Alumnus Hank Erwin recounts “Woodlawn” story

August 30, 2016

Troy University students heard about the events that inspired the faith-based football movie “Woodlawn” when alumnus Hank Erwin visited the campus on Monday, Aug. 22.

Erwin, whose experiences as chaplain for Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School football team in the early 1970s inspired the film “Woodlawn,” began his collegiate career playing baseball for Troy State University in 1967. The 1972 graduate served in the Alabama State Senate from 2002 until 2010 and was a radio and television broadcaster in the state for more than 35 years.

He recounted how his life changed while a student at TROY during a speech to students, faculty, staff and members of the community in Claudia Crosby Theater on the Troy Campus.

“I was a free spirit, you might say,” he laughed, but it took him two years to realize he wasn’t having fun. Coupled with a major accident that left him bedridden for two months and fearing he’d never walk again, Erwin realized he needed help getting his life in the right direction.

“I’m hurting. I’m miserable. I need help,” he said. The desire drove him to prayer, and Erwin said the change in his life was immediate.

His grades improved, his baseball career took off, he gained friends, and he “slept peacefully for the first time in two years.”

Hank Erwin, right, with Trojans head football coach Neal Brown. Erwin spoke to the TROY football during his visit to the campus on Aug. 22.

Hank Erwin, right, with Trojans head football coach Neal Brown. Erwin spoke to the TROY football team during his visit to the campus on Aug. 22.

He and a friend began reaching out to others on the Troy Campus, and he soon began a study group called Challenge Life that quickly expanded to 600 students.

In 1972, he and his group held a state-wide rally in Sartain Hall, the largest rally up to that point. It was so popular that larger schools such as the University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University held rallies of their own.

It was during this time that he met his wife, Shelia, who was also a student at TROY and taught the women’s Bible study. They were soon married and moved back to Birmingham after graduating.

Erwin said he never wanted to be a coach, but his love of sports led him to start a ministry for athletes, eventually leading him to Woodlawn, a high school that at the time was consumed by racial tension and turmoil, and being threatened with closure.

The “Woodlawn” film, directed by Erwin’s sons Andrew and John, recounts Erwin’s work as chaplain for the football team’s players and coaches.

“We saw a team of hate and turmoil turn into a team of love,” he said. “It was no longer a color thing. It was a brother thing.”

Also during his visit to the Troy Campus, Erwin spoke to the Troy Football team.