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MCGILL: Herd Knocks -- Rev's message inspires football team

Steve Harvey.
Aug. 21, 2016

By Chuck McGill

IRONTON, Ohio – Once a year, inside the brick walls of Sharon Baptist Church here in Ironton, Pastor Steve Harvey’s congregation grows by more than 100 people.

The church, located on South 5th Street between Mastin and Kemp streets, routinely welcomes more than 200 people each Sunday morning for service. On this Sunday, however, the 400-seat sanctuary is at maximum capacity because the Marshall University football team, coaches, support staff and athletic administration are among the attendees.

The football program’s visit is an annual occurrence, but the players aren’t forced to attend. There isn’t a team bus to transport players. They instead drive individually across state lines to join hands with their brothers.

Harvey, meanwhile, delivers a broad message that can be applied to every part of a student-athlete’s life. Harvey, who doubles as the Thundering Herd’s team chaplain, spent nearly an hour on a special sermon directed toward the 100-plus football players.

“Why are you running?” he asked as he looked toward the large pocket of football players seated in the middle of the packed room. “You have to run with purpose.”



Harvey enthusiastically adds: “Everybody say, ‘That’s right.”

The congregation, in unison, replies: “That’s right.”

If Harvey’s words were Vinny Curry, then the audience might as well be a tackling dummy made out of wicker.

You’re gonna get knocked over.

The message by Harvey – colloquially known as Rev – focused this Sunday on four requirements for success: great faith, extreme effort and enthusiasm, response to quick change and determination.

He blends jokes with inspirational and poignant thoughts. He is a comedian who inspires. He can move one to tears through laughter or overwhelming emotion. And he keeps the audience’s attention by requiring participation through response.

“You’ve got to have great effort every day of your life,” Harvey said as he talked about the need for great effort and enthusiasm in all a person does. “Even on days when you don’t feel like it. Even on two-a-days when the heat is blazing down your stinkin’ helmet and you’re like ‘man, I can’t do this no more.’ You will do this because of effort and the goodness of the living God in your life. That’s exactly how God works.”

Harvey has been MU’s team chaplain for 11 years. He has worked at Sharon Baptist Church, which was built in 1969, for 27 years. He lauds the church members for being understanding that his work with the team will pull him away on occasion. Those late Saturday night or early Sunday morning flights don't leave much time for sleep before church rolls around.

But the folks of Sharon Baptist Church embrace the setup, and they relish the opportunity for the team to visit once a year.

“They’re just an extension of our family,” said Donnie Klaiber, a church member who made hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill to serve the 400 or so church-goers. “We just get a chance to get them in here with us for a day.”

“It means everything that they’re here,” added Georgia Dillon, who helps in the church kitchen preparing meals for the visitors. “It means that they’re here and we can meet them. I think they’re so respectful. It’s so awesome to see a group of men who are so respectful and so talented and seeking the Lord. That’s so exciting.”

Harvey said this year’s football team is one of the best collection of student-athletes he’s been around in his decade-plus with the program.

“Them coming here shows mutual respect,” he said. “They get to see me in my comfort zone where I usually get to see them in their comfort zone on the field and in the locker room. They get to see how it works and comes together.

“They see why Coach (Doc) Holliday believes in it. This is real. This is what we do. And it brings everyone together.”

Harvey is a calorie-burning machine during the service. He paces around the room screamin’ and shoutin’ – with enthusiasm, of course. He has the great faith, he has the effort and enthusiasm, he tells tales of his response to quick change and his determination to fight through adversity. He relates it to the student-athletes in between the trademark “woo!” of wrestling icon Ric Flair and chatter about the Olympics and Cincinnati Reds.

“If you sleep in here, you’ve got problems,” he said during Sunday’s service.

Harvey stressed what he wanted the football team to absorb from their visit to Ironton.

“Make something out of what God has given you,” he said. “Don’t run around in the stadium and shadow box and run like you don’t go no purpose. Have purpose and direction. Know what you want.

“Tomorrow, school starts for you guys. You are student-athletes. Go get your degree! You have a tremendous opportunity to do something that not all people and kids in America get to do and that’s get a college education. I know you pay for it, but take advantage of every day of your life.”