The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has seen strong growth in Southern Indiana in recent years.
Donnie Roark, now a full-time staff member at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville, began working as an FCA representative in 2014 before moving up to area director.
The student-led FCA is a worldwide organization that has more than 14,000 groups — or huddles — around the world. Adult leaders such as Roark and sponsors — typically teachers or other school staff — help train those students to lead weekly gatherings of student-athletes within middle and high schools.
“We had about nine huddles in the five-county area and are now up to 30,” Roark said, adding another example of growth. “We also do two summer camps. a leadership camp, which trains and equips our student leaders to know how to lead, to know what rights they have. How to organize things, what special events they can have. That camp has grown from about 30 students to this year we had 113.”
Developing leadership skills is one part of it and having a positive impact on the world around them is another, according to the testimony of some student-athletes in Clark and Floyd counties.
“It’s the lifestyle,” said Charlestown senior Rhett Kaelin, a baseball player for the Pirates. “In middle school I wasn’t a leader, going into freshman year, it took on a role, set a standard of ‘This is who I am’ and ‘This is who I want to be,’ to be a positive influence for the school.”
Floyd Central senior football player J.D. McKay is entering his fourth year involved with FCA. The Highlanders’ linebacker has enjoyed becoming a leader and bringing in speakers for his fellow student-athletes such as University of Louisville’s FCA Chaplain Chris Morgan.
“It’s cool because you get to impact people at school. I’m interested in some type of ministry when I’m out of school,” McKay said. “It’s exploring what God might be calling me into. It’s a way to experiment with sports ministry.”
McKay’s father, Mark, is the sponsor at Floyd Central. Seeing kids have the chance to bond through their faith is part of what makes being involved with FCA enjoyable for him.
“We try to fulfill the purpose and vision of FCA. We definitely direct our planning in that direction,” Mark McKay said. “The student leaders plan out the semester in advance. It helps with perseverance in sports and in your spiritual life, being a good teammate, being a fellow christian and training with each other. Whatever lessons they’re doing, they try to tie into sports. It’s meaningful for them.”
Silver Creek’s Perry Hunter, an assistant boys’ basketball coach for the Dragons, said SCHS has around 30 at its typical huddle but “sometimes it’s 70 to 100 kids,” drawn in by a notable speaker or food. “They enjoy being able to share their faith at school.”
Hunter said embracing his faith as a coach has helped his approach to coaching.
“I realized it wasn’t just about winning and losing. It wasn’t just about leading kids. It was about glorifying kids. Losing didn’t bring me down as much,” Hunter said.
Silver Creek senior volleyball player and track athlete Reagan Wickens has been involved for the past three years. She’s found FCA to have a major impact on her home life and with teammates.
“I think for some athletes just knowing, knowing people have the same beliefs, it helps connect us. Their character and actions are related to each other. It definitely helped with my family too. I was pretty shy about my faith before this. I’m able to help people on a faith-based level,” Wickens said.
Stories such as those are why Justin Snelling has been involved with FCA for 14 years at Charlestown Middle School. Snelling led the organization of a prayer last week for faculty and staff of Greater Clark County Schools prior to the start of the school year.
“We’ve seen a good number of positive outcomes with how they interact with their peers and teachers. It’s a positive experience all-around,” Snelling said. “There are some kids that are naturally blessed with the skill of leadership. But a lot of times, there’s the quiet kid that might not be the one that people look to, but given the opportunity they can make powerful moves too.”
The mission of the FCA is to “lead every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.”
Area representative Bob Shaw is encouraged by the growth here in Southern Indiana. He said the organization’s role is simply to “provide resources, support and encouragement. We also work with coaches. Sometimes there are specific teams that have a huddle, maybe they get together and pray once a week or get together and have a devotional.”
Kaelin hopes to see the FCA gatherings continue to grow in the area, especially at Charlestown.
“We meet in the mornings, pray in a circle. Sometimes you see people give us a weird look and sometimes you see them come join FCA. It’s real encouragement to see them come join,” Kaelin said.