It’s not your typical 7-on-7 tournament. In its sixth year, The Heath Evans Foundation 7-on-7 Championships has become one of the best and most elite tournaments of its kind.
Heath Evans, former New Orleans Saints fullback and founder of the Heath Evans Foundation was excited to watch the tournament and amazed at how much it’s grown.
“Year one was twelve teams, and it was a strong field but it was all local,” Evans said.
“Now we’ve grown six years later – invitation only, people dying to get in.”
The tournament took place on the fields of Evans’ old high school, The Kings Academy in West Palm Beach.
In the morning, teams split up and played a round-robin format, and in the afternoon played a single-elimination competition for the championship.
The tournament featured some of the top teams in the state, with a final four of Booker T. Washington, Blanche Ely, Plant, and returning champion Miramar. Plant was crowned this year’s champion after a fight-to-the-finish against Booker T. Washington.
In addition to the skill players, high school linemen had their own competition, and there was a contest to determine the fastest 40-yard dash runner.
But what truly set this tournament apart was lunchtime when the teams heard from the men they want to be like – NFL players. Patriots Defensive Lineman Vince Wilfork started things off.
“They get a chance to hear from someone who’s living it,” Wilfork said. “A lot of these guys have the dream of playing at the level that we’re already at.”
This was Wilfork’s third year being a part of the tournament, and for him, it’s special to see players grow over the years.
“It’s just an amazing event,” he said. “A great way to just stay in touch with the future. You get a prime look at the future before it even gets here.”
Lunchtime talks continued with Ravens Wide Receiver Donte’ Stallworth, and former Patriots Linebacker Don Davis. They spoke about integrity and making the right choices, and how to truly accomplish success.
“I think so many kids set goals on what they think is at the end of the rainbow, and when they hear that when you get there, you’ve still got these issues and you’re still faced with tough decisions,” Evans said. “I think it kind of gives them a glimpse of hope of what is true perspective, what are the things I really need to be chasing after, and just knowing that there’s guys that are rooting for them that have been where they’re at, and know what they’re facing, and can encourage them in the right direction.”
Davis talked to the players about a “swag bag” that God has for each of them. Inside is forgiveness, love, and peace, but they only come from faith in Jesus. He then invited the players to pray to accept Jesus and receive “God’s swag bag.”
In today’s popular mindset of political correctness, Evans knows incorporating his faith in such a way might be slightly controversial, but he has so much confidence in what he believes, and he knows these players need to hear it.
“Faith is always a touchy subject, but the people that know me most of the time always love how we position it, because I’m the last to judge, and I’m the first to try to love. These kids come from so many different diverse situations. I have no idea what’s facing half these kids, but I do know The Man that knows exactly what their hearts need,” Evans said.
“I know the truth that needs to be delivered, and I ultimately know the instruction that these kids need to be able to obtain their goal. You gotta have a power in your life that’s going to equip you to make the tough decisions and to do the right things, and for me and my teachings, it comes through the power of Jesus Christ.”
The money raised at the tournament went to the Heath Evans Foundation, which is dedicated to helping children and families of affected by sexual abuse. Around the many fields of the tournament were signs with different facts about the realities of sexual abuse. For Evans, the work he does all comes back to his faith in Christ.
“It’s the backbone of everything I do,” Evans said. “If my faith wasn’t an aspect of my daily life, we wouldn’t even be messing with childhood sexual abuse because the issue is so grand and great. We wouldn’t even know where to start. So I just said, ‘alright God, you’re way bigger and better than me, so I’m gonna get busy doing what you ask me to do.’”
The foundation has already helped over 200 victims of sexual abuse.
“There are families out there that struggle in the world, especially with certain situations, for him to be doing what he’s doing, is a huge blessing,” Wilfork said.
At the end of the day, Evans looked on with pride as Plant was crowned champion. The day was a huge success. Lives were touched by the powerful messages of encouragement heard throughout the day.
“This was my dream, just to get in front of the best of the best and encourage these kids (and tell them), ‘listen, you can make good choices and good decisions, you can set high goals and obtain those goals,’” Evans said. “It sounds prideful to say but I take true pride in this event and where it’s come.”
Gator Country reporter Amy Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/msamycampbell.