What began as a young basketball coach’s vision has permeated the culture of sports and reached millions of coaches and athletes
November 7, 2022
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sixty-eight 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, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org) marks 68 years of staying true to its mission of leading every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.
“It is an incredible honor for the entire Fellowship of Christian Athletes family to reflect on 68 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.”
Added Williamson, “God has done an awesome 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.”
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 — big names 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 Branch 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 name ‘Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ just came naturally,” McClanen explained. “This was a Christian movement totally. We would not be ashamed of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So we decided on ‘Fellowship of Christian Athletes.’ At last, this idea and dream had a name.”
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 839 Camps both nationally and globally with an attendance of 83,421 campers this past summer. FCA now has over 2,500 staff members and over 400 international leaders while serving in 114 countries.
Likewise, FCA recently completed its 19th annual student-led and student-driven Fields of Faith events on October 12, where tens of thousands of student-athletes, coaches, parents and community members worshiped together, heard from inspiring speakers, prayed and committed to read their Bible at hundreds of 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.
FCA’s theme for 2022 is Every, based on Ephesians 1:3: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” FCA reminds Christian coaches and athletes that they already have everything they need in Christ and encourages them to seek Him both on and off the field.