A year ago, the stadiums were empty.

At the U.S. Open, Arthur Ashe Stadium echoed like an empty cavern, its silence disturbed by the smash of a tennis racquet on the ball and the grunts of the competitors. Major League Baseball completed an abbreviated season in front of empty seats with cardboard cutouts serving as eerie reminders of the people who were not there. Some resorted to recordings in an effort to emulate crowd noise.

All that changed last week. The fans are back!

At the U.S Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, the players and the commentators were in agreement: The most important factor in the tournament was the crowd. About 27,000 fans, including past champions and celebrities, packed Arthur Ashe Stadium to cheer for Novak Djokovic to win the calendar Grand Slam.

Djokovic’s statement after his heartbreaking loss, falling one match short of completing the calendar Grand Slam, captured the importance of the crowd.

“I would like to say that tonight, even though I have not won the match, my heart is filled with joy and I am the happiest man alive because you guys made me feel very special on the court,” he said.

71,829 showed up at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta to watch No. 1 Alabama rout No. 14 Miami. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, about 76,000 fans went ballistic as the unranked Razorbacks dismantled No. 15 Texas. About 84,000 turned out at Neyland stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, to watch the University of Tennessee battle Bowling Green.

Coaches, teams, competitors and commentators all agree, the crowd makes a difference. We always suspected it was true, but now, after a year of empty arenas, we know without a doubt the power of the home-field advantage. There are no spectators. Everyone present is a participant.

At Texas A&M, it’s known as the 12th man. Each and every game the student body stands for the entire game, a symbol of the 12th man ready to play dating back to 1922 and the legend of E. King Gill.

The book of Hebrews draws on this metaphor to inspire and encourage every believer in his or her devotion to Christ.

“Seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the initiator and the finisher of our race,” (Hebrews 12).

The Apostle Paul makes a similar reference: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize. Run in such a way that you may win!”

Can you hear them? Those who have gone before, those who have paid the price, those who have finished well; they are cheering from the ramparts of heaven. We’re all participants. Each and every one makes a difference each and every day. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whether young or old, there’s a race to be run and there’s a race to be won.

Bill Tinsley reflects on current events and life experience from a faith perspective. His books are available at www.tinsleycenter.com. Email bill@tinsleycenter.com.

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