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
This week on November 10, FCA 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
That young basketball coach
with a vision was the late Don McClanen, who founded FCA 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
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
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.