This article appears in the Fall 2022 issue of the FCA Donor Publication. The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.
When you’re at a basketball game and the home team is getting blown out, there are a few things you can do to pass the time. You can chat with your friends. You can grab some snacks from the concession stand. And at some point, you can think about the right time to head for the exit.
But for Nobles Darby IV, that exact scenario provided an unexpected opportunity to experience something deeply profound.
In February of 2020, Darby, who serves as Director of FCA Metro Cleveland, had received tickets from a Cleveland Cavaliers executive and was celebrating his dad’s birthday. Losing interest in the Cavs game, his mind wandered to memories about how FCA and the team had tried to collaborate in the past, but nothing had ever materialized.
“God, I need an idea. How can FCA and the Cavs work together?” he prayed.
At that moment and as clear as day, Darby felt God drop the name “Full Court Faith” into his spirit.
“I didn't know what it meant,” he explained. “I didn't know what it looked like. I didn't know the first place to start. I just said, ‘Okay, God, I'm gonna trust you. Just make it clear to me what this is.’”
The next day, the executive who gave Darby the tickets called to ask how the game went and to learn more about his occupation. When he mentioned FCA, she excitedly shared that she was involved with the ministry in her home state of South Carolina. She then asked a surprising question: “How can FCA and the Cavs work together?”
Darby wasn’t sure how to answer. Full Court Faith was less than 24 hours old, but before he could cast vision for whatever that might look like, the executive grabbed some other members of her staff to join in the conversation.
“Now I'm on a conference call with people I haven't even met before talking about Full Court Faith and God is literally just giving me the words as I go,” Darby recalled.
It wasn’t long before Darby’s divinely inspired idea was up and running.
A League of Its Own
Initially, Full Court Faith was planned as clinics where coaches, athletes and executives from the Cavs could share their faith with youth athletes. When COVID-19 arrived, Darby pivoted and held the first event on YouTube LIVE with the team’s Director of Player Development in April of 2020; he hosted a second online event that following June with a Cav’s assistant coach.
In August of 2020, Full Court Faith hosted its first in-person gathering: a clinic at Rocket Mortgage Field House with about 30 high school athletes. A panel discussion hosted a conversation about faith, race and sports, and how athletes can leverage their platforms to promote unity across diverse communities.
It was a good start, but Darby knew God wanted to do more. His introduction to Bryson Haynes, Cavaliers Director of Youth Sports, sparked its evolution. The two began to dream and soon Full Court Faith was becoming an inner city, youth basketball league for third to sixth grade boys and girls.
Another Cavs executive, Scott MacDonald, got involved and connected Darby to the local YMCA’s executive director who was looking for ways to help basketball players who had fallen through the gaps. Soon, Darby had two partners who were all-in.
But as quickly as the process started, logistical challenges kept the league from launching for nearly two years. Finally, in May of 2022, 20 kids were divided into five teams and played a full four-on-four schedule that lasted through June. Local businesses donated the funds so each athlete could play for free, get a full uniform and have a reception banquet at the end of the season. FCA provided Athlete’s Bibles and the Cavs gave each player a pair of game tickets.
All of the league’s coaches completed FCA Ministry Leader Applications and were given E3 discipleship training. They taught a Bible lesson before or after every practice and hosted prayer before every game. Players were encouraged to memorize Scriptures.
“We’ve made it abundantly clear from day one that we’re leveraging the game of basketball as a way to evangelize and disciple,” Darby said. “If this league begins to drift, then we're not serving these coaches and these children in the nature by which God called us.”
Derrick Polk serves as Full Court Faith’s league director and brings with him championship-level basketball experience having played with Clark Kellogg at Ohio State, in the NBA, overseas, and finishing his career with the Harlem Globetrotters.
“This league is not just about teaching basketball, but teaching it the right way and teaching life,” Polk said. “We are using basketball as a platform to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and that’s what is most important; creating eternal impact that will lead souls into God’s kingdom.”
Haynes didn’t just support Full Court Faith from his office in downtown Cleveland. He signed up his own son to play and has since witnessed how FCA and basketball make a big impact.
“This league is not just about teaching basketball, but teaching it the right way and teaching life. We are using basketball as a platform to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and that’s what is most important; creating eternal impact that will lead souls into God’s kingdom.”
-Full Court Faith League Director Derrick Polk
“You had kids from all different parts of the city come to this one place and actually be able to learn more about their faith and develop not only their basketball skills, but also their life skills, their communication skills, and how they deal with one another,” he said. “At the end of the season, I saw numerous kids exchanging phone numbers. That’s a real testament to the positive impact the league had.”
One story in particular has energized Darby and his plans for the league’s growth. Vicie Boyd, a past church acquaintance, signed up her grandson, DeMarco, to play. His dad had recently been incarcerated to serve a significant amount of time in prison.
“He was having some behavioral issues and struggling to make friends,” Darby said. “Within a couple of weeks, he started making friends and was demonstrating great leadership. He was reading his Bible on his own, reciting Scriptures to her and singing Christian songs in the car. To hear a story like that just further validated why we did this league in the first place.”
Boyd is elated with her grandson’s progress in such a short period of time.
“DeMarco is getting better,” she said. “He loves God and he’s always singing, ‘God is good, God is great!’ I have been keeping in touch with Coach Polk and I am grateful to see the men teach these young guys. He's trying to make new friends, and that part is new for him as well. I see him adjusting, and I thank the Lord.”
Full Court Future
Moving forward, Darby plans to create a girls league (the first season was co-ed), increase the ages into eighth grade and eventually high school, and get more coaches and athletes from the Cavs involved. He also has a vision to expand Full Court Faith into other NBA cities.
No matter how far Full Court Faith goes, Darby understands that this divinely inspired idea will always have Jesus at its center.
“That’s the foundation,” he said. “We're leveraging this platform of sport to help these kids go deeper in their relationships with God. When that happens, that means that we're helping that individual with an internal decision that's going to yield far more significant results than anything here on this earth, or certainly in a basketball league.”
Photos courtesy of FCA Metro Cleveland