For Immediate Release
March 23, 2017
Deborah Hamilton, Hamilton Strategies, 215.815.7716, 610.584.1096, ext. 102, or Beth Harrison, 610.584.1096, ext. 104, Media@HamiltonStrategies.com
Dedicated Female Coaches Share Their Faith Journeys with Fellowship of Christian Athletes
As Women’s Basketball Kicks Off Exciting Sweet Sixteen Action This Weekend, Coaches Stress a Desire to Impact Players for a Higher Purpose
KANSAS CITY, Mo—Not to be overshadowed by the men’s bracket, the women head to their own exciting NCAA basketball championship action, with 16 teams looking for a sweet win this weekend.
Several of the coaches for the top women’s teams have talked to Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org) about their faith, and how they strive to reach their players on a much higher level than the basketball court.
Playing on Saturday is Florida State, who will take on Oregon State, and UCLA, facing UConn. Both Sue Semrau, head coach of Florida State, and Cori Close, who leads the UCLA Bruins, have ties to FCA and are active in sharing their love of Christ with all they meet through the game of basketball.
Sue Semrau | Florida State
A Washington native, Semrau played college basketball at the University of Puget Sound and then UC San Diego. After graduation, she worked in public relations work for professional soccer franchises before landing her first coaching job—or jobs—leading the women’s basketball and soccer programs at Division III Occidental College in Los Angeles.
“I didn’t think I would ever be a coach,” Semrau said. “But once I started, I just really fell in love with the game even more, and it brought about the merging of basketball and my faith.”
A lifelong believer in God, it was through a volunteer stint at an FCA Camp that Semrau began to understand the significance of a relationship with Christ. After hearing the testimony of fellow basketball coach Debbie Haliday, Semrau made an on-the-spot decision to begin a new walk with Christ. She began attending a vibrant local church and delved deep into the gift she had been given.
“It wasn’t a decision about Jesus,” she said. “The Bible says that even Satan believes and shudders when it comes to Jesus. I always believed in Jesus, but so what? So does the devil. It’s become less about believing in Jesus and all about truly accepting the gift of salvation I was being offered and what I would do with it.
“It’s like a basketball pass,” she continued. “You can choose to receive a pass, or you can do nothing and just let it go out of bounds. But once you receive the pass, the real question becomes what you’ll do with it. I realized it was time for me to create scoring opportunities.”
Semrau’s career continued, and at an FCA Camp she met FCA Hall of Champions inductee Jane Albright, who later invited Semrau to her coaching staff at Northern Illinois. Three seasons later, Albright moved to a coaching position at the University of Wisconsin and took Semrau with her as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. At that same FCA Camp in 1997, Semrau met folks from Florida State who wanted to interview her for an open head women’s basketball coaching job. The Seminoles routinely found themselves at the bottom of the ACC standings during that era and hadn’t had a winning record in 10 seasons.
“I had no desire to go to Florida State,” Semrau recalled.
But thanks to her renewed relationship with God, she was able to hear His call as clearly as the one she received from FSU administrators. Semrau felt Him telling her to take the next step and go where He was leading.
“I really felt like God was asking me if I feared Him or the world more,” she said. “The world said the head coaching position at Florida State was not a good job and that the Seminoles would never be good at basketball. It was a football school. The world also said that you don’t take your first Division I head coaching job in the ACC.”
But with some fear and trembling, Semrau agreed to head to Tallahassee to take over a team that hadn’t reached double figures in wins in four seasons. From day one, she steadily built the Seminoles’ program and continued to pour into the FCA community, serving as a coach and speaker at various FCA Camps and clinics throughout the country.
Fast-forward 20 years, and Semrau’s Seminoles are perennial powerhouse contenders. Did she ever think she would spend two decades at Florida State? Certainly not. But now she knows the God brings all things together for her good.
