It was more about faith than football, as the 45-year-old local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes held its annual banquet at Hotel Roanoke last week. Every high school in the Roanoke Valley has an FCA chapter, where student-athletes combine sports with their Christian beliefs. Guest speakers, often school alumni that have gone on to bigger and better things, come back to share their experiences and deliver an inspirational message.
Northside Head Football Coach Burt Torrence, fresh off a Group AA state football championship, delivered the opening remarks, before several student athletes made brief comments of their own from the podium. “It’s changed my life,” said Glenvar High School’s Zach Hill.
FCA board member Al Soltis, a vice president for Lanford Bros. Construction and a former VMI football player, remarked that “you feel pretty good about what the next generation will have,” when looking at the enthusiastic group of student-athletes in the sold-out ballroom. The annual banquet is a fundraiser; one major goal is to establish FCA chapters at local middle schools. “On the field and [on] the courts FCA carries the Gospel of Jesus into our schools,” said Soltis.
Liberty Head Football Coach Danny Rocco and new UVA Head Coach Mike London were the co-keynote speakers. Both programs recruit heavily in the Roanoke area. “I’m always impressed with the quality of coaching [here],” said Rocco, who was actually on the University of Virginia staff with London at one point.
The three-time Big South coach of the year noted that the football stadium at Liberty is currently being enlarged, another sign of the turnaround he has helped orchestrate at the Christian school. “There’s a commitment being made at Liberty University,” said Rocco, no doubt a theme he has used when recruiting locally.
London won the Division 1-AA national title in his first year as head coach at the University of Richmond. “We know how it feels to win a championship,” he said to Northside’s Torrence. London left Richmond to replace Al Groh at UVA, and said he will “have to make some tough decisions,” on Cavalier players this year as the program tries to rebound. “I’ve got a lot of work to do,” conceded London.
Still, the night was more about faith and new beginnings, rather than football. “There are leaders all over this room,” said London, looking at tables of student athletes, coaches and families. “Even when the chips are down, on the playing field or in life, there is always hope,” said London. He choked up when telling the story of how he donated his bone marrow to a now cancer-free daughter, and borrowing advice he credited to Oprah, he said, “you are one decision away from a new beginning”… and added, “the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”By Gene Marrano [email protected]