The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, founded more than 60 years ago as a way to connect the message of Christianity to athletics, has tens of thousands of participants at high schools and colleges around the nation.
At Utah State, 15 to 20 student-athletes gather, typically once per week, for come-as-you are FCA meetings, known as “huddles,” that include games and a gospel-based discussion.
“I would say the goal of FCA is to really just create a community of believers,” said Katie Brown, one of the leaders of FCA at Utah State, “(People that are) seeking to grow in their relationship with God and to help others grow in their relationship to God.”
The meetings blend the students’ need to be social with a desire for religious discussion.
Of course, there’s also food at every huddle.
“People love pizza, so we’re always going to have pizza,” said Justen Hervey, a sophomore running back on the football team.
Food and games might get some athletes in the door, but it’s the discussions that keep the students coming back week after week.
“The reason I love it so much is because it’s open,” Hervey said. “I mean you can be yourself, it’s not uptight where you have to just sit and listen to a lecture or you have to be tight or intense. You can express yourself and you don’t have to worry about anyone judging you.”
The lessons typically begin with a group discussion on a pre-selected topic before breaking into smaller groups. The nature of the discussions has created a camaraderie that allows the students to share stories and examples that are more personal.
“All these people, like this community we’re trying to create, all had my back,” Brown said. “It was okay to be vulnerable in here and to have this outlet where I could really say what I’m struggling with and people could help me because they genuinely cared.”
Brown, a junior on the gymnastics team, works with Mariah Miles, a senior guard on the women’s basketball team, and Sarah Landes, a former USU gymnast who is finishing a double major this semester, to plan the meetings.
“Sometimes we go through books,” Landes said. “This semester it’s been more topic-based, so at the beginning of the year we met and came up with a bunch of things that we’ve been thinking about or things that have been on our mind … We all try to center it around a topic and in a way we just try to relate everything back to athletics because that’s one thing we know most people who attend FCA can relate to.”
For many of the athletes, the weekly meetings provide an escape from the grind of college life.
“For me, in the craziness of having school and when I was doing gymnastics and everything it was nice to have an hour once a week,” Landes said. “You could gather with other fellow student-athletes, other fellow followers of Christ and just sit and have some good discussion.”
Ultimately, the friendships the students form with each other provide the most joy for the members of FCA.
“I really enjoy being around all these different people,” said Shane Callihan, a senior on the club lacrosse team. “Everyone’s really awesome. It’s a comfortable environment and there’s great relationships.”
Mingling with athletes from other sports allows the FCA members to share different perspectives on shared experiences.
“We all have something similar being athletes,” Landes said. “At the same time it’s kind of nice to cross those boundaries and mingle with people that aren’t in your sport clique… We can all talk about things that go on in the training room or the weight room, things that we all share or all have in common… It’s nice to be able to get some insight on other sports.”
“You see a gymnast hanging out with the tennis players or football players,” Hervey said. “We kind of get involved because doing our sport we don’t really have that much social time. This is pretty much our time to get social and connect together.”
While FCA is intended for athletes, anyone interested in a religious discussion is welcome.
“We don’t exclude anyone that wants to come,” Brown said. “We welcome everybody.”
More information can be found by following the club on Twitter at @UtahStateFCA.