Michael Miller's weekly religion column focuses on Christian men's support group In the Zone. Joe Theismann is participating.
In the Zone has had to deal with a rainout, lineup changes and an unsteady rotation, but the Christian men's event is ready to step up to the plate at 6 p.m. Friday.
Actually, all the baseball references are probably inappropriate, since the majority of sports figures expected to take part in the four-hour Peoria Civic Center event aimed at men are from football.
Joe Theismann, for example, the University of Notre Dame quarterback who led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl victory in 1983 and lately has done game commentary for ESPN. Or Spencer Tillman, the former NFL running back who now is lead analyst for CBS's "College Football Today."
The lineup of men from the athletic and business arenas is fluid, changing from week to week depending on availability. Trying to make it to the Peoria In the Zone, for instance, is Ron Zook, head football coach at the University of Illinois. That's the first day of training camp, though, so he's not sure if he'll be there.
Peorian Jeff Schwarzentraub, a 1980s football star at Richwoods High School now involved in ministry, will be there. In fact, he has nailed down a regular In the Zone assignment as their go-to guy for summaries at the end of each of the event's "quarters" of discussion on topics important to men, such as fatherhood.
In the Zone initially was supposed to happen in Peoria on June 16, but ticket sales lagged due to lack of exposure, said event co-founder Joe Pettigrew. It probably didn't help that it also was Father's Day weekend as well as the weekend of the Steamboat Festival.
Originally scheduled for the arena at $60 per person, the venue has changed to the Civic Center Theater and the ticket price is down to $39 (or $35 for people in groups of 10 or more).
Ticket sales are still weak, though. Civic Center spokeswoman Melissa Aga said attendance is expected to be around 500, with a lot of that being in walk-up sales.
Rich Gerberding, a member of The Grove Church who is involved in several men's ministries, pointed out that the event is new, so it hasn't had a chance to build up steam. The Peoria event is only the fourth In the Zone.
Pettigrew, a Memphis, Tenn.-based consultant who started the event with former pro soccer player Kyle Rote Jr., said In the Zone's target is the guy in his 20s or 30s who wants to hear other men talking about being a father, a husband and an employee -- and finding the right balance for it all.
The format reflects a sports talk show, with Tillman and the guests, who change from city to city, sitting around on a sports-oriented set and talking. In between, video segments feature people like Tony Dungy, head coach of Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, and Lovie Smith, the Chicago Bears head coach who lost the Super Bowl to Dungy this year.
The sports and guy talk doesn't overshadow the faith aspect, though, Pettigrew said.
"It's biblically based, every piece of every bit," he said. "Our goal is for guys that might not be going to church every Sunday, this might be something they want to come hear. It's biblically based but also offers life principles."
That's where Schwarzentraub, who runs One Heartbeat Ministries in Peoria, comes in.
"I give the perspective from, 'Here's what God's word has to say about it,' " he said.
In the Zone is also shorter than typical men's events like Promise Keepers, which usually run a full day to two days. That's because, Pettigrew said, many of the men surveyed before In the Zone was launched indicated they just don't have that kind of time thanks to softball, tee ball, "honey-do's" and other activities.
"Our hearts were for this guy, 30 years old that's trying to make the mortgage payment, trying to figure this marriage thing out, trying to figure out women, trying to be the dad," Pettigrew said.
While it takes a sports approach, even men who could take or leave sports will gain from coming, Schwarzentraub said.
"It was designed with the intent to capture guys that have a heart for sports, but if you came and you weren't the biggest sports fan in the world, you'd still walk away and have a good time with the whole thing," he said.
Michael Miller covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, or send e-mail to email@example.com. Comments may be published.