An estimated 700 middle and high schoolers came out for this tradition.
For 35 years Azusa Pacific University hosted hundreds, sometimes thousands of California teens and their pastors and coaches at the Night of Champions (NOC). Sponsored by In-N-Out and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, NOC brings youths a night of fun as well as a fresh look at the Gospel. On Saturday, Nov. 4, APU returned with NOC for the first time since 2019.
Delanie Gearing, a fifth-year senior getting her master’s, worked registration for the event. She discussed how all of the planning since last March was very rewarding. “It’s awesome to have the youth back and we’re excited to have them back for many years to come at APU,” Gearing said.
This year’s event took place at the Dillon Recreation Center where there were many unique bouncy houses, a spray painting station, a raffle drawing and music provided by DJ Stone.
Members from a young adult and youth group from Chino Hills all expressed they were excited to be at NOC together. At first, 10th grader Jose Jarquin said he was there mainly for the food. However, upon further reflection, he added, “this young adult group is like people I got close with over the years; grew up with them you know so it’s kind of like another family and events like this one bring us closer.”
Several APU student volunteers contributed to the afternoon. For two hours APU cheerleaders surrounded the recreation center hyping up participants. Cheer team members Faith Foiles and Peyton Laraway expressed it was a great way for everyone to interact with the APU community.
“I just hope everyone has fun and that there are future students of APU here today,” Foiles said. Laraway added that it seemed everyone was having a great time, commenting on a few younger girls showing off their cartwheels and flips in front of them.
Third grader Ruthie Canales attested to the vibrant atmosphere. Her goal was to try every bouncy house ride and game. During the interview, she noted, the ninja rush, jungle house and giant slides were the best. She also enjoyed the music especially when the DJ took her request of Justin Bieber.
Part two of NOC shifted with a teaching of the gospel. Inside, five individuals shared their testimonies.
Ruthie’s brother, fifth grader Joseph Canales, talked about the lessons he wanted others to learn that night. “A lot of people know about Jesus, but not a lot of people actually trust and count on him for everything,” Canales said.
This ties into this year’s NOC theme “limitless,” based on the verse Luke 1:37 which says that nothing is impossible with God.
“Limitless,” for Joseph Canales, means that God can solve the world’s most difficult Rubix cube and for Ruthie Canalas it teaches that while humans may not be able to touch the sun, God can.
Additionally, Ruthie Canales had her own thoughts on what NOC attendees should hear.
“There’s a lot of things to learn about Jesus. They can learn that people punish; someone got stoned for believing in God and Jesus’s brother got thrown off the roof of a building just because he believed in God,” Canales said, explaining that the participants should be grateful they can worship freely.
The lineup included world-renowned yo-yo master, Michael Lee, who shared the gospel through yo-yo, as well as national champion softball player Alyssa Brito, dean of students and campus pastor Coba Canales, and spoken word artist Alexander James.
The moment Joseph Canales looked forward to most was hearing his dad, Coba Canales speak. “It’s like if I didn’t know my dad I would’ve said ‘Wow that kid must be lucky, but then because I am his kid I’m like ‘okay I’m used to it,’” Canales said.
All of the speakers though, got the chance to be a part of NOC’s rich history. As former APU head track and field coach Terry Franson told Rachel White “I estimate…100,000 people have heard the Gospel at Night of Champions and many thousands have accepted Christ.” And perhaps this year, hundreds more got to live into this long-withstanding legacy.