By Sean Barron
Legendary assistant and head football coach Lou Holtz freely admits he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, though that birthright had nothing to do with wealth or prestige.
“I was taught to make good choices and have a belief in God,” Holtz said about his years as a child living in Follansbee, W.Va., in which his family was poor but instilled in him the rich values of having faith in God and attending church regularly.
That was one of the core messages he gave as the keynote speaker for Saturday’s eighth annual Men’s Rally in the Valley at the Covelli Centre, downtown.
The free, seven-hour nondenominational event, themed “Stand in the Gap!,” brought together a series of speakers who challenged attendees to fight drug addictions, restore their marriages and relationships with families, strengthen their faith in God and get connected with churches and fellowship opportunities, noted Daniel Smith, senior chaplain with the International Fellowship of Chaplains Inc.
Most of the speakers have attained major athletic achievements.
Smith also said the rally was in memoriam of Mark J. Durkin, who worked 20 years for the Austintown Police Department and who served with the Mahoning Valley Violent Crimes Task Force and Crisis Response Team. Durkin also provided security for the Men’s Rally since its debut in 2010.
The all-day gathering also featured plenty of music, including a women’s orchestra, along with 58 ministry tables and prayer stations. Men were given chances to leave their contact information to allow churches to follow up with them on their needs and progress, said Smith, adding he expected an estimated 4,000 to attend.
Holtz, a 2008 College Football Hall of Fame inductee who is perhaps best known for his 11-year career as head coach for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, talked about how a deep belief in God has helped him cope with a variety of life struggles. A major one was nearly two years ago when a fire, thought to have been caused by lightning, destroyed his 11,000-square-foot home near Orlando, Fla.
Despite the monumental loss, Holtz’s wife, Beth, maintained a strong religious faith and felt such a firm foundation was more valuable than the home and contents that were lost, he continued.
“One month later, I said, ‘God, you ought to do something about your house,’” the 80-year-old Holtz said to laughter.
It’s important to realize, he continued, that God answers people’s prayers, though not always in a manner many may wish or expect. For example, Holtz never achieved his childhood ambition of becoming a top-notch athlete, but was able to carve out a coaching career that lasted nearly 40 years.
During his career that began in the early 1960s, Holtz was an assistant coach for Ohio State University under legendary head coach Woody Hayes before leading the New York Jets and the South Carolina Gamecocks, which went 0-11 his first year as head coach. Nevertheless, the Columbia, S.C.-based team finished 33-26 in his final five seasons, which included three bowl appearances.
Holtz, who also served in the Army and worked as an ESPN college football analyst, may have had a few up-and-down seasons as a football coach, but he offered what he sees as three straightforward rules for making good decisions: Do what’s right, perform to the best of one’s ability in the allotted time and show compassion and a caring attitude toward others.
“Don’t judge people by their appearances. Get to know them,” he added.
Also facing adversity that pertained to a career in pro football was Michael Cobb, who played several years as a tight end for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Chicago Bears.
Cobb saw little playing time during his first two years in the NFL, which led him to work and train more vigorously. Nevertheless, an illness that required one of his lungs to be removed temporarily sidelined him a few years later, though a strong faith in God helped him persevere through that difficulty, Cobb told his audience to applause.
“In that doctor’s office, yes, there was sadness, disappointment and discouragement, but in that room was the love of Jesus Christ,” he added. “I played four more seasons with one lung, something only Jesus could have done.”
The gathering brought in men from about 100 churches, all of whom are committed to working toward being better husbands, workers, fathers and family members, said Bob Popa, a longtime area broadcaster who served as master of ceremonies.
“We feel that God is moving in Youngstown right now,” said Popa, who noted that veterans of all military branches were recognized and honored for their service during an earlier breakfast.
“We’re trying to give a sense of humanity to humanity,” said senior chaplain Smith, who praised Teen Challenge for its work with area churches in helping those with drug problems.
In addition, the rally was streamed live on the Hope Channel, a Christian-based lifestyle network that, among other things, reaches those who are incarcerated. The event also offered information on preventing and treating prostate cancer, as well as numerous T-shirts and compact discs for sale.
• David Bryant, a minister and author who provides leadership to PROCLAIM HOPE!, an organization dedicated to spreading the love of Jesus Christ nationwide.
• Kyle Maynard, an author, entrepreneur and former wrestler who was born a quadriplegic, yet was the first man to crawl unassisted to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.
• Chip Minton, a two-time Olympic bobsled pusher and former professional body builder who wrestled with the World Championship Wrestling federation.
• Aaron Shust, a worship singer and guitarist.