreds of his players:
* Don’t just be an observer; be a participant.
* Realize what whatever you do, you are setting an example for others.
* The ability to choose is one of the greatest gifts.
* Make your life be about something.
* Make a difference; live your life with passion.
Thomas confessed that he so far has not been able to say he forgives Mark Becker for murdering his father. “I hope someday I do,” he said.
But, he told the crowd, that while he has trouble dealing with his feelings toward Becker, he does not blame God.
“Who am I to ask God, ‘Why?’” he said.

The Tebow effect
Hadachek told the audience that there are several great examples of Christian faith in the football world. Tim Tebow, the Florida quarterback who now plays in the NFL, is one such example.
Hadachek said that Tebow’s approach to football set him apart. “He was a warrior who did what had to be done,” said Hadachek.
But also, said the Union coach, Tebow’s faith impacted the world. Hadachek quoted from ne of the Bible verses Tebow had placed under his eyes during a game last season, John 16:33. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Hadachek told the audience that the NCAA rule forbidding the use of messages in eye black is one sign of the impact Tebow and his faith have had on the world. That rule, he added, now applies to high school football players, as well.

Fields of Faith events take place each October, on a Wednesday night, throughout the country. For more information, visit www.fieldsoffaith.com.





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Comments (3)

Dean, it is so awesome to see this article in a time in our country where people hide behind things, agendas, and bias. Vinton Today is a shining light to the people who ready it. Congrats for standing on solid ground.
Joe Hadachek
By: Joe Hadachek on October 15th 1:12am
It's great to see a paper do a story about whats really important!
By: Rick Dolleslager on October 15th 7:51am
GREAT article! Washington (and the Country) need a larger dose of this message, thank you!
By: Shawn Barnhart on October 15th 2:52pm

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