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FCA founder lifted sports in ministry
While a student at OSU from 1946 to 1950, Don McClanen was inspired by a dynamic idea. Recognizing the strong influence of athletes and coaches upon the lives of others, he envisioned a fellowship of athletes, dedicated to advancing Christianity through their vocations. It was this fundamental concept that led to the founding of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
The FCA has grown over the years and today is widely recognized and respected for its mission of spreading the principles of Christianity to youth. To honor this outstanding organization, whose roots are deeply imbedded at Oklahoma State University, and its founder, the OSU Foundation Board of Governors dedicated FCA Plaza, October 13, 1978.
McClanen died February 16 at the age of 91. His story was featured in the Spring 2009 issue of STATE magazine:
FCA FOUNDING FATHER
From Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he spent his college years, to Calcutta, India, where he worked alongside Mother Teresa, Don McClanen has shared his passion for God, sports and people.
In the spring of 1947, Oklahoma A&M student Don McClanen knelt in the back pew of a church in downtown Oklahoma City and made a decision that forever changed his life. He surrendered his will to God.
On that day, McClanen, a physical education student with hopes of becoming a teacher and a coach, was attending a physical education convention and listening to speaker H. Clay Fisk, a former football player and coach.
McClanen recalls Fisk saying, “A coach or a teacher can lead a young person up a mountain or down a drain by the way he lives his life.”
That statement led to a radical change in McClanen’s life. The transformation was not a “dramatic, emotional thing,” he says. “It was just a factual thing,” that ultimately led to the creation of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Born February 3, 1925, in Trenton, New Jersey, McClanen grew up in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, and spent a year at Admiral Farragut Naval Academy after high school. He trained to be a gunner’s mate for
the submarine service and was discharged in February 1946 after serving in World War II.
I was standing on the train platform in Bainbridge, Maryland, and a naval officer was standing on that platform, too,” McClanen says. “He said, ‘Well sailor, what are you going to do now that you’re out of the Navy?'"
McClanen told him he was going to college, probably at the University of Pennsylvania near his hometown.
Why don’t you go to a good school?” the lieutenant asked.
Where’s that?” McClanen replied.
Oklahoma A&M,” the lieutenant said.
McClanen was aware of the school’s athletic reputation. Oklahoma A&M’s football team starring Bob Fenimore was ranked third in the country behind Army and Navy. The basketball team, led by Mr. Henry P. “Hank” Iba, had just won its second national title.
McClanen followed the lieutenant’s advice. After marrying his high school sweetheart, Gloria Clark, the two moved to Stillwater.
McClanen joined the football team, but every day after practice he sat in the bleachers of Gallagher Hall and watched the basketball team run drills. He realized within his first year his heart belonged to basketball. McClanen visited Coach Iba, who admitted to seeing McClanen in the bleachers during practices and offered McClanen a position as a basketball manager.
While living the life of a typical college student, McClanen continued a hobby that would eventually lead to the creation of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Since that day in the church in Oklahoma City, McClanen had been clipping articles about Christian athletes out of newspapers and magazines. He stashed them in his dresser drawer. This hobby continued as McClanen graduated from Oklahoma A&M in 1950, taught and coached in Norfolk and then became athletic director and head basketball coach at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton.
In March of 1954, Louis H. Evans, a pastor and former college basketball player who was one of the athletes highlighted in McClanen’s clippings, came to Stillwater. McClanen met Evans over dinner and told him the story behind his collection of clippings. Evans encouraged McClanen to contact the athletes, so he penned letters to the 19 athletes, and 14 of them responded.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes had begun.
I began to visit with the athletes to find out how they were, who they were, and if they would be willing to share their stories with the youth of the country, even though they would never be paid,” McClanen says.
FCA was officially born on November 12, 1954, when the organization’s charter and bylaws were approved in Oklahoma. McClanen eventually resigned from coaching to become FCA’s first executive director.
Today, FCA is the largest Christian sports organization in the United States with a vision “to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of athletes and coaches.”
According to fca.org, it is also the largest campus ministry in the world with more than 7,000 groups on professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels. FCA serves to connect people with God through sports and fosters camps, campus meetings, Bible studies and conferences.
I have often wondered why the founder of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes would be some unknown person like I was, rather than some well-known athlete, whom I always thought God would call forth,” McClanen says.
It’s been a miracle,” he says. “We started from scratch with a very modest background. God opened the door, provided the way and accomplished through us and others a miracle of grace that has been inspiring.”
Even though McClanen realized the financial risk of trying to support his own family while running a nonprofit organization, finding funding and developing programs, he says, “By praying about these things, they just happened.”
McClanen has touched thousands of lives through the FCA, but he didn’t stop there. He also founded other programs, including Washington Lift to teach leadership to inner city youth, Wellspring Mission to build up the body of believers, Ministry of Money to bridge the gap between the rich and poor and Harvest Time to challenge the wealthy and encourage generosity.
McClanen quotes Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, who said, “Let your heart be broken for the things that break the heart of God.”
McClanen’s work has taken him and more than a thousand volunteers on humanitarian journeys to Bosnia, India, Thailand, Africa, Haiti, Iraq and Kosovo, among other places.
“This is such a great world and a great privilege to be alive and to serve and to give instead of receiving in selfishness,” says McClanen, who lives in suburban Washington, D.C., and is working on Second Journey, a program he hopes will lead people to a more realistic and fulfilling faith.
Although McClanen embodies success, he is the definition of humility.
When people look at his life, he says he wants them to simply see one thing — God at work.
The fundamental opportunity, challenge and fulfillment of life is surrender and commitment and growth in Christ, in discipleship, in the Bible, in prayer, in silence, in joyous serving and giving,” he says.
McClanen says his faith is the heart of his life, and he remembers his years at Oklahoma A&M as a special time when he felt the nurturing and deepening of his spirit. The university’s atmosphere was inspiring, he says, and everyone was “very committed to being the best — the best teachers, best coaches, best people.”
Mr. Henry P. "Hank" Iba, Don and Gloria McClanen and OSU President Lawrence Boger meet at the Oklahoma State University FCA Plaza in 1978.
More stories like this are available for members of the OSU Alumni Association. STATE magazine is a benefit of membership in the OSU Alumni Association. To join or update your membership go to orangeconnection.org/joinor call 405-744-5368.
Uploaded March 1, 2016 by STATE Magazine Editor Elizabeth Keys