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APU's Night of Champions Celebrates 30 Years of Outreach

by University Relations

This March, APU partnered with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to host the 30th Night of Champions—a beloved tradition complete with dynamic speakers, top Christian music artists, engaging activities, and a presentation of the Gospel for local junior high and high school students.

In celebration of this anniversary, the event centered on the theme God First—APU’s motto, drawn from the greatest Christian commandment given by Jesus in Matthew 22:37. More than 3,000 attended.

Night of Champions began in 1985 when then-undergraduate Steve Connor ’86 held a barbecue, drawing more than 100 local youth to hear testimonies from dynamic figures exemplifying strong Christian faith. The next year, 600 young students attended, and the number continued to grow, eventually filling the Felix Event Center with almost 4,000 students eager to hear the Gospel message. “The root word of succession is success,” said Connor, now founder and director of Sports Outreach International.“As Christians, we aim to serve in ways that will continue to impact the Kingdom long after we are gone.” Connor’s daughter, Hayleigh ’15, now carries on her family legacy by volunteering at the event.

“Since 1985, Night of Champions has explored what it means to be a champion,” said Mike Barnett ’97, director of track and field and Night of Champions. “Society tells us we must succeed in the world, but our speakers reveal the Truth: to live as a champion means to follow Christ.”

Sharing powerful testimonies and stories of overcoming obstacles, this year’s speakers included 2014 Winter Olympian Johnny Quinn, four-time member of the U.S. bobsled team and former professional football wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers; and Terrell Watson ’15, a star running back on the APU football team, Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and NFL prospect. “It was incredible to watch thousands of kids getting fired up about following Jesus,” said Watson.

Powerful Christian entertainment complemented these inspirational messages as international hip-hop/rap artist Transparent and band Urban Rescue encouraged audiences through music. Although Night of Champions consistently delivers a high entertainment factor, the strongest impact comes from the final presentation of the Gospel that changes the lives of hundreds of young students every year. “The enduring and overarching goal for the last 30 years remains evangelism,” said Barnett. “We want kids to initiate or rekindle a relationship with Christ that their churches and youth groups will then nurture.” This year, more than 500 youth committed or rededicated their lives to Christ.

The night before, APU brought together 80 individuals involved in Night of Champions over the years for a celebratory dinner. “As we look back on the past three decades, we stand humbled and amazed at the many ways God has moved through this event,” said Terry Franson, Ph.D., senior vice president for student life/dean of students, who has helped facilitate Night of Champions since its genesis. “The lives of the people who have attended and served have forever changed.”