Seth Franco knows how to lead a crowd. Even before the recognizable Harlem Globetrotter's theme music began, even before he walked on the Moose Lake High School auditorium stage November 5, Franco endeared himself to the hearts of men, women and children present.
The professional ball handler passed a spinning basketball from one member of the audience to another, giving instant lessons on how to keep the moving orb on the tip of one finger.
Eager expectation, admiration and joy was obvious in the eyes of audience members as Franco made his way to as many people as possible before he climbed on stage to greet everyone.
When he did, his control extended even further.
"Everyone say, 'Hi Seth!'" said Franco.
Everyone said, "Hi Seth!"
"It's good to be here in Minnesota," said Franco. "Hey, everybody, let's do a little New York Harlem Shake Shoulder Shrug."
For those in the group who had no idea what he was talking about, music filled the auditorium while Franco demonstrated the Harlem Shake. It only lasted a few seconds, but when it was over, the music changed to a soft, melodious rhythm while the entertainer called out the next directive.
"If you don't like to dance, that's okay," said Franco. "Everybody loves a good hug. Stand up right now, wherever you are. Stand up. Come on. Give someone a big hug."
Laughter erupted. Everyone got to their feet. Everyone hugged. Then Franco was back at it.
"I talked with your kids in school earlier today about what I love the most," said Franco, "and that's my family. I've been married for nine years to a beautiful girl named Sarah. I have a 6-year-old daughter. Her name is Jade.
"I shared my story with your students earlier today. I reminded them that life is a gift; that every single one of us, like a basketball, we go through times where we feel pushed down, but like a basketball, you can't stay down. You've got to bounce back."
Franco went on to say that famous people like Michael Jordan, in his career, missed 12,345 shots. Babe Ruth struck out over 1,331 times.
"You know what," said Franco, "being a champion is not about being perfect. It's about never giving up."
Each tidbit of valuable information was interspersed with more directives, which the audience willingly followed. Then, his story began in earnest.
"For me, when I was growing up, my favorite thing to do was play basketball," said Franco. "I really was in love with the sport.
"The only problem is, I was born with what's called hip dysplasia. If you don't know what hip dysplasia is, it's improper bone structure. I was born with a very mild case, which they say is worse because they go undetected."
By the time Franco's case was detected, he was a professional ball player with the Harlem Glob Trotters.
"For years I had hidden the pain," said Franco. "I didn't tell anyone. I just kept going until, one day, I wasn't able to move."
Franco's career with the Globetrotters ended not long after it began. Not only did he suffer intense physical pain, he entered severe depression. Though he did not go into detail with his young audience, he did emphasize a well-learned lesson.
"I've learned what life is really all about," said Franco. "It's not about being better than anyone. It's about being the best you can be. Life is a gift. If you believe life is a gift, clap your hands."
Everyone clapped their hands.
There was continual interaction between the performer and audience members, whether it was bringing volunteers up on stage or throwing gift basketballs to outstretched hands or getting everyone to think about what he was saying. Then, Franco got to the point of his visit.
"Everybody's broken," said Franco. "Nobody's perfect. Matter of fact, the Bible says, when you come to God just the way you are, he doesn't push you away. He doesn't laugh at you. When God sees us, he says, 'I have scars, too, and I think you're pretty cool.'
"If you've ever been hurt, there is someone who knows exactly how you feel, more than anyone else in this world. His name is Jesus."
As Franco went on, he told everyone his greatest fear was not being able to take care of his wife and child if he couldn't play basketball.
"When you get that good at something, you don't spend a lot of time learning to do anything else," said Franco, "but you know what God said? He told me to trust him. 'I'll take care of your family. No one loves your daughter more than me.'"
Franco did trust God. He now travels the world doing performances with a basketball, sharing his love for Jesus. He is able to provide for his family.
Before the evening came to a close, Franco reached out to everyone with an opportunity to pray. Many did. He recommended that people meet with one of the representatives from the local churches who were present that evening.
"I'm going to leave Minnesota tonight to return to my home," said Franco, "but it's important for you to keep learning. Remember, when you're hurting, don't run from God. Run to him."