The Fellowship of Christian Athletes believes that, through the international platform of sport, coaches and athletes have the power to unite, inspire and change the world. And, believe it or not, this all started with some old magazine clippings of well-known Christian athletes crammed in a dresser drawer.
This was the practice of a young Oklahoma basketball coach named Don McClanen—one that he 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.
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.
Mr. McClanen said back in 2004: “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.”
He was so right. With 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. It started with one, who then recruited a few. And as a result of their faithfulness, the ministry of FCA has touched millions of coaches and athletes’ lives. There’s no signs of stopping until the message of Christ reaches the ends of the earth.
More than 60 years after Don McClenan’s dream, FCA has experienced tremendous growth. From our first camps at Estes Park, Colorado, and Black Mountain, North Carolina, to the formation of the first groups of athletes meeting on campus, which are today called Huddles, God is changing lives through FCA. And while those are still the same types of “wins” we celebrate, we’ve multiplied and grown to have global impact.
FCA currently has 1,754 staff members, hosts 771 camps and operates in 84 countries. We remain dedicated to leading every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church. By engaging coaches and athletes relationally with the gospel, equipping them through God’s Word, and empowering them to make disciples of Christ, we can see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through their influence.