What Began as a Young Basketball Coach’s Vision Has Permeated the Culture of Sports and Reached Millions of Coaches and Athletes
November 8, 2021
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Sixty-seven years ago, a young basketball coach wondered why athletes endorsed products like shaving cream and cigarettes, but not a Christian lifestyle. That insight became the backbone for one of the largest sports organizations that has a vision to see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.
This week on November 10, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org) is marking 67 years of staying true to the mission of leading every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.
“It is an amazing honor for the entire Fellowship of Christian Athletes family to reflect on 67 years and witness all God has done through this ministry,” said FCA President and CEO Shane Williamson. “Over the decades, countless FCA pioneers sacrificed much so that millions of coaches and athletes today could draw nearer to Christ through the sports they love. God has done an amazing work in and through all of us and those on whose shoulders we stand, and we are incredibly grateful for the initial obedience of [founder] Don McClanen to pursue ‘God’s amazing, miraculous dream’ that continues to this day. We may never know the full impact of FCA around the globe, but life change has happened, and continues to happen, in the hearts of many through the ministry of FCA.”
That young basketball coach with a vision was the late Don McClanen, who founded the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 1954. But for seven years before that, he prayed about what the organization would look like and whom it would serve. He joined forces with the other FCA “Founding Fathers”—Dr. Louis H. Evans, Dr. Roe Johnston and Branch Rickey, among others—who made FCA come to life.
Evans had encouraged McClanen to write to other athletic greats who were also strong in their faith—greats like football stars Doak Walker and Otto Graham; baseball players Carl Erskine, Robin Roberts and Alvin Dark; Olympians Bob Mathias and Bob Richards; coaching and front office legends Amos Alonzo Stagg, Bud Wilkinson and Clarence “Biggie” Munn; and even broadcasters Tom Harmon and Red Barber. In all, 19 letters were mailed, each carefully laying out McClanen’s God-given desire for what would become FCA.
Fourteen of those 19 men told McClanen they were interested. But Rickey, the then-Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager who had signed Jackie Robinson, didn’t answer McClanen’s letter. But the young coach pressed on for a meeting with him. He promised to drive to Pittsburgh to meet with Rickey on his own dime for a five-minute face-to-face. The meeting lasted five hours, and the rest is history. Three months later and with a $10,000 gift from a Pittsburgh businessman, FCA became a reality, chartered in Oklahoma on November 10, 1954.
The first FCA National Conference was held in 1956 in Estes Park, Colo.—a precursor to today’s FCA Camps, which are now a staple of FCA’s ministry, growing to 697 Camps both nationally and globally with an attendance of 57,613 campers this past summer.
Likewise, FCA recently completed its 18th annual student-led and student-driven Fields of Faith events on October 13, where tens of thousands of student-athletes, coaches, parents and community members worshipped together, heard from inspiring speakers, prayed and committed to read their Bible at upwards of 500 gatherings on athletic fields in the U.S. and globally.
Building on the words of Billy Graham, who said, “A coach will influence more people in a year than most people will in a lifetime,” FCA began focusing on reaching coaches as well as athletes. Coaching legends such as Tom Landry, Tom Osborne, Bobby Bowden, Grant Teaff, Frank Broyles, Dean Smith, Kay Yow, Tony Dungy, Raymond Berry and Jerry Kindall have joined FCA over the years to impact countless athletes and fellow coaches.
View a timeline of Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ 67-year history here, including videos, quotes, articles, leader profiles, Camp themes, photos and more.
FCA’s theme for 2021 is Pursue, based on 1 Timothy 6:11: “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” FCA encourages its members to pursue God’s use of His Word as an anchor, grounding Christians as they look to His Kingdom.
Since 1956, the impact on coaches and athletes has been the main focus of FCA Camps, with each Camp offering fun, outstanding sports training, inspiring speakers, strong friendships, and lasting change. View the FCA Camps video here and browse camps by location, sport or date at www.fcacamps.org.
To interview a Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative about the FCA impact and the platform that so many professional coaches and athletes have experienced, contact Media@HamiltonStrategies.com, Jeff Tolson, 610.584.1096, ext. 108, or Deborah Hamilton, ext. 102.