In 1947, Don McClanen, a 22-year old sophomore at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State), was divinely inspired with a groundbreaking sports ministry concept that would encourage athletes and coaches to use their platform to share the gospel. In September 1954, McClanen spearheaded an advisory board meeting with a group of influential sports figures. Three months later, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was officially born.
A talented high school athlete, McClanen put his sports career on hold in order to join the U.S. Navy during World War II. After being discharged from active duty and a brief attempt to play college football, he landed the coveted job as team manager for legendary basketball coach Henry Iba.
McClanen spent a year coaching basketball at Norfolk (OK) High School before taking the same position at Eastern Oklahoma State University. In his spare time, he began contacting Christian athletes and coaches across the country to garner support for his fledgling ministry. His meeting with Pittsburgh Pirates executive Branch Rickey proved to be a watershed moment. Thanks to Rickey’s fundraising efforts, McClanen was able to resign from Eastern Oklahoma and become FCA’s first executive director.
Under McClanen’s leadership, FCA held its first seven national conferences including the historic 1956 meeting in Estes Park, Colo. He oversaw the establishment of FCA’s headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., the initial expansion of its camp program, and the 1959 introduction of a national publication called The Christian Athlete. McClanen also introduced FCA both to the Christian community and the sports world through coaches’ clinics, pro baseball players’ conferences, ministry breakfasts, and educational seminars.
In 1962, McClanen resigned his FCA post to study theology. He later moved to Washington D.C., where he became president of the Washington Lift, founded Wellspring Mission (a ministry of The Church of the Savior), and served as co-director of The Ministry of Money (now the Faith and Money Network), which raises awareness and funds for humanitarian efforts in developing nations. McClanen was also involved with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in India, and founded Harvest Time, a ministry devoted to encouraging wealthy Christians to use their resources to facilitate biblical discipleship.