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Saw You at the Pole rally takes on different look this year

Kevin Farr,
The Bryan County News
Approximately 1,200 area students packed into the Durant High School gymnasium for last year's Saw You at the Pole rally. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, attendance will be limited this year to 400 in-person guests, however the rally will also be available for viewing online.

For more than a decade, the biggest youth event across Southern Oklahoma in the fall has been the annual Saw You at the Pole rally in Durant.

Thousands of youngsters have converged on Bloomer Sullivan Arena at the Southeastern Oklahoma State University campus for the celebration, which began as an offshoot of the nationally recognized See You at the Pole rallies all across the country.

See You at the Pole a global day of student prayer.

For the local Saw You at the Pole event, which occurs annually on the evening of See You at the Pole, a whopping 2,200 students in 2014 is still the record attendance for a single year.

Even with renovations occurring at the spacious Southeastern Arena last year which left the space off limits, more than 1,200 packed into the Durant High School gymnasium to carry on the tradition.

Organizers were hoping to return with an even bigger production this year, but thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and restrictions, the long-running event was in jeopardy for 2020.

“We initially thought this would be a low year or we may not even be able to do it at all,” Stuart Tilley, the event’s coordinator, commented. “But, I thought back to Romans 8:28 which says, ‘For God works all things together for good those who love him and are called according to his purpose’.

“We adjusted the plan for safety to follow the protocol and came up what we feel like will be a really good event in a bad time.”

The end result will be a part in-person, part virtual event that will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. Sept. 23 with the same lineup of speakers and performers on tap.

Well-known inspirational Pastor Ed Newton will return from San Antonio, Texas, to deliver the main message following up his previous appearance two years ago.

The Cody Dunbar Band will also be in from Oklahoma City for the musical presentation that will originate from Durant’s First Baptist Church, 124 W. Evergreen, and stream live at sawyouatthepole.com.

“We’ve actually had them booked since our Saw You at the Pole event last year and were nervous that it might be tough for them to get here,” Tilley said. “We are thankful that they are willing to still come and serve.”

In order to make things safe and social distanced, event staff decided to limit the live audience to 400 people and allowed sign ups for those spots, which filled quickly.

They also informed Durant-area churches and others that had been a regular part of the ministry for many years early about a chance to register for the short supply of seats.

Since that time, organizers have been getting the word out to other churches in the area as well as throughout the state how they can tune in for watch parties at their locations.

Tilley has heard from so many, he believes this year’s event may end up being the largest-viewed ever.

“It’s a unique situation where we first counted our situation as a hinderance, but it may actually be a blessing to be able to spread the word to even more people than we would have,” he added.

“We have gotten the word out to smaller churches and others that might not have the opportunity to travel here on a Wednesday night before because of the distance. Now they will have a chance to tune in from the comfort of their own church or living room home.

“We don’t really know beforehand how many are going to tune in since there is no registration for the watch party, but we’ve had churches from all different parts of the state of Oklahoma call and ask about the link to our web feed,” Tilley said. “I really think this will be our largest audience ever.”

Pastor Ed Newton, shown during the 2018 Saw You at the Pole rally, is the scheduled  headline speaker for this year's event.