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FCA Founder to be Honored by Oklahoma College, Heritage Center

e96946d2ae2871a3590d75c5c9e03e8a91cc4a4b4ff396555e534b638e6bc50fWhen Don McClanen took out a $1,000 loan on his car, he was hoping it wouldn’t lead to bankruptcy. Now, more than 50 years later, that $1,000, which set up funding appointments, has blossomed into a multi-million dollar budget and a nationwide organization with more than 800 employees.

McClanen was head basketball coach and athletic director at Eastern Oklahoma A&M College (now Eastern Oklahoma State College) in 1954 when he conceived the idea of making the world of athletes and coaches a mission field. He shared his vision with a visiting pastor and former college basketball player, Louis Evans, who had been named by Life Magazine as one of America’s top 10 clergymen.

McClanen showed Evans a collection of newspaper and magazine articles he had clipped about Christian athletes and coaches. After reading the articles about how many major athletes of the day were Christians, Evans suggested that McClanen write to those athletes and ask if they would be willing to become public witnesses for Christ.

McClanen immediately drafted a letter to 19 superstars of the time detailing his vision of founding “some type of organization which would provide an opportunity for those of us who are so inclined to speak and witness for Christ and the wholesome principles of good character and clean living to the youth of our nation.”679cf937e089c5447d0424156b2eec16

The response was enthusiastic as he heard from most of the athletes. Branch Rickey, who was then general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, got Pittsburgh businessmen to underwrite a year’s expenses. Among those volunteering their services was Bud Wilkinson, football coach for the University of Oklahoma. He was joined by Amos Alonzo Stagg, Tom Harmon, Bob Mathias and Pepper Martin, among others.

Then in September 1954, with progress being quickly achieved, McClanen’s yet unnamed organization had its first advisory board meeting. And it was at that meeting in Oklahoma City, with a firm resolve to emphasize “Christian” rather than merely “religious athletes,” that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) was born.

FCA was an idea that had been on McClanen’s heart since 1947 when he was a student at what is now Oklahoma State University.

After serving in the Pacific in World War II, newly married McClanen and his wife, Gloria, were led to Oklahoma A&M because of its respected athletic program. Its basketball team, under legendary coach Henry Iba, had just won back-to-back national championships. McClanen thought this was a good place to major in physical education so he could become a coach. As a student at A&M, he worked closely with Iba.

While in college, his youth pastor asked McClanen to consider how he would merge his faith with his profession. When he attended a physical education conference at the Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City, one of the speakers challenged the coaches to look at how their lives could lead young people either “up a mountain or down a drain.”

Pondering that statement, and considering himself to be failing in his desire to model the Christian life, McClanen took a walk which led him to the open door of a church in downtown Oklahoma City. There, he prayed simply, “Lord, I surrender my will to You.”

One month after the meeting in Oklahoma City, FCA was announced to the nation in a publicity pamphlet. Then, in November, the ministry was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in Oklahoma.

Through the years, FCA has impacted more than 2 million lives annually.

But that’s not the end of McClanen’s story.

McClanen, now 83, and living in Germantown, Md., has founded five other ministries.

When he left Oklahoma, he was a dirt farmer for 10 years, he said, while retooling into a servant mentality after having worked with some of the world’s most famous athletes.

“This was a very important time in my life, which led to the founding of Washington Life, a program to lift youth from the distressed life of inner city living to a more promising, hopeful aspect of life through leadership training,” McClanen said.

Wellspring Ministry was started to help build, strengthen, restore and probe the future of the church, McClanen noted.

“It is a cutting edge kind of ministry to vitalize the church of Jesus Christ through hosting conferences, workshops, retreats and leadership sessions,” he explained.

The Ministry of Money focuses on the second most recurring theme in the Bible.

“As we are currently discovering, greed and selfishness have pretty much dominated not only the secular world, but also the spiritual world,” McClanen pointed out. “So the Ministry of Money seeks to confront that from the biblical viewpoint, trying to help people get ready to go beyond the tithe, giving more of a total commitment of their lives and resources.”

He said the organization takes people to work with Mother Teresa’s ministries in Calcutta, India for a week every year.

“We want them to do more than read books and talk about poverty,” he said. “We want them to live it.”

On the flip side of the coin, McClanen said he felt ministries were missing working with people of wealth, so he started Harvest Time, which endeavors to help people of wealth become more generous and more compassionate.

And still in the embryonic stage is Second Journey, which seeks to deepen the Christian life.

“There are many who follow our Lord half way, but few who follow in the other half,” he said. “This is an attempt to help people who want to move into the second journey of the Christian life rather than be satisfied with the first journey of comfort and not willing to deal with inconveniences and sacrificial justices of the Gospel.

McClanen will return to Oklahoma on Dec. 5 for the unveiling of a bronze bust of him at Eastern Oklahoma State College in the new Student Life and Learning Center.

“Not many people know FCA was formed on the Eastern Oklahoma campus,” said EOSC President Steve Smith, a member of Wilburton, First. “Even though it’s been half a century since McClanen created the FCA, he’s still the same kind, spiritual man who led the sports department during his years at Eastern. We want to make sure every person who enters Eastern’s doors is aware of the college’s pride in both McClanen and the institution’s role in the creation of the FCA.”

McClanen will also be in the Sooner state sometime after the first of the year when the chapel at the Oklahoma Sports Heritage Center, at 4040 N. Lincoln Blvd., is dedicated. It will be the named McClanen Chapel in his honor.

Dana Williamson

Author: Dana Williamson

Dana Williamson is a Special Correspondent for the Baptist Messenger

View more articles by Dana Williamson.

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