Church game day breakfasts make a huge impact on the Grove Hill community
In cities across Alabama, Friday night football games are one of the most popular parts of the week. That’s certainly true of Grove Hill, where the Clarke County High School football team recently won the 2A state championship.
But for some in Grove Hill, Friday morning breakfast has become even more popular. Because since Grove Hill Baptist Church began feeding football players at Clarke County High and Clarke Preparatory School on game day before school, 14 players have professed a new faith in Christ.
It all started last summer when the church’s senior pastor, Kyle Routzahn, asked the deacons if there could be one in the church every day to pray about what God wants them to do to reach their congregation. It wasn’t long before one of those deacons, Brandon Garrick, felt God begin to put something on his heart.
“When I grew up playing ball at school, we always had a church that did that work and invited the football players to breakfast every Friday morning,” Garrick said.
He mentioned it to a friend — Eric Neel, defense coordinator at Clarke County High — and Neel told him there was no such thing for players.
“Some moms used to do that, but nowadays there wasn’t anyone to feed them on game day,” Garrick said.
Garrick and Neel, a member of the Grove Hill Baptist church, put their heads together with Routzahn and Austin Bedwell, the church’s student pastor, and came up with a plan. They invited soccer players from both schools, recruited people to share devotionals each week, and figured out how to feed up to 100 people breakfast.
Some of the older adult members of the church helped out with fresh eggs, Routzahn said.
In the first week they had about 45 players. Soon they were averaging 80 to 90 every Friday morning, including cheerleaders and band members.
On the way they saw God’s work, said Routzahn. He gave the players his own testimony of encountering Jesus while in rehab at the age of 25. Garrick also shared his testimony of coming to faith at age 26. Jeremiah Castille, who played in the NFL in the 1980s, spoke one Sunday and they invited the football teams to the service.
Along the way, Routzahn said he could see God “disarming them.”
Garrick saw the same thing happen. Many of the players had never been regular churchgoers, but he had conversations with some who were willing to give their lives to Christ. When Routzahn preached the gospel, 14 football players responded.
The leaders were given a study bible with their name and number on it for each player who attended breakfast.
Garrick said none of this had anything to do with them – “first it had to do with prayer; Our deacons began to pray and God began to move.”
And it went on.
As both teams advanced to the playoffs, breakfast continued. Clarke Prep lost in the first round, but Clarke County High kept winning. They would win, and there would be another breakfast at Grove Hill. Garrick said he thinks it’s a “god thing” for them to keep winning so the breakfast effort can go on.
He said the players agreed – even mentioned it in news interviews after they won the state championship game in December.
“When they spoke after the game, the first thing they said was, ‘The only reason we’re here is because of God,'” noted Garrick. “The children said God did not want this ministry to end. I truly believe that this state game and this season that we just had with this football team was a godly thing.
Garrick said it has been a blessing to see the students grow spiritually and see the effort grow. He said it was also a blessing to see how it brought the two schools together.
“As Clarke County rolled out of town with the buses, Clarke Prep stood on the street and cheered them on as they pulled away,” he recalled.
To take note of
Routzahn said the community is also taking note, and a number of people have invested in the service with donations. The mother of one of the players stopped him at the store one day and said her son had come for breakfast.
“She said: ‘Please keep it up,'” said Routzahn.
At the moment they are working on making breakfast for the basketball teams and other sports in the schools.
Bedwell said he was excited about the opportunity to gain entry.
“We’re always looking for ways to achieve them, and I had no idea how big an impact such a simple idea could have,” he said.
see a change
Clarke County High head coach Stacy Luker said after the ministry began, “You could just see a change in the players — many of them — for the better.”
“I just really appreciate what Grove Hill Baptist has done with our children and our school,” he added. “It was a nice thing to see.”
Routzahn said it has been a great encouragement to the church who have been searching for what God has in store for them in this post-pandemic time.
“It started with prayer,” he assured. “And I would recommend it to anyone who thinks it’s something they could do in their own community.”