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Maggard finds blessings in combining sports, ministry

Kevin Mays • Apr 2, 2020 at 10:00 AM

WISE — Spreading the word of Christ takes missionaries to different fields and locations across the world.

For the past 15 years, Gary Maggard’s mission field has been on a basketball court, a football field, a baseball field or a softball field.

Maggard is the area representative in Southwest Virginia’s coalfield region for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“There are 57 million kids in the country under 18 that play sports,” Maggard said. “That’s a huge mission field. If they don’t come to church, then we need to take the Lord to the kids and the coaches.”

STARTING EARLY

Maggard has been in ministry his entire adult life.

When he was 19, he starting traveling the country as an evangelist.

He was a youth pastor at churches in Michigan and Indiana before coming back to Wise when his father became seriously ill.

He worked in the youth ministry at Zion Family Ministries before becoming associate pastor at New Beginnings Assembly of God in the Sandy Ridge area.

THE CALLING

It was during his work at New Beginnings that he met several individuals from Dickenson County and started a football ministry at Clintwood and Ervinton high schools.

He became the team minister for Clintwood’s football squad and worked closely with coach Rick Mullins.

“I think it was a God thing with Coach Mullins,” Maggard said. “A guy from Wise County and J.J. Kelly going over to Dickenson County and minister to these kids and coaches from Clintwood. That had to be a God thing.”

VISION BECOMES REALITY

In 2005, Maggard accepted a position with the FCA.

Three years later, he started a program that has received attention from areas around the country.

“I was at a Clintwood girls basketball game and it was their last game of the season,” he recalled.

As the game came to an end, Maggard said, he could see on the senior players’ faces the sad realization that their high school career was over.

“I just said, ‘Lord, I wish they had a smile on their faces and weren’t so sad.’ ”

That’s when a vision was born.

With lots of help from volunteers and sponsors, Maggard created the first high school senior all-star game for Southwest Virginia athletes.

“We went over to Kentucky and played in the Virginia vs. Kentucky girls basketball all-star game,” Maggard recalled. “It was great. All the players got to wear their high school uniforms one more time, and everyone left there happy and with a smile on their face.”

Veteran Sullivan East boys basketball coach John Dyer heard about the girls all-star game and contacted Maggard about an all-star Tennessee vs. Virginia boys basketball contest.

“Coach Dyer has been helping us ever since,” Maggard said. “We’ve played a lot of basketball games in a lot of gyms over the years.”

In addition to the Virginia vs. Tennessee FCA all-star games, the FCA also hosts several all-star games for high school seniors solely in Virginia.

“We have East versus West or North versus South games,” Maggard said. “We just try to do as much as we can for as many players as we can.”

The early basketball all-star games have grown into games for just about every team sport: football, baseball, softball, volleyball and soccer.

Maggard estimates that over the past 12 years, the FCA has hosted close to 100 all-star games.

It’s more than just about the games, however.

Maggard said the organization sponsors banquets for the athletes before the games and also gives each athlete an FCA Bible.

The FCA also has speakers at each all-star game to talk to the athletes and share their testimonies.

“It’s a blessing just to be a part of it,” Maggard said.

He said the all-star games have featured hundred of athletes. It’s also featured coaches, including some like Hannah Light Cress, who played in an all-star game and has returned to the games as a coach.

“There have been so many coaches like Hannah and Doug Hubbard of Honaker; Shawn Witten, of Elizabethton; John Dyer; and Roby Witcher, of Tennessee High; and Rob Hoover and Mike Elkins, of Lee High, who was big in us getting soccer started,” Maggard stated. “Terri Ann Funk has been a big help for us. There’s just been so many.”

And then there’s Northwood softball coach B.J. Buchanan.

“He’s been with us for every softball game we’ve had. He called the other day and said they’ve got shirts from every softball all-star game and they’re using them to make a quilt,” Maggard said. “I don’t even think I have a shirt from every game all-star game.”

After the FCA all-star football games caught on, Maggard said he has received calls from FCA chapters in California and Ohio among other places inquiring about what he had to do to get the games started.

“It’s just been a blessing and now it’s all the way across the nation,” Maggard said of the concept. “It’s just amazing.”

DIVINE INTERVENTION

In more than a decade of all-star games, Maggard has seen some miraculous events.

“A couple of years ago, we had the football game scheduled to be played at Emory & Henry,” he recalled. “The week of the game a big snow came and wiped out our chances of having it at Emory. But Dobyns-Bennett was having its turf on its football field replaced.”

The school administration at D-B and the city government agreed to allow the snow to be removed from the field.

“The groundkeeper worked on the field for three days, and by the time Saturday came the field was completely cleared for the game,” Maggard said. “If they had not been replacing the turf, there’s no way they would have let us take that equipment on there to remove the snow like that. That was just God’s timing.

“God made a way for us to have that game and for those kids to get to play that day. I’ve seen the Lord do things like that several times.”

MORE THAN GAMES

While the FCA all-star games have been an important part of Maggard’s ministry, there are more events.

The organization sponsors seven-on-seven football camps, basketball and volleyball camps, as well as middle school tournaments for different sports.

The FCA also hosts lunches at schools around the region where devotions are held.

“Sometimes, we have 50-60 kids at lunchtime,” said Maggard.

He said he is blessed to be involved in sports and the ministry, two of his loves in life.

“It’s just amazing how God can take something that you love and allow you to do it for His glory,” Maggard said.

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