In 2007, God reached approximately 340,150 kids on 6,803 campuses through the hard work of 830 FCA staff members across 50 states. That’s 340,150 students who heard the Word of God in their own schools, were influenced by their Christian teachers and coaches and learned how to compete for Christ. That’s 6,803 campuses that facilitated a light for Jesus and allowed a Christian group to organize on their school grounds.
Every year we hear these numbers and marvel at how God has used FCA to impact students in public and private schools that might otherwise censor Christian values; but very rarely do we zero in on the amazing stories of how God scattered the seeds, planted these Huddles and watered them into existence.
So, pick up your magnifying glass. It’s time to take a closer look at how five of those 6,803 Huddles got their start in 2007.
Azusa High School
Area: Azusa, Calif.
Huddle attendance: 25
School population: 1,510
Huddle Coaches: Mike Martinez, Stephen Martinez
Area Rep: Jarret Myers
Huddle started: April 2007
Every Thursday, six students on the Azusa High School FCA leadership team gather during lunch to plan their Huddle meeting for the following Tuesday. One Thursday afternoon in September, Huddle Coach Mike Martinez awaited the arrival of his leadership team with his door open and Christian music playing, something he does almost every day. But this day, as he and his brother Stephen, a volunteer Huddle Coach, waited, three Azusa football players walked in to hang out.
Martinez’s room is next to the football coach’s room. Since the coach was gone that day and his door was locked, the players needed a place to eat their lunch. Hearing the music, and knowing Coach Martinez, they wandered in. Before long, the room filled with more than 30 players. The leadership team arrived soon after.
Mike and Stephen wisely decided to start the meeting; but, rather than begin as usual, Stephen presented the Gospel. Though he was afraid that the leadership team might be upset that their meeting was being disrupted, he knew he had to take advantage of the unique opportunity.
Then, a football player raised his hand and asked, “What does it mean to be saved?” Stephen jumped in, and at the end of the discussion, he asked if anyone wanted to receive Jesus into his heart. About 30 boys accepted Christ on the spot. Mike and Stephen later discovered that two girls on the leadership team had been praying for their school the entire summer, specifically for the football team. The following week, the same football players came back, this time bringing more of their teammates. Steve gave another invitation and 10 more players accepted Christ.
According to FCA’s Jarret Myers, since then, every Thursday during lunch, football players have been strolling into Martinez’s room to hear the Word of God. “This is the beginning of a revival at Azusa High School,” he said. “And there wasn’t even a Huddle here last football season. Where would these boys be without FCA at Azusa High? But, what’s more exciting is to think about where these boys are in Christ because of Huddle Coaches like Stephen and Mike Martinez and the prayers of two girls.”
Washington Preparatory High School
Area: South Los Angeles
Huddle attendance: 125
School population: 2,200
Huddle Coach: Pastor Tom Sheck
Area Rep: Josh Canales
Huddle started: March 2007
In January 2007, only eight Huddles existed in Los Angeles, but by the end of the school year in June, 16 were going strong. Washington Prep High School hosts one of these new Huddles, and it’s creating an explosion for FCA in inner-city Los Angeles.
When Josh Canales joined FCA staff in September 2006, he began working to establish relationships and reinstate the Huddle at Prep, which had fizzled out to extinction the year before. Because Canales was a new face in a rough part of town, it took time for the administration to warm up to him.
Canales knew that the basketball coach, Andy Davis, had previously been involved with FCA. He also knew that Davis had tried to lead the Huddle himself but hadn’t been able to give it the time he had wanted. So, God provided a solution. A pastor at a church in Gardena, Calif., named Tom Sheck was volunteering with FCA at a different high school in the area and offered to help Davis restart the Huddle. Sheck took it upon himself to get acquainted with the school and the sports teams. He got to know the students by attending their games, and he immediately fell in love with the school, kids and poverty-stricken area. He visited Athletic Director Kim Bly to gain her support, and she eagerly complied.
Bly had seen FCA’s commitment to the students in the spring of 2007 and made a point that fall to encourage the athletes to get involved. She, Davis and Sheck instituted incentives to encourage the athletes to bring their teammates to the Huddle. They counted the members from each sports team present at the meetings and said that the highest percentage of each team represented would get an ice cream party at the end of each quarter.
Canales also discovered that providing pizza at the meetings drew more kids than any other strategy. In a school where many kids use meal tickets to eat lunch, a sure piece of pizza was incentive enough. Tom Sheck, who donates the pizzas out of his own pocket, is accustomed to buying 16 pizzas for the 125 kids who come to the weekly Huddles.
“It’s usually a negative thing to concentrate on numbers in ministry,” said Canales, “but in the inner city, numbers are so important. The more kids you have in FCA, the fewer kids you have getting into trouble. Now they’re coming to a safe place where they’re being encouraged and loved by adults.”
Canales also sees the kids making major changes in their lives, choosing to go against the grain of society and have a positive influence on their peers. “They’re getting home from practice, and they’re doing their homework,” said Canales. “They’re taking their walk with Jesus Christ seriously. I can look back and see how these kids have grown and matured here; they’re going to go on and do mighty things.”
