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Bobby Bowden coming to Brookhaven

For its first fundraiser in 20 years, Lincoln County Fellowship of Christian Athletes is bringing a legendary coach and a college football Hall of Famer to Brookhaven.

Retired Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden and former Seminole Sammie Smith will be at the FCA’s “Banquet with Bowden,” April 13, at 6:30 p.m. at Easthaven Baptist Church.

When the board — Stan Foster, Shannon Aker, Rev. Randolph Hamilton, Clint Rounsaville, David Culpepper, Tim Johnson, Chris Thurman and Jason Case — met to toss around names for a speaker, they figured they might as well shoot for the moon.

“We thought we’d start at the top,” Aker said. “Bobby Bowden’s heart is really to go speak to coaches and athletes. He’s great at it, and people love him.”

This is the first-ever fundraising banquet for FCA District 7, which includes Lincoln, Copiah, Franklin, Lawrence, Wilkinson, Amite, Pike and Walthall counties. In the past, funding has come from a small group of individuals, but more is needed in order to reach the FCA’s goals.

“The funds will be used to help those spreading the gospel in Lincoln County,” Foster said. Coaches’ clinics, student camps, coach and spouse retreats are all worthwhile activities that are earmarked for funding assistance.

Funds will also be used to further the outreach of FCA area representative Chris Huffman, who joined the organization in the latter part of 2016. Huffman, a trainer at King’s Daughters Medical Center Performance Center, plans to remain there in addition to his FCA responsibilities. This will allow him to have a wider impact, reaching more students and coaches, Foster said.

Huffman said God called him to serve in this missionary position, and he wanted to be involved because of FCA’s impact on coaches and athletes in their faith and their sport.

Founded in 1954, FCA is the largest Christian sports organization in America, and challenges coaches and athletes at all levels to use their medium of athletics as a way to impact the world for Jesus Christ.

Lincoln County FCA sponsored the area’s 2016 Fields of Faith in the fall, reaching over 700 students at the largest event of its kind across the state.

“Coaches try to keep encouraging kids,” said Aker.

Not only spiritually, he said, but also physically, mentally and emotionally. That’s why coaches need a lot of encouragement themselves. “They get criticized so much,” he said.

“Every kid is going to be influenced by their coach,” Foster said. “The influence is either going to be good or bad. We need to minister to the coach. If the coach is speaking truth into their lives, it has a powerful impact.”

To do that, the Lincoln County FCA organizers are hoping for a sell-out event. Tickets and sponsorships to the banquet begin at $100. For more information, visit mississippifca.org/district7, contact Chris Huffman at chuffman@fca.org, or call one of the following: Stan Foster at 601-835-3559, Shannon Aker at 601-835-4001 or David Culpepper at 601-833-6011.

“This is a great opportunity to reenergize the efforts of FCA here in Lincoln County,” Foster said. “The board is extremely excited about the opportunity to have Coach Bowden as the keynote speaker.”

“We’re very excited about this,” Aker agreed.

Bowden began his football coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater Howard College, now Samford University, in Birmingham, Alabama, 1954-1955. He left his stint at HC as assistant football coach and head track and field coach, to take over as athletic director, head football coach, head baseball coach, and head basketball coach at South Georgia College in 1956. Bowden returned to Howard in 1959 as head football coach, compiling a 31-6 record.

In 1962, Bowden went to the university most people associate him with, Florida State, as assistant to head football coach Bill Peterson, working alongside Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs.

In 1965, Bowden moved once again, becoming assistant to coach Jim Carlen at West Virginia University, then replacing Carlen as head coach in 1969. With a 42-26 record under his belt, Bowden returned to Florida State in 1976 as head coach of the Seminoles.

He planned to stay only a brief time, helping the ’Noles climb out of a 4-29 three season funk, before taking a more lucrative job, perhaps as Bama’s head coach. He stayed 34 years.

His only losing season at FSU was his first. He turned down head coaching offers from Auburn, LSU and Alabama – even the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. From 1987 to 2000, the Seminoles had at least 10 wins each season and were always in the top five of the Associated Press College Football Poll. Bowden led the team to 12 Atlantic Coast Conference championships and two national championships – in 1993 and 1999.

When Bowden retired, he finished his career second in all-time wins by a Division I-FBS coach, with 377 wins.

One of Bowden’s star players joined the Seminoles in 1986. Sammie Smith was named MVP of the All-American Bowl and the 1989 Sugar Bowl. Smith rushed for 2,539 career yards and 18 touchdowns. Smith finished his FSU career as the school’s third all-time leading rusher.

In 1989, Smith was taken by the Miami Dolphins in the ninth pick of the first round in the NFL draft, and played four seasons in the NFL for the Dolphins and the Denver Broncos.

In 1996, Smith was convicted for possession and distribution of cocaine, and served seven years in prison. At his parole hearing, Bowden was the only one to speak on his behalf, due to the man Bowden believed Smith really was, and could be. In 2013, Smith was elected to the FSU Hall of Fame.

Smith now works with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and will introduce Bowden at the April fundraiser.