Shane Williamson: How a Coach’s Dream Became a Reality

Four of the founding fathers of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (from left) Dr. Louis R. Evans, Dr. Roe Johnston, Don McClanen and Branch Rickey, November 1954. | Photo: FCA

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.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Shane Williamson