“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” John 6:68 (New American Standard Bible).
Such was the response of Simon Peter when Jesus turned to his twelve disciples after others had walked away. It is also the cry of those of us who call ourselves Christians. He alone is our refuge and strength, both in times of great joy and through life’s trials.
Student-athletes face pressure from several fronts. They may struggle with anxiety in preparing for that test in school or performing well in the big game. The world offers many options for coping with the stresses that can arise. Some may get lost in music, others talk with friends, some may get involved in areas that are detrimental to their well-being. For those who follow Christ, they find peace in knowing Him and connecting with those of like-minded faith. This is where Fellowship of Christian Athletes comes into play.
Fellowship of Christian Athletes is the world’s largest and oldest sports ministry, founded in 1954. Its mission is to present to athletes and coaches, and all whom they influence, the challenge and adventure or receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving Him in their relationships and in the fellowship of the church.
Sandy Thomas is the FCA area representative for Eastern Maine, which serves Penobscot, Hancock, and Washington counties. Coach Thomas has over twenty years of collegiate coaching experience serving as an assistant coach at the University of Maine and the University of Michigan. She concluded her coaching career with a successful stint as head coach at division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Recently retired, Thomas is now on board full time with FCA. In meeting with Sandy Thomas, we spent our entire two hour time together talking about two of her life’s great passions: Jesus and basketball.
According to Thomas, FCA seeks to achieve their mission through what she referred to as the four C’s. The first C is for coaches. FCA seeks to come alongside coaches who need encouragement in their walk with God. Because coaches can have the greatest impact on kids, this is one of the organization’s primary focuses.
The second and probably most visible C is campuses. FCA impacts campuses at the middle school, high school, and collegiate levels primarily through their weekly huddles. Because most schools FCA has a presence in are secular, FCA goes to great lengths to make sure they are above reproach in their dealings. Neither Thomas or any school staff member can initiate an FCA chapter at a public school.
So how then can FCA have a presence in public schools? In order for FCA to enter a public school, a student-athlete needs to come to Sandy expressing a desire to start a huddle at their school. She then interviews the student to make sure that person is a good fit as a huddle leader. Thomas explained the criteria she uses in determining who would make a good huddle leader. The individual, first of all, needs to have a love for Christ. Secondly, a love for their school is needed as well as a love for their team and coaches. The leader should have a desire for service.
The primary purpose of FCA’s presence in a school is not necessarily evangelical in nature. The student huddle leaders are not looking to “save” the entire school or to thump people over the head with the Bible. It is simply a means for like-minded athletes to gather together in a safe place to share their faith. The weekly meetings can serve as a place of encouragement for those who find they are the only Christian members of their respective teams.
Once a leader comes forward, the student-athlete would then approach a school administrator for permission to meet as a group on campus. Upon having permission granted by the administrator, the student-athlete finds a teacher or faculty member to serve as a coach for the group. The coach would also meet with the area representative and go through an interview process to make sure the match is a positive one. Because FCA campus meetings are student led, the role of the coach is to merely provide a place for the student-athletes to meet each week. Some will sit in on the weekly huddles, while others will simply open up their rooms and let the students conduct the meetings.
Most schools hold huddles once a week, which last from about twenty to thirty minutes. The huddle times generally consist of a short Bible reading, an ice-breaker activity, and time for prayer. Most typically meet before school to avoid conflicts with practice and game times. If the huddle leader is a senior they will look to mentor an underclassmen so the group may continue for the next school year. Thomas meets with the huddle leaders on a regular basis, provides Bibles, and other supplies the group may need.
The third C is camps. This year’s Bangor FCA camp will be held July 11th through 14th at Eastern Maine Community College. The camp, directed by Coach Thomas, is a coed day basketball camp for ages eight through twelve. According to Thomas, it is a time for perspiration and inspiration. During the week the campers will learn basketball skills but will also learn lessons to help them in their faith walk, which they can also apply to their sports. Many of the current huddle leaders became involved with FCA through camp.
FCA also hosts a large regional camp in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Each summer approximately six hundred athletes converge for a week of spiritual and athletic growth. The campers choose one from a variety of sports offerings to focus on for the week.
The fourth and final C is community. Since FCA is a volunteer based ministry, the support of many is needed to aid in its mission. They seek out other believers who share their vision to use athletics as a vehicle to share the gospel and support fellow Christian athletes. A few times a year FCA holds events for student-athletes and their supporters to get together. On May 20th there will be a dodge ball tournament held at Crosspoint Church in Bangor.
Each year FCA adopts a theme Bible verse. This year’s passage is from Joshua 1:9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
FCA is funded entirely through the generous giving of its supporters. To receive more information about Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to donate, or you are a student-athlete wishing to start a huddle at your school, contact Sandy Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. FCA’s website is mainefca.org..