Christmas came early last year for Texas Tech track and field coach Wes Kittley—two weeks early to be precise.
At his team’s annual party, however, Kittley was the one cheerfully doing the gift-giving. “At the end of the party, we gathered around a table with several boxes, and I told them I had a Christmas present for everyone,” he explained.
Kittley began handing out copies of the FCA Competitor’s Bible to his athletes and members of his coaching staff. It took a while to distribute to the 140 people in attendance. It took even longer, a couple of months by Kittley’s estimation, to write a personalized note on the inside of each cover—an idea he borrowed from his 15 year tenure at Abilene Christian University where all graduating seniors received a Bible.
“My athletes were surprised to get the Bible, but I didn’t tell them I wrote in it,” Kittley said. “They didn’t know until they opened them up. Then I started getting feedback from many of them. Some of them told me how special it was to have that Bible along with the memories of being on our team. It really was a dream come true.” For Kittley, that moment was 20 years in the making. When he left Abilene for Lubbock, one of the first things he asked about was giving Bibles to his athletes— something the compliance office quickly shot down. That all changed, however, when FCA Campus Director Corbin Young devised a plan that would facilitate Bible distribution to all athletic programs.
Young had only been at Texas Tech for a year when the idea came to him during the heat of preseason football practice. “I was just sitting there looking at 120 players, just praying through how I was going to reach that many athletes as one chaplain,” Young said. “And it’s not just football, but all of the men’s teams. How can I make a significant touch? I know realistically I can’t disciple them all like I wish I could. It felt like God laid on my heart that there was nothing better than giving them His Word.”
His next thought was a bit more daunting. “Well, I can’t just do it for one team.”
That meant raising just over $10,000 to get Competitor’s Bibles
and Coach’s Bibles in the hands of more than 400 athletes and coaches. Young was convinced it would be one of the easiest asks he had ever made of his donors.
He was right. It only took four people to cover the entire cost.
Before Young ordered the Bibles, however, he talked to each of the coaching staffs to ask permission. “We didn’t have any pushback at all,” he said. “We were doing it for everyone, and we made it known that anyone on campus could have a Bible if they wanted one, so there wasn’t a compliance issue.”
LIGHTING UP LOCKER ROOMS
For Josh Jung, his time with the Texas Tech baseball team could easily be a distant memory. He’s currently focused on working his way up through the Texas Rangers farm system after being selected as the eighth overall pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft.
And while he’s excited about the opportunity to play professionally, Jung can’t shake the year-old image of seeing Corbin Young walk into the locker room with two big boxes.
“He started handing Bibles to everyone and guys’ faces started to light up, especially the guys who already had a relationship with Christ,” he recalled. Jung, along with Brian Klein, was one of the team’s spiritual leaders and watched throughout the year as Christian teammates grew stronger in their faith and others had seeds planted for the first time.
Four donors partnered with Texas Tech FCA to put Bibles into every athlete’s hands. The program was so successful, there are plans to do it again.
“Having the Bibles was a big deal,” he said. “Not all of the guys carried them around all of the time, but they had them in their lockers, and they could see it every single day. Guys really started to connect with it, and that’s where relationships were built. Brian and I had tons of guys coming to us with questions, especially the young guys who had just joined the team. Those Bibles really helped guide their path to where they wanted to go.”
While the No. 4-ranked men’s baseball team was making a big run at the College World Series, Texas Tech’s No. 15-ranked softball team was likewise having quite the season en route to 42 wins and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. But according to women’s chaplain Brandi Cantrell, something much bigger was taking place behind the scenes.
“There’s a lot of strong student leadership on that team and a lot of players that have been pursuing the Lord the last couple of years,” she said. “So the ones that don’t know the Bible as well were able to go back and read the stories that their teammates were talking about. Those life-giving stories in the Bible became a rallying point for them and their season, and they used God’s Word as a foundation for the identity of their team.”
The distribution program didn’t just stay in Lubbock. Students from all over the world were significantly impacted thanks to the growing international influence on college athletics, including men’s tennis where athletes from Argentina, Brazil,
Canada, Italy, Ukraine and the United Kingdom received Bibles. Justin Bloss, one of three Americans on the team, watched a Russian teammate start getting up earlier than normal to do daily devotionals.
Then this summer, while playing in Europe, Bloss visited a tennis buddy from Germany and felt led to share the Gospel and give him his FCA Competitor’s Bible.
“Can I get another Bible when I get back home?” he texted Young.
“Wow, that’s awesome Justin!” Young responded. “Of course I’ll get you another one!”
PURPOSE AND PRIORITY
Coincidentally, Texas Tech athletics had a banner year. In addition to the aforementioned successes for the baseball and softball teams, Wes Kittley’s men’s track and field team won the NCAA Championship while the men’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA title game under the leadership of active FCA athletes Jarrett Culver (the overall sixth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and member of the Minnesota Timberwolves) and Matt Mooney (currently signed with the Memphis Grizzlies).
The women’s soccer team finished ranked No. 24 in the nation and advanced to the second round at the NCAA Tournament. The men’s tennis team finished ranked No. 22 in the nation and one of its doubles teams earned All-American honors. The women’s tennis team also qualified for the NCAA Tournament. But for Josh Jung, those successes were insignificant in comparison to the spiritual growth that took place within the hearts under the jerseys. “We were playing for a bigger purpose,” he said. “We weren’t just playing for ourselves anymore. We were playing for Texas Tech, but we were also using our platform to bring glory to Christ. The whole atmosphere around the athletic program is changing, and the Bible is for sure helping make that happen.”
Photos courtesy of Texas Tech FCA