“I just don’t pay a lot of attention to the future, because, if I could have planned my life in advance, this would not be what I planned,” she said. “It’s been incredible. It’s like an adventure. What’s God going to do next? What does He want me to do next? I certainly never guessed I’d be at Florida State for 16 years, so whatever He wants me to do and wherever He wants me to go, I’m open to it.”
Cori Close | UCLA
Named the women’s basketball head coach at UCLA in 2011, Cori Close told FCA she knew UCLA was a great fit for her from the start.
“I’ve always prayed that God would prepare me to accept the right position when it came along, and this was it,” she said. “It’s not a job; it’s a lifestyle, and I’m getting to share it with friends and family who have invested so much in me. Even in the midst of the chaos and the hard transitioning years ahead, I’m very peaceful because I believe it is the place God has for me.”
And during those chaotic times of her job, Close says she focuses on phrase, “give us this day, our daily bread,” from the Lord’s Prayer.
“Each day can be overwhelming, and there are so many things that I don’t get done on my to-do list,” Close added. “I’m literally just asking God to give me what I need for that day. When I pray that verse fervently, live it out and let it sink into my heart, I feel closer to Jesus, and that’s where I need to stay.”
Close also told FCA that one of her coaching goals is to ensure that all she encounters feel valued and loved, whether they share her faith or not.
“I just want to enter their world and serve them and love them in a way that reflects what I’ve received from Jesus,” she said. “I believe this is my ministry and what God has called me to. The average Division-I basketball player spends more than 3,000 hours in his or her sport over four years, and only 4 percent of those hours are in games. No one will spend more personal time with the players than their coaches. I pray that, for me, during those hours, God will provide me with opportunities to affect the lives of our players in deep and meaningful ways.”
Close went on to say how FCA has influenced her outlook—both on sports and on life.
“FCA has been a tremendous blessing,” Close said. “I’ve connected with some great people through it, especially women who have sacrificed so much to invest in student-athletes at all levels. Girls are seeking places where they can ask hard questions and get answers. We need ministries like FCA so that they have a place to go with these questions and to learn how to walk through life with Christ.”
Other coaches whose teams were part of the exciting NCAA women’s tournament included:
- Sherri Coale, Oklahoma: “If basketball were only about a season or a championship or even a career, it would be way too much time, effort and investment. It has to be about something more. And for us, we realize we have student-athletes for, at most, five years, so we try to get in life skills—ways to go out and make a significant difference in the world. We want to arm our players, and there is no better training round for how to live and make a difference than the field of athletics.” Read Coale’s FCA story here.
- Nadine Morgan, Purdue: “I feel like coaching is a ministry within itself. We’re teaching and doing things related to our sport, but we stress here that it’s not just about basketball; it’s about life lessons. We have to be able to relate what we’re doing as a team to things that occur in real life. I’m working with these young people day in and day out, so I have an opportunity to make a positive impact. It’s a blessing, but at the same time it’s a huge responsibility. But I don’t think God would put us in a position if He didn’t want us to be there.” Read Morgan’s FCA story here.
- Robin Pingeton, Missouri: “As coaches we have an opportunity to impact not only our players but so many in our community, throughout our state and the country. I truly do feel like coaching is a ministry, and it’s not just about taking your Bible out and talking to players about their faith. More importantly, it’s about walking out our faith every day. I know my foundation, the baseline principles in my life and my value system, and it certainly has to continue to grow and get better to help other people grow in their faith and in their walks with the Lord.” Read Pingeton’s FCA stories here and here.
- Charlotte Smith, Elon: “I’m so grateful to God for every door that He opened in my playing career. I never took anything for granted because I knew He had His hand on my life and was orchestrating everything.” Read Smith’s FCA story here.
To interview a representative from Fellowship of Christian Athletes, contact Deborah Hamilton at 215-815-7716 or 610-584-1096, ext. 102, or Beth Harrison at 610-584-1096, ext. 104, Media@HamiltonStrategies.com.