Gilland: FCA kicks off school year with bang

Speaker at FCA event leads teens in prayer
A speaker at Thursday's FCA event leads teens in prayer.
Photo by Mike Gilland

We all have memories of the start of a new year of high school, but few of my recollections can compare to what happened Thursday night at Westside Baptist Church.

For the third year in a row, the North Central Florida chapter of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes presented “The Kickoff Classic” event, a huge rally inviting schools from the entire region to come together for a night of barbecue, music and an inspiring message from well-known personalities and athletes. This year’s classic was the biggest yet.

Noah Wilbanks, director of FCA for North Central Florida, founded this event two years ago, at a time when many public meetings had not yet resumed due to the pandemic. That year, for their first such gathering, over 400 student athletes and coaches attended. They enjoyed a free dinner, generously provided by the local Sonny’s BBQ, messages from Noah and several coaches, and an inspiring challenge from Frank Reynoso, a noted speaker and FCA leader with ties to Central Florida.

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For 2023, the Kickoff Classic returned to Westside and proved to be a sellout, as the free tickets were gone almost a week before the event.

Mike Gilland and Steve Spurrier
Courtesy of Mike Gilland Mike Gilland and Steve Spurrier

A total of 740 students and coaches were once again treated to an amazing meal by Sonny’s BBQ, joined together in a time of lively music from a local worship band, and heard messages from the Head Ball Coach himself, Steve Spurrier, and also RV Brown, who played college football for South Carolina State and is a former chaplain for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In his talk, Steve Spurrier credited the influence of his own mother for his faith. 

“My Mom wrote in my first Bible ever, ‘Trust in Lord with all thy heart, lean not in thy own understanding, in all our ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy path,’” Coach Spurrier told me during an interview after he spoke.  

After hearing from Spurrier, Brown took the stage and shared what he feels is the most important message he could give: “This is a generation that needs help, and God has given me a passion for this generation.” 

With no coercion, RV invited students to respond to call to the gospel message that he just shared—and respond they did, filling the entire front of the auditorium. 

“It was a life transforming event,” Noah Wilbanks said. “We had 305 decisions of faith!”In a culture such as ours—where we hear of young people rioting over a giveaway event in New York City—it is refreshing to see an evening where a message of hope received such a strong response. 

The crowd of more than 700 at Thursday's FCA event
Courtesy of Mike Gilland The crowd of more than 700 at Thursday’s FCA event.

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