Evangelism in the field: Former NFL pro visits schools & corrections to offer students & inmates a winning way

by Karen L. Willoughby |

(Winning Edge)Devin Wyman, former defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, lifts two elementary school girls high above his head to show he doesn't just talk strong; he is strong.

BEAUMONT (Christian Examiner) – Devin Wyman was 19, 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds when he was arrested for dealing drugs in Palo Alto, Calif.

He'd been saying for years he'd be on television, but he'd meant for his football prowess.

Instead, his arrest was covered by local news stations.

Today the ex-con who went on to become a defensive tackle for the New England Patriots--and wears a Super Bowl ring--credits the four years he spent in prison with turning his life around.

He'll be telling his story in early December as one of several guest speakers during The Winning Edge's week of ministry in southeast Texas schools and correctional facilities.

(Winning Edge)Devin Wyman, former defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, shows his strength by doing pushups with a teenage boy on his back.

"By adding our strengths to existing programs in schools and prisons, and through sports and rallies, The Winning Edge helps others overcome limits in often challenging situations," said Robert Smith, founder and president of The Winning Edge, a non-profit ministry.

Last year, with 437 volunteers and five pro athletes, 15,573 middle school students attending 47 schools were impacted, which resulted in 163 student-to-counselor interventions.

Seventeen students from area private schools (who invite Winning Edge to present a Gospel message) made professions of faith, as did 1,270 prison inmates who took part in the non-mandatory programs.

This December, The Winning Edge will hold 60 school assemblies in and within an hour of Beaumont.

Speakers include Wyman, Clarence Lee, who set the NFL record on the bench press while trying out for the Dallas cowboys; world record basketball handler Tanya Crevier; high wire acrobat Tino Wallenda; and seven-time world powerlift champion James Henderson.

The Winning Edge augments school safety and drug-free programs, and this year will have challenged more than 19,000 students to make the right choices in life. While The Winning Edge cannot take the gospel to local public schools, it makes a difference by encouraging at-risk students to ask for help if they need it, leaders explained.

"What separates us from every other school program is that we give every student a [school safety] response card they can fill out at the end of the program and turn in," said Cal Smith, Beaumont-area coordinator for The Winning Edge. "We have a team of retired teachers and counselors who look for red flags.

"From these cards we've been able to discover students who are cutting themselves, or being abused, or using drugs, or threatening suicide," Smith continued. "School counselors and principals are able to provide immediate help and start interventions. Our goal is that students will hear this program multiple times throughout their school years, learn about making right choices, and know where to turn for help when they need it."

(Winning Edge)Inmates listen in rapt attention as a Winning Edge volunteer shares how God redirected his life.

The non-profit also provides specialized prison ministry training that includes prison protocols, logistics and methods, as well as other workshop sessions to help local ministries become more effective, and it will be visiting 15 correctional facilities Dec. 5-6.

"The prison outreach component is extensive, and includes high, medium and minimum security units," Smith said.

Smith hopes to enlist and train at least 500 adult male volunteers to do ministry in 13 men's correctional facilities, and 100 adult female volunteers for work with two women's units.

"We open the program with a musician or comedian, something rock 'n roll or country," Smith said about the optional events for prisoners.

Inmates may do other things in place of attending.

"Then we introduce a speaker, who may be a pro athlete or an ex-inmate, to give his testimony and share how he came to faith in Christ. Finally, we refer the inmates [who come forward freely] to volunteers from the Christian community who will walk them through the simple steps to faith and lead those interested into a relationship with Christ."

In advance of the prison events, The Winning Edge will send out cooking teams to serve up brisket and link dinners to correctional officers and staff, and to local police and sheriff's officers, about 4,000 in all, as a show of support for the work they perform to serve and protect communities.

"Our passion is to help school children make right choices, and to see prisoners come to Christ," Smith said. "Instead of saying, 'Y'all come to us,' this ministry is all about 'Let's go to our community.'"