Celebrating Sixty Years… and Counting
It started with some old magazine clippings crammed in a dresser drawer of well-known Christian athletes, a practice a young Oklahoma basketball coach named Don McClanen continued for several years. He began wondering, if athletes can endorse shaving cream, razor blades and cigarettes, surely they can endorse the Lord. He wrote letters to the men featured in those old clippings. Of the 19 men who McClanen reached out to, 14 replied that they were interested!
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 enthusiastically to get a meeting with Rickey, because he sensed that Rickey could be an important cog in the future of FCA. Finally, McClanen was told by Rickey’s secretary that if McClanen wanted to drive to Pittsburgh for the possibility of a five-minute meeting with Rickey, that he wouldn’t stop him.
On an August day in 1954, after mortgaging his own car in order to pay the extra expenses to travel and meet several of the men who expressed interest in his idea, McClanen got his five-minute meeting with Branch Rickey. It lasted five hours. After talking, Rickey was 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?" he said.
Rickey then led 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 November 10, 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was chartered in Oklahoma and McClanen’s dream turned into a movement that has lasted 60 years… and counting.