Gary Fleming found great success in football, first as a player and later as a coach, but it was a former cheerleader who helped Fleming see how he could influence even more children for Christ.
“During a Montevallo High School reunion … one of the cheerleader captains said to me, ‘Coach Fleming, I want to thank you and Mrs. Fleming for having Bible studies in your home while coaching here. They have carried me through my life,’” Fleming said.
“This is how God pulled our eyes upward, showing us a bigger picture. The children falling through the cracks need more than Vacation Bible School, Sunday School and seasonal parties. We knew God wanted us to find His children, come beside their parents and their teachers and … hold their hands through their young lives to show them God’s love and God’s plan for their future.”
So in 2016, Fleming and his wife, Suzanne, started an after-school ministry for children in Eufaula called Eagle’s Rest Ministries.
The faith-based nonprofit organization’s Eagle’s Club for Kids identifies at-risk children in their early elementary years and mentors them throughout high school and college. The Flemings pick the children up from school, serve them a snack, help them with homework, play games, provide a warm meal and take them home.
They tell the children, “You are special, you are important, you are kind, you are made for greatness and God has a purpose for you.”
Fleming believes that as long as you have a pulse, you have a purpose. For many years Fleming’s purpose centered around football. After graduating from Abbeville High School in 1964, Fleming received a football scholarship to the University of Chattanooga.
Knowing by then God wanted him to preach he transferred to Howard College in Birmingham (now Samford University) after his freshman year to major in religion and play football.
Fleming had four great years at Samford and in 1969 he graduated and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts.
After a knee injury ended his playing career Fleming took a coaching position at Abbeville High School and later coached at Montevallo High School and Briarwood Christian School. Through his coaching career Fleming won five state basketball championships and one state football title.
In April 2019, Fleming was inducted into Samford’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Fleming retired from coaching in 1984 and was pastoring a church in Eufaula when God began to open doors to ministry to at-risk children and youth.
Now the Flemings’ huddle is filled with children who call him Pastor Gary and his game plan includes all kinds of ways to make learning fun. Eagle’s Club for Kids is a “wondrous ministry outside a pulpit,” Fleming said.
“God was preparing us to go out from the building we call church and actually be the church.”