Don McClanen was a 29-year-old basketball coach at a small Oklahoma college nursing a big idea. It would be good for young athletes and good for America if some of today’s obsession with sports was redirected into higher purposes. To turn his idea into reality, he sent out letters to pro athletes whom he knew to be Christian and got a few to sign on. His challenge was funding.
In 1954, McClanen met with Branch Rickey, the legendary baseball manager who drafted Jackie Robinson, invented the minor-league farm system, and won four World Series. Rickey was also a devout Methodist who had never played on a Sunday. After a five-hour meeting, Rickey pledged to raise $10,000. “This thing has the potential for changing the youth scene in America in a decade,” he said. Among the early supporters Rickey recruited was Pittsburgh oilman Paul Benedum. From those beginnings, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes grew rapidly, offering national camps, programs for youth and adults, and ministries and Bible studies (called “huddles”) on campuses. In 2014, FCA reached nearly 10,000 coaches and 450,000 student-athletes at nearly 12,000 sites nationwide. The group raised $101 million in donations that year for its missions.
- FCA annual reports, fca.org/about-fellowship-of-christian-athletes/ministryreport
- “A League of God’s Own,” Sojourners, 2009