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Branch Rickey Award

More about Branch Rickey and the Founding of FCA

The Branch Rickey Service Award is named after “Founder of Baseball” Branch Rickey. Rickey, a devout Christian, was a key player in the founding of FCA.

In 1954, FCA’s founder, Don McClanen, dreamed of a sports ministry where professional athletes would endorse Jesus in the same way they endorsed products. McClanen wrote letters to 19 national sports influencers. While 14 replied that they wanted to be involved, McClanen did not hear from Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Branch Rickey. Rickey had gained fame for inventing baseball’s affiliated minor league system while running the St. Louis Cardinals organization and for knocking down the game’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.

McClanen tried persistently to meet with Rickey because he sensed his support would influence the future impact of FCA. Finally, Rickey’s secretary told McClanen that if he wanted to drive to Pittsburgh for the possibility of a five-minute meeting, she wouldn’t stop him. In August 1954, McClanen got his five-minute meeting with Rickey. Instead of five minutes, it lasted five hours.

“Finally, he made a statement that I will never forget: ‘This thing has the potential of changing the youth scene of America within a decade. It is pregnant with potential. It is just ingenious. It’s a new thing, where has it been?’ ”
— Don McClanen

The meeting became the turning point for what McClanen has referred to as, "God's amazing miraculous dream."

branchrickey3Branch Rickey was the keynote speaker at the FCA National Conference in Estes Park, Colorado, in 1956. Rickey stirred up the 256 coaches and athletes on the Conference’s first night with his thoughts on athletics, the truth of Christ, and FCA.

His powerful 53-minute keynote included the following challenge:

“This Fellowship of Athletes is not a namby-pamby thing; it is a courageous organization. It is not a physical conditioning process; it is a cooperative grouping of athletes to embrace and have others embrace Jesus as the Christ, the measure of divinity through which we come to find and know God. It is an effort that challenges our best intelligence and all our emotions. We must proceed to the task with conviction, with contriteness and with courage even to the point of ardor.”

Click here to hear a brief, powerful excerpt.
Click here to hear the full, rousing speech.
branchrickey2On June 7, 1955, Pittsburgh Pirates executive Branch Rickey (at podium) hosted a banquet in Pittsburgh to introduce FCA to the region and help gain financial support for the fledgling organization. It resulted in, among other donations, a $10,000 gift from Paul Benedum, which put FCA on a new level.