In 1954, basketball coach, Don McClanan, realized Jesus could transform the world using Christian coaches and athletes. He reached out to Branch Rickey, a leader in the Christian community in professional sports, and requested a meeting to discuss the idea. No doubt, Rickey, General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, believed McClanan was on to something big. Thus the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was born.
Now, 64 years later, over 113,470 people have attended Fellowship of Christian Athletes sports camps in 62 countries. FCA currently serves Upstate New York in six strategic locations.
The Good News spoke with David Parks, Director for Upstate New York FCA, about this organization and how he became involved.
Coach Parks had been coaching college football at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y., “working his way up the coaching tree.” While leading a FCA Bible study before a game (using a FCA Bible that has sports related devotionals in the back for every day of the year, which coaches can use for their lives and their teams), a student athlete asked him where he had gotten that Bible.
He told that while looking for Bibles for athletes on the web, he discovered FCA.
“I stumbled upon the website while looking for Bibles for athletes and realized that people worked for FCA. There was an opening for a position in upstate New York and FCA never had a strong presence in Upstate…They were looking to get it really going and off the ground here.” And so, Director Parks came on board and the rest is history.
FCA is involved with athletes in junior and senior high, colleges, and at the professional level, with such big league players such as Clayton Kershaw, pitcher for the LA Dodgers. Although FCA works through coach, camps, campus, and community ministries, the coach ministry drives its overall mission “to lead every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.” (From https://www.fca.org/.)
“It’s really ministry to coaches and through coaches, because of the influence they have over young people. It’s an opportunity to leverage their influence and relationships for the kingdom,” Parks said.
Sports camps are busy in the summer. “We have a pretty robust lacrosse club program that competes all around the region…and everything from tennis to football, basketball to motocross.” FCA will be sponsoring the Tom Ryan Wrestling Camp this October 27 to 28 at Penfield High school, in the greater Rochester area. (If you want to know more about this event, contact FCA. They will put you in contact with coaches to answer your questions).
FCA is present on campuses such as the University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, and in area schools. As Parks said, “where ever God has opened the door.”
The Good News asked Parks if they encountered resistance to FCA in public schools, since coaches have come under fire even for “taking a knee” before play.
“The key is that all our campus groups are initiated and led by students. They are supported by coaches, teachers, faculty, but it has to be student led. We’re not in a culture or climate today where we, as a ministry, even encourage a coach to make it mandatory for their players to take a knee at a public school campus and pray. You are really risking forcing people to do something they don’t want. Everything we encourage people to do has to be made a voluntary opportunity they elect to be a part of.”
The Good News asked how FCA establishes campus ministries. Parks explained that through meeting people and networking, they hear of students who desire to lead Christian groups on campus, to use sports to reach others for Christ. After finding supportive faculty members (which is never a problem), FCA provides them with a curriculum and framework from which to work.
Size of campus groups range from 40, as at Syracuse University, to as small as three, where coaches and athletes engage in “huddles,” which is their term for small group Bible studies.
It is a short punt from campus ministry to community ministry, where FCA is involved with local teams or sport travel clubs.
“Sport and travel clubs are really huge nowadays…That’s really where we’re breaking in more and more,” Parks said.
Since these community clubs do not fall under state or federal regulations, FCA is able to create its own clubs, such as soccer and lacrosse, where they
compete with others.
At the website, http://fcacampus101.com/video/core-values, FCA’s Executive Director of International Ministry, Dan Britton, addresses FCA’s core values. This author and professional athlete from lacrosse’s Baltimore Thunder speaks powerfully about integrity, serving, teamwork and excellence.
He defines integrity as “being real,” as how one operates when no one is looking. A person with integrity will follow through on what he/she said.
Serving as Christ did, involves sacrificing time and effort to help those to whom we are called to minister. It involves forming trusting relationships.
Just as teamwork unites members for a purpose, members must be united in Christ to bring glory to God.
Excellence requires being teachable and always doing one’s best to honor God in everything.
Parks is very clear. “I think the mission is important — to lead every athlete and coach into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We want to focus on discipling coaches. That’s the heart of where we’re at. All these programs (camps, clubs, and huddles), they’re great, (but) the heart of where we are, the core of our mission, is to lead the coach to know Christ more.”
Christ’s grace flows from the coach, to the athletes, and out to the world. As the coach goes, so goes the team.
A quote from Billy Graham found at the FCA website confirms, “A coach will impact more people in one year than the average person will in an entire lifetime.”