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Then And Now

Published on December 19, 2018


“The name ‘Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ just came naturally. This was a Christian movement totally. We would not be ashamed of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.”    –Don McClanen



It started with some old magazine clippings of well-known Christian athletes crammed in a dresser drawer, a practice a young Oklahoma basketball coach named Don McClanen continued for several years. He began dreaming—if athletes can endorse products, surely they can endorse the Lord. He wrote letters to the men featured in the clippings

to see if they were interested in helping form a ministry to reach coaches and athletes. Of the 19 he reached out to, 14 replied “yes!”

One of the men who did not respond was Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Branch Rickey, who had gained fame for inventing baseball’s affiliated minor league system while running the St. Louis Cardinals organization and knocking down the game’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.



Early supporters: Dr. Louis Evans, Dr. Roe Johnston, Don McClanen, Branch Rickey

McClanen tried persistently and enthusiastically to meet with Rickey because he sensed his importance for the future impact of FCA. Finally, Rickey’s secretary told McClanen if he wanted to drive to Pittsburgh for the possibility of a five-minute meeting with Rickey, she wouldn’t stop him.

In August 1954, McClanen got his five-minute meeting with Branch Rickey. It lasted five hours! After talking, Rickey got on board. “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?!” Rickey said. Rickey connected McClanen to another Pittsburgh businessman, Paul Benedum. Within a year, Benedum put the organization on stable ground with a $10,000 donation. After seven long years of prayer and perseverance, and three months after McClanen’s meeting with Rickey, on Nov. 10, 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was chartered in Oklahoma, and McClanen’s dream turned into a movement that has surpassed 60 years.




DSC_2605With Don McClanen’s God-inspired dream, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has never stopped moving nor growing. The vision remains steadfast: to see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes. We believe there is a very real possibility that we can reach every coach and every athlete in every corner of the earth.

In 1954, the “hero status” of athletes gave McClanen the original idea of using their fame as a conduit to share Christ. And that strategy continues to work as each season, in every sport, we see athletes attend Huddles and camps, pray as a team, and honor God with their wins (and even their losses). Yet as the ministry has grown, we’ve also recognized an important piece of the puzzle: the coach. It’s the coaches, like McClanen himself, who influence the athletes and who we’re strategically reaching as we look to the future of FCA. Sport is an international language, which is why the Oklahoma-based dream of 1954 has crossed borders and language barriers in order to take FCA into the nations. (Read more about our global regions on page 12!)

It started with one, who then recruited a few. And as a result of their faithfulness, the ministry of FCA has touched millions of coach and athlete lives. There’s no signs of stopping until the message of Christ reaches the ends of the earth.

Don McClanen yearbook

“The question is often asked, is FCA as needed or as relevant today as it was back then, and I would say more so. FCA is God’s amazing, miraculous dream being fulfilled still to this day.”
—Don McClanen, 2004