Eastern honors the 60th anniversary of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the organization’s roots in Wilburton
WILBURTON (Dec. 17, 2014) – A little more than 60 years ago, a young Eastern Oklahoma State College basketball coach felt that God had placed a dream in his heart. His goal was to start an organization that would feature professional athletes professing their Christian faith in order to change the youth culture in America. That dream eventually turned into reality and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) was born.
Former Eastern men’s basketball coach and athletic director Don McClanen was the young coach who created a movement in 1954 that would change the lives of countless athletes and coaches through his dream. The FCA, now an international organization, recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.
While coaching at Eastern, McClanen began to wonder why athletes endorsed products, but not a Christian lifestyle.
“If athletes can endorse shaving cream, razor blades and cigarettes, surely they can endorse the Lord,” McClanen once said.
In 1954, McClanen sent 19 letters to prominent sports figures across the nation, including football stars Doak Walker and Otto Graham; baseball players Carl Erskine, Robin Roberts and Alvin Dark; Olympians Bob Mathias and Bob Richards; coaching and front office legends Amos Alonzo Stagg, Bud Wilkinson and Clarence “Biggie” Munn; and even broadcasters Tom Harmon (the 1940 Heisman Trophy winner) and Red Barber. He received 14 replies from those that were interested.
That summer, McClanen mortgaged his car in Wilburton and set out on a cross-country trip to meet with those individuals and solicit funding to establish the FCA. He was able to schedule a five-minute meeting with Branch Rickey, then the Pittsburgh Pirates general manager notorious for inventing baseball’s affiliated minor league system and knocking down the game’s color barrier while with the Brooklyn Dodgers by signing Jackie Robinson. His meeting lasted five hours and less than three months later on Nov. 10, 1954, the FCA was chartered in Oklahoma.
While still at Eastern, McClanen brought Walker, Richards, Bob Fenimore, Pepper Martin, Warren Spahn, and Carl Allison to Eastern’s campus in 1955. The group spoke to students about Christianity during the Sports Jamboree event.
During the past six decades, the FCA has grown to more than 1,000 staff members and has launched an international ministry outreach through coaches and athletes in other countries such as Mexico, Ukraine, Japan and many more. The organization continues to have a presence at middle school, high school and college stadiums, gyms and ballparks around the world.
Eastern President Dr. Stephen E. Smith said the college has recognized both McClanen and the organization’s roots in Wilburton in multiple ways. During a ceremony in 2008, Eastern invited former players and dignitaries to a ceremony to commemorate McClanen’s role in founding the FCA. The college also commissioned a larger-than-life bronze bust of McClanen for display in the Student Center in Wilburton.
“It was probably the best event I have been a part of since I have been at Eastern,” Smith said.
Eastern also recognized McClanen and the FCA with its Heritage Award during this year’s Homecoming events. The Heritage Award honors individuals and organizations that have had a significant impact on Eastern’s history.
“We were honored to recognize Don and his accomplishments during the organization’s 60th anniversary year,” Smith said. “The FCA has a great history at Eastern and we’re very proud of Don and what he’s achieved through his ministry for athletes around the world.”
Mickey Seward with fca.org contributed to this story.