Hundreds of area Christian athletes gathered at Memorial Auditorium Saturday night for what organizers hope is the first of many annual rallies.

Hundreds of area Christian athletes gathered at Memorial Auditorium Saturday night for what organizers hope is the first of many annual rallies.

The Crawford County Fellowship of Christian Athletes Rally 2012 was organized by Gary Larson, the first area representative the FCA has staffed in southeast Kansas in more than 10 years. The rally featured music by Paola-based Christian rock band Awakening, and testimony from former Major League pitcher Brian Holman, who played stints with the Montreal Expos, the Seattle Mariners and the Cincinnati Reds before an arm injury ended his career.

Larson said he organized the rally as a means to get the separate FCA groups together in one place.

“The groups meet in separate in their own schools, but there’s power in numbers and I like to see groups like this,” Larson said.

The event took about a month to organize, Larson said. He said he had significant help from B.J. Harris, executive director of the Crawford County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“He put everything together that we needed,” Larson said. “Ron Marrone was another strong supporter for us. He was really instrumental in putting everything together.”

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has a strong presence in southeast Kansas and in Crawford County, Larson said. There are 30 “huddles” in southeast Kansas, with 25 to 30 members in each. That includes Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg USD 250 and other county schools such as Southeast USD 247 and Girard USD 248, among others. Larson said he hopes word will spread from the members who attended the rally.

“Once we get it situated and get it going, people will start to expect it every year and hopefully it will continue to grow,” Larson said.

Awakening started the event with covers of well-known Christian rock songs.

“They’re playing songs the kids will know and sing along to,” Larson said.

Then the band took a break for the guest speaker before coming back on-stage for a set of their original songs.

Holman was the centerpiece of the event. A former Major League pitcher for multiple teams, Holman said he and his family have experienced deep personal loss and have overcome adversity through their relationship with Christ.

“Tonight’s message is ‘How do you know that you know that you know?” he told the audience.

Holman grew up with an alcoholic father. When he would come home drunk and fight with Holman’s mother, he and his brother, Brad, who also played in the pros, would sneak out their bedroom windows to play Wiffle ball under the streetlights.

After graduating from Wichita North High School, he was taken by the Montreal Expos with the 16th pick in the 1983 draft, but he got bumped to the minors and it took several years for his game to mature enough to play regularly. Even after being married and having wealth and prestige, he said he still felts something was missing, and Holman said that on Oct. 1, 1988, he accepted Jesus Christ.

“I knew God was the only person who could make me feel completely whole,” Holman told the audience.

His career ended after a routine arthroscopic procedure found serious damage and required extensive surgery.

“I woke up and found an eight-inch scar,” he said, adding that baseball is the sport that most imitates life. “There are so many ups and downs in the game. But when you fail, don’t look down. Keep your eyes focused. Just because you fail, it doesn’t make you a failure.”

Holman told the audience about other personal tragedies he and his family had endured. After a 30-foot fall caused serious internal and external injuries to his young son, doctors discovered a brain tumor while he was in the hospital. When he awoke from surgery to remove the tumor, he discovered that his left side was completely paralyzed. But he remained determined, and now is starting spring training with the Seattle Mariners.

Holman and his wife also had adopted a young girl from the Marshall Islands who had been abandoned at the age of three. She was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of five, and died in 2006.

“How do you tell your daughter that there’s nothing left you can physically do?” Holman said. “But I know that if she had the chance to come back that she wouldn’t, because she’s in paradise and she knows that we’ll be with her soon.”

It’s important for the FCA members to live life for God everyday, Holman said, because they don’t know when their time will come.

“Life can be gone in a second,” he said. “What matters is eternity. Love God and your family with all your heart. And be sure that you know that you know that you know.”