Red-White Night at Barnhill Arena wasn't anything like I anticipated. Ultimately, I came away with a little better feel for (burnt) orange. And, maybe pink.
The star attraction was illusionist Jim Munroe, a former University of Texas pitcher. He used his magic skills -- and they are considerable -- to talk about his new walk as a Christian. It revolves around the diagnosis and cure from a rare form of leukemia. His bone marrow match was a 19-year-old female, the only perfect genetic match out of a bank of 16 million.
Munroe joked that he now has XX chromosomes and has a new found love of pink. He wore a pink tie and referenced that color several times during his show that he calls The Maze.
Munroe spoke on behalf of the Athletes In Action ministry on the UA campus. There were maybe 2,500 in attendance, including a large number of UA students.
The crowd was spell bound as Munroe did his magic, all seemingly off of random selections from the audience. He asked questions to produce birth dates and favorite numbers that eventually all added up to a magic number. It would be wrong to give away more.
The show was long and I would have preferred that he got to the finish a little quicker. But it was fantastic. And his Faith based message was clear and brilliantly delivered.
Just to be clear on the personal front, I'm a believer and support AIA. Campus leader Tyler McMahan is a good personal friend, introduced by my daughter Sarah. I donate to AIA and feel it is part of my mission, too, as does Sarah.
Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema opened the night. There were parts of the Being Bielema trailer played as he stepped on stage. That, and his message, helped define some areas fans don't know about Bielema.
Bielema, who delivered an Easter talk to his team on Sunday night, supports AIA. He's been a part of AIA at every stop in his coaching career dating back to his time at Iowa. He especially likes the Ultimate Training Camp that AIA hosts in Colorado in the summer. UA athletes have gone to that program every year since Bielema arrived at Arkansas.
Dan Skipper, Austin Allen, Cody Hollister, Rafe Peavey, Toby Baker, Kevin Richardson and Dwayne Eugene are among the football players scheduled to attend the leadership camp this summer.
Bielema said when arrived at Arkansas one of the things that "jumped out" was the open nature of Faith in all avenues of life.
"It was very obvious that I came to the Bible belt," he said. "It's very unique here that everyone is open to Faith. I was pleased that AIA was here on the campus because I've been involved at all my stops.
"I've had a chance to be a part of what is happening here (with AIA) and I take the opportunity to talk about Faith with my players. I tell them that no matter how much money you acquire during your life, you can't buy an extra day. I stress it."
Bielema indicated that Munroe gave his magic show and message to football team members earlier in the week. The coach quickly bowed away to let Munroe do his stuff.
Munroe dazzled with card tricks and utilized audience cell phones at several points that seemed to capture the younger set. There was a finishing act with a knife that made everyone squirm. He bounced the point of the knife into a board around the fingers of his hand. I handled it alright the first time he did it. But then he put on a hood and did it again. I wanted him to stop.
My daughter and I both noticed that there were no puncture marks on his hand before he started so there was a feeling that he probably could handle the trick. He did, sort of emphasizing the final point.
That was the last thing before Bo Mattingly interviewed a group of UA athletes active in AIA, including football players Juan Day and Skipper. Both were remarkably candid with how their relationship with Christ intensified through tough times with football.
Skipper, the 6-10 offensive tackle, spoke of the difficult moments after his freshman year when two key penalties impacted the result in a loss to Texas A&M. He said his mentors at AIA scooped him up during that dark next week. He said teammates and coaches reached out to him, too, but he sought AIA.
Day has fought back from ACL surgeries to both knees. The first came during high school and was handled poorly. He pulled back from teammates and even his younger brother. After mentoring from AIA after arriving at Arkansas, his Faith became the focal part of his life. The second ACL in his first spring with the Hogs was hardly a hurdle because of that foundation.
There were other stories from athletes in track, soccer, volleyball and gymnastics. They involved personal battles that were solved based on Faith with help from their AIA mentors. All were moving.
I was moved by Munroe, too. I'm not a big fan of the Texas Longhorns, but I will add him to my short list of those types that I like. Perhaps he's one in 16 million.