YOUNGSTOWN - Organizers of the fifth annual Men's Rally in the Valley attracted an estimated 4,000-plus men by noon Saturday at the Covelli Centre to hear a full slate of inspirational speakers and Christian music.
The religious show, which has grown larger each year, was highlighted by a special message by Phil Robertson, head of the family and founder of Duck Commander Co., the setting for the popular A&E television series, "Duck Dynasty."
Julie Johnson and her 13-year-old son Hayden and two of his friends got a special visit with Robertson and some of his family members before he hit the stage. "My son was six months old when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The Men of Faith prayed for him and he turned 13 (years old) last week," Johnson said. She said the Robertson family took time to pray with the boy backstage, leaving him star struck but still humble in his faith in God.
Men rush to the front of the stage and show support during the Men's Rally in the Valley at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown on Saturday. A record crowd showed up at the fifth annual event. (Special to the Salem News/R. Michael Semple)
"It all boils down to faith, family and ducks. That's what we like to say," said Alan Robertson, the oldest son of Phil and a preacher as well. "The first priority is faith and then family, of course, followed by whatever your passion is. With us it's ducks," he said, referring to the duck calls that made the outspoken family famous.
"It was clear from the start that Bing wasn't going to take no for an answer," Robertson said, calling attention to Walter "Bing" Newton, a retired teacher and track coach from Salem who is considered the founder and lead organizer of the rally.
Newton was on vacation when he reportedly sought out the Robertsons at a church service in West Monroe, La., and convinced them to attend Saturday's daylong event.
"These folks get 200 to 400 requests a day. But I've learned whatever happened in life, happens for a reason," Newton said. "I never dreamed this is where we'd be after five years. These men have come here with a purpose. They know it's important for them to stand up stand up in their family and in their community. No retreat," he said.
Meanwhile, Robertson, referred to himself as a redneck from Louisiana with a C average in his schooling.
He took issue with the Ten Commandments being taken out of the courtroom, insisting the commandments belong in the court since those who break any number of the them wind up before a judge.
The men who converged on the center were treated to several inspirational speakers, starting with NFL Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary. He was followed by Rod Hairston, chaplain with the Baltimore Ravens, who showed off two of his own Super Bowl rings.
"You don't have time for games anymore. The clock is ticking. I need a man to take a stand," Hairston said, challenging the audience to take the lead as a husband, a father, a neighbor and a friend.
Since the rally began in 2010, the events typically draw between 3,000 and 4,000 men. Organizers said between 6,500 and 7,000 seats were made available Saturday. The event was also streamed live to 21 countries through the First Fruits network.
For the first time ever, at least 20 men were baptized on the floor of the center.
And as part of the event this year, men challenged themselves to walk an 18-mile stretch from the north, east and west to the Covelli Center symbolizing the distance from Jericho to Jerusalem.
Crosses made out of giant tree limbs were carried by teams leaving sites in Hermitage, Pa., Kinsman and Lake Milton.
Next year, organizers have plans to add another cross coming from East Liverpool to the south.