The 2017 benefit dinner at Freed-Hardeman University Friday night, Dec. 1, 2017, generated more than $1.3 million for scholarships at FHU. The event featured Tim Tebow, Heisman trophy winner, professional football player and football analyst for the SEC network. This marked the 18th consecutive year the FHU benefit has raised more than $1 million.
Tebow entertained and inspired the crowd with personal anecdotes beginning with his coming to California after spending his earliest years in the Philippines where his parents were missionaries. Beginning his athletic career with tee ball, he admitted to being more than a little competitive. He was shocked when his coach said winning didn’t matter and the team should just have fun. In Tebow’s opinion, winning was when one had fun. When he discovered the first baseman couldn’t catch the balls he threw him, he began running to first base to get the runner out. “At an early age, I was not a good teammate,” he said.
As a teenager, Tebow changed his attitude. On a mission trip to the Philippines, he met Sherwin, a disabled teenager who had been told that he couldn’t go to see the visiting Americans because he was “not impressive.” Two of Sherwin’s friends, refusing to leave him, stayed behind also. Tebow went to the bamboo hut where the three boys were staying and talked with them. Sherwin said, “I can’t wait to run with you in heaven.”
The encounter had a lasting effect on Tebow. He was impressed with the two boys who also missed meeting the visitors because they chose to stay behind with their friend. “Playing sports and winning championships is not the most important thing,” he said.
As a junior at the University of Florida, Tebow decided to paint a reference to a scripture, Phil. 4:13, in his eye black. When the Gators won, he continued the practice with the same verse until Jan. 8, 2009, when Florida played Alabama for the national championship. For that game, he changed the verse to John 3:16. He later learned that during the game, 94 million people Googled John 3:16. “I couldn’t believe there were 94 million people who didn’t know that verse,” he said.
Improbably, exactly three years later as the Denver Broncos’ quarterback, Tebow threw the ball for 316 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers to advance to the playoffs. He completed 10 of 21 passing attempts for 31.6 yards per completion. Yards per rush were also 31.6, time of possession was 31.6 and Nielsen TV ratings peaked at 31.6. The next morning, John 3:16 was the leading search item on Google.
“We serve a really big God,” Tebow said. “I had thought that night was about a game, but God can take the little things we do and do big things with them.”
“Finish strong” was the motto for the team that year. “We tried every day to be a fighter,” Tebow said, “to be the toughest team in the fourth quarter. We wanted to be the best at the end.”
“How cool would it be when I’m standing before my heavenly Father,” Tebow asked, “for him to say, ‘I’m proud of you. You finished strong.’”
Tebow concluded his remarks by urging the crowd to “love Jesus, love people.” “ I hope tonight was not just a talk,” he said. “I hope we can leave here on fire for Jesus.”
Prior to Tebow’s remarks, The Pride of FHU, an ensemble comprised of alumni and student musicians and vocalists, presented a program of Christmas music. Also, two students, Ellie Leonard, a junior fine arts major from Valdosta, Georgia, and Ben Coleman, a sophomore from Savannah, Tennessee, thanked the audience for helping them attend FHU. “Thank you for changing my life,” Coleman said.
FHU President David Shannon and Ted Williams, vice chairman of the FHU Board of Trustees, thanked the audience for attending and supporting students. Shannon told donors they were making long-term investments in students. “The return on your investment when you support students at Freed-Hardeman is not a dividend limited to today or tomorrow; rather, it goes far into the future,” he said. “It reaches all the way into eternity.“
At the conclusion of the program, John Michael Sweatt, president of the FHU Student Government Association, presented Tebow with a copy of the Bible.
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