WILMINGTON — The stigma of bringing faith into the sports community can stir up a variety of emotions, but, since 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) has stood the test of time and continues to increase its presence across southeastern North Carolina.
Whether it’s the debate around prayer in schools or erring on the side of caution in a world of increasing political correctness, the student led fellowship continues to grow through examples of inclusion and by bringing students together under the belief that children from middle school through college can be challenged and encouraged.
The culture of sports has grown to epitomize the culture as a whole. With that, coaches more than ever have a greater impact on youth’s lives. Coaches are also the heart of FCA.
FCA’s vision is to see coaches aid in a positive transformation for people involved in sports. Their character, relationships and approach to coaching oftentimes have an extreme influence on the children they coach.
“Our kids have so much information today and are exposed to so many different things, the structure around sports relates to our mission of discipline, integrity, team work and excellence,” said Matt Treppel, FCA Southeastern North Carolina regional director. “We don’t force the faith on the kids we work with. We are here to present to young people. It’s not a religion. It’s not a church.
“We are here to challenge coaches and athletes to impact the world,” he said. “We’re here to show them God made them with a purpose. God loves them. God has a plan. Kids need to know someone cares about them. I always tell kids, there are 5 billion people in this world and you are the only one who has your thumbprint. You are unique.”
The push to bring together the local athletes, teachers, coaches and community members involved in sports has grown over the past few decades. With the FCA represented in nearly every middle and high school in New Hanover and Brunswick counties, the common bond created through the initiative has given people from all backgrounds a chance to blossom.
A proactive mindset calls for meeting youths within their own comfort zone. That has been a big reason for the group’s success in reaching impressionable youth, according to Treppel.
“You don’t have to go to church,” Treppel added. “You don’t have to be a believer. It’s an opportunity to listen. This is a student led ministry. FCA provides the support, but it’s the students encouraging other students.
“You hear a lot about peer pressure. This is peer encouragement,” he said, “getting kids to understand they can be accepted regardless of their differences”
With tens of thousands of FCA certified “huddles” in 47 countries, the idea of faith and sports going together may be more common than some believe. Since FCA was founded, football has played a large part in the group’s growth. As a result, “huddles” were created as a way to bring together people through bible study and devotion. In the Wilmington area, huddles are extended to different sports, student groups and anyone who wants to be involved.
“During the brief 20-minute huddles, students are challenged and encouraged to give themselves a chance to hear what God says,” Treppel said. “We typically have some type of ice breaker, but the goal is to get kids to participate in discussion. The last thing these kids want is another person lecturing them. We want to them to feel they can talk, get involved and discuss what is relevant to them right now, without judgment.”
The hands-on approach and willing to meet anytime of the day, like before or after school or after practice, has led to growing attendance in gatherings that range from as small as 10 youths in a huddle to 200 in a meeting.
Ashley and Trask High schools held football camps in which FCA had a presence over the summer. A team prayer following Laney and Wallace-Rose football game this season was another example of FCA making an impact in local sports.
The latest example of FCA’s presence on area youth came earlier this month, when the South Brunswick and North Brunswick girls basketball teams huddled prior to their game for a quick moment of prayer.
“In this area, we’ve had great stability in the FCA,” Treppel said. “Our focus is in the five-county area around Wilmington. Exposure, clarity of who we are and our mission and utilizing social media has been a big part in growing the FCA community.
“We’re going to where they are at,” he added. “Making it convenient for them, having different huddles, bringing coaches together and having people to lead through our volunteers, teachers, coaches and students makes this possible.”