SNELLVILLE - It's a good thing Jeff Francoeur's smile never fades and his hand never cramps.
The Parkview grad and current Atlanta Brave stood patiently for more than an hour in front of two strobe flashes, posing for photos and signing autographs for a special selection of Fellowship of Christian Athletes sponsors, and the group needed the extra time.
In the first ever banquet for the FCA, the organizers and workers at the First Baptist Church in Snellville took the extra minutes provided by the patient Francoeur to set up an extra row of tables for the spillover crowd that filled the convention-ready room.
"I enjoy it," Francoeur said of the attention he receives from fans in Gwinnett County.
The banquet Tuesday was both a chance to honor select student athletes involved in the organization as well as county coaches and raise money for the group with just hired its first full-time director two years ago.
"We have a lot of work to do," director Bill Gifford told the audience.
If the audience was any indication, the group is already thriving. Before the evening began church organizers were planning for about 550 people, said executive pastor Steve Traylor. But that number quickly grew, creating the need for the extra tables.
"This is a packed house," Traylor said.
The FCA started its banquet honoring its male and female athletes of the year, with Parkview's Luke Keller taking the award for the boys and Brooke Hoppmeyer of Mill Creek earning the honor for the girls. It also honored Grayson football coach Mikey Conn, Buford track coach and football assistant David Snell and Parkview track coach and football assistant Mark Whitley.
But the biggest honor of the night went to Collins Hill grad Kyle Maynard with the first Legacy Award. Maynard, the Collins Hill wrestler born with no limbs below his elbow and knees, spoke briefly to the crowd about how the FCA and his relationship with Jesus helped him overcome the challenges in his life.
"Tonight we are here to celebrate something special," Maynard said.
The crowd also heard from South Gwinnett's Tunji Adebayo and Maria Petroni about the importance of FCA in their lives. Both said the organization helped them keep life, school and sports in perspective and that was the message sent in Francoeur's speech.
"Baseball is just a little part of my life," he said. "It is my passion and I love it, but I know it is just a little part of my life."
The event raised thousands of dollars for the FCA with a silent auction before dinner and a live auction after.
SideBar: FCA Awards
In its first banquet the Fellowship of Christian Athletes honored select coaches and players.
· Male Athlete of the Year: Parkview's Luke Keller
· Female Athlete of the Year: Mill Creek's Brooke Hoppmeyer
· FCA Coaches recognition: Grayson football coach Mikey Conn, Buford track coach and football assistant David Snell, Parkview track coach and football assistant Mark Whitley
· Legacy Award: Collins Hill grad Kyle Maynard