In 2014, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Oklahoma marks its 60th anniversary of ministry.
On Nov. 12, the anniversary concludes when the organization welcomes former Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice to Oklahoma City for a speech. This past week the FCA held its Xtreme Camp for athletes at the Cross Point Camp outside of Kingston at Lake Texoma.
“The very first huddle was at OU, the very first camp was at Oklahoma State,” says Drew Beard, director of FCA’s South Central Oklahoma chapter. “Obviously, there is a lot of rich tradition here.”
FCA is active in colleges, high schools, middle schools and with coaches and their families across the state.
“We do what we call the four Cs of ministry,” Beard explains. “We start with our coach. We try to minister to the coach and through the coach. We realize they’re the No. 1 influence in our world today. We try to get in there and support them and love them. Then we jump into campuses, which is what you see as far as in the schools with local campus huddles, team chapels, coaches’ Bible studies and camps. Then the last one is our communities, meaning the volunteers. In Ardmore we have a local board, then a state board and areas across the state have their own board as well.”
Beard became involved with FCA in the sixth grade at Rush Springs, and was the huddle leader at Southeastern Oklahoma during college.
At the Xtreme Camp, college students volunteer as huddle leaders for groups of high school kids.
“It’s an act of service for them,” Beard says. “Some of them get credit for doing it at school. We don’t pay them. We basically give them some gas money and feed them while they’re here.”
This summer, the camp had to turn down interested huddle leaders.
Along with the college students volunteering, 35 to 40 adult volunteers attend the camp to guide athletes through different ropes courses, games and climbing challenges.
“It’s really cool for us in Ardmore to have such a great volunteer base,” Beard says. “The history and tradition of FCA in Ardmore is deep. Kent Bohls, Randy Kendricks, Mike Whitson, Paul McGrady and the very first staffer was Kevin Potter. The great tradition and legacy here is deeply rooted. So a lot of the staff we have come from our area.”
Fasiri Ellison played football with Beard at Southeastern, and enjoys making the trip from Oklahoma City to volunteer.
“I don’t miss a chance to come down here and volunteer and help out to talk about the Lord to some kids,” Ellison says. “He was there for me when I was growing up. Helped me through corporate America, family stuff, and sports and school. It keeps them involved, healthy and spiritually fed, too.”
Another volunteer is Plainview football coach and athletic director Chris Berus.
“I believe coaching is a calling,” Berus admits. “To make a difference in anybody’s life is a true blessing. Coaching has an opportunity that a lot of other ministry platforms don’t. Athletics brings all. Kids don’t necessarily have to go to church, but they do go to school. Coaches have an opportunity to have that impact. With FCA, I got involved and had some guys like Drew begin to invest in me when I started my coaching career in Ada.”
Berus got involved with FCA camps in 2003, and his interest and involvement have steadily grown since then.
Berus runs the relays late in the afternoon during Xtreme Camp, and has limited interaction compared to other volunteers. But he strives to make some impact in that time, and considers it an honor.
“You hope that through the three or four minutes that I get to talk with them, that God inspires something that they need to hear,” Berus explains. “Watching them compete and break through the course of the week, where they show up extremely uncomfortable to when they’re leaving camp, they’re a different individual.”
The experience of the camp and FCA’s huddles offer the athletes a chance to challenge themselves and learn valuable skills for college and the workforce.
“You get eight to 10 guys or gals, most of them don’t know each other from Adam,” Berus says. “They’re thrown into a cabin together for a week and are told to get along, work together and accomplish something. And it’s all wrapped up in the gospel. The confidence that’s gained from it — the experiences gained from it — there is no doubt in my mind that if the kids take what is learned here and apply it to their teams they’re going back to, you’re going to see an increased cohesiveness. It’s not necessarily going to show up in wins and losses, but it’s not going to hurt.”
Plainview’s Hope Salzman agrees, and says she’s learned a lot during her first camp.
“It means a lot to me; this is my first FCA camp,” Salzman says. “We’re all athletes here. I’ve learned so many things. Every single time we go out and compete — we worship, we sing — it’s all about the attitude in your heart. It’s not about wins. When I go home, it’s not going to matter what our record here was. All that matters is how positive and encouraging we are. You can make a big difference in someone’s life by saying ‘good job’ or bringing them some water or something like that.
“We don’t know each other, but we’ve made sisters and family through Christ. It’s been a life-changing experience,” she says.
Salzman won state with the Plainview girls track team in the spring. Her experience and talent can become contagious in the camp setting and lift others who may not be as physically talented or confident.
“What’s cool to see is that the athletes are very influential in our world,” Beard says. “Those that maybe don’t have that amazing ability, raise to a higher level because those that do have that ability will push, grind and encourage. What ends up happening is you have a LeBron James situation in Cleveland where he makes everyone around him better.”
The camp also offers athletes a chance to compete, while keeping emotions in control and learning about teamwork in ways they may not during the school year.
“The competition aspect of it is something the culture demands, that’s what they want,” Beard concludes. “Sports are the No. 1 thing in our world, and the coach is the top influence. If you don’t do that, you don’t get these kids. Because that’s what they thrive in and do. We want to have the emotion that goes along with it, and learn how to keep that emotion in balance.”
With nearly 200 kids at camp, with many on scholarships, the challenges and lessons learned can be life-changing.
“What you see is kids that can be versatile and those that lack a few certain things,” Beard says. “They still get challenged. Not just physically, but also spiritually. At every challenge there’s life lessons, values and morals that the Bible teaches that speak directly to the challenges that these kids face.”