Harmony High School
Area: Harmony, Fla.
Huddle attendance: 200+
School population: 2,500
Huddle Coaches: Ken and Kathy Gilbert
Area Rep: Frank Reynoso
Huddle started: August 2007
Harmony High School is like most suburban public high schools: The teachers focus on strong academics, the Longhorns are full of school spirit, and the tardy bell rings at 7:30 every morning. But what makes this campus unique for FCA’s Frank Reynoso is that the public school is located in an area where a large portion of the land is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, the city of Harmony is home to a large Mormon population and to the Orlando Florida Temple—the only Mormon temple in the state.
“I’ve had people say, ‘You’re not going to get FCA in that school,’” said Reynoso. “Harmony has that reputation. But I’ve discovered that even though a lot of the teachers and students are of the Mormon faith, it’s a regular school; the Mormon Church just owns a significant amount of land in the area.”
For 15 months, Reynoso tried to build relationships with coaches and administration at Harmony, but couldn’t get a foothold. Then he met Ken Gilbert, a volunteer football and basketball coach who owns a business that helps with the school’s athletic functions. Reynoso discovered that Gilbert was a Christian and interested in starting FCA.
From there, Gilbert approached three Harmony students from his church about the Huddle. Through word of mouth and the persistence of Gilbert and his wife, Kathy, a team of 10 students attended Central Florida FCA’s leadership training.
The leadership team turned out to be a group of go-getters who put up posters and banners all over the school. They held meetings each week, and slowly the numbers grew. The Huddle currently hosts approximately 200 kids each week.
Reynoso won’t say that starting the Huddle has been smooth sailing; but, opposition that he and many others thought would occur has not. “We know there are a lot of Christians on this campus, and FCA provides a way for the Christian teachers to communicate their beliefs. A lot of them are stepping up to the plate, feeling more comfortable that there’s somewhere they can express their faith.”
He does add though, that it’s necessary that his Huddle Leaders receive extra biblical training in order to be able to answer tough questions regarding the basic theological differences between Christianity and Mormonism. “There are Mormon students who have come to the Huddle and raised their hands and said the prayer, so now we’re teaching the kids to ask the right questions and understand exactly what they believe. We’re not making denominational pitches against anyone, so the kids know they are loved and cared for; but, there’s still some teaching that needs to happen.”
Reynoso expects the Huddle to continue to grow, and he praises God for opening doors that no one thought could be opened.
Mabry Middle School
Area: Cobb County, Ga.
Huddle attendance: 100
School population: 850
Huddle Coaches: Kelly Moncrieff and Jodie Parades
Area Reps: Lindsey Goff and Mike Leazer
Huddle started: September 2007
For three years, Dr. Jim Hutson prayed for an FCA Huddle to start at his children’s school, Mabry Middle. He met with FCA staff to start one, but they couldn’t seem to cut through the administration’s red tape. Located just northeast of Atlanta in Cobb County, the school is nestled in one of the wealthiest communities in the surrounding Atlanta area. And, according to FCA staff, maintaining political correctness regarding the so-called division between church and state on campuses usually trumps the allowance of Christian clubs like FCA.
FCA staff in Cobb County have noticed that starting Huddles and ministering to students and parents in wealthy communities, just like any other area, has unique drawbacks. “Because people have so much, they don’t think they need anything else. We know that that’s not true,” said FCA Area Representative Lindsey Goff. “Sometimes it’s difficult for people to see that they need Jesus as their personal Savior.”
In the spring of 2007, Mabry announced the hiring of a new principal from a neighboring middle school, one that had a well-established FCA Huddle. Seeing a possible open door, Goff seized the opportunity. The principal said that as long as Mabry had student-leaders and a teacher to sponsor, she would be glad to have FCA on campus.
When the 2007 school year rolled around, Goff and FCA’s Mike Leazer met with Mabry football coaches Scott Hayes and Tony Brown who were interested in FCA. They met just before the opening fall sports banquet, and the coaches requested that Goff and Leazer stay after and present FCA to the athletes and parents to see if anyone was interested in getting involved. Many of the parents responded positively and asked what they could do to help.
One month into the school year, the last piece fell into place when a teacher agreed to volunteer. Mabry finally had their
sanctioned Huddle. Approximately 85 kids and 15 parents came to the first Huddle meeting on September 3, 2007. FCA’s Scott Pope gave a message, and Goff estimated that 60 people responded to the Gospel. Since that meeting, God has continued to move at Mabry with 80-100 kids frequenting the weekly meetings. The students have even taken ownership of the Huddle and formed a leadership team of nine members to direct the Huddle’s ministry.
Genoa High School
Area: Genoa, Ohio
Huddle attendance: 65
School population: 498
Huddle Coaches: Marty and Amy Sutter
Area Rep: Rick Isaiah
Huddle started: March 2007
Genoa High School junior Ben Sutter was in bad shape after the 2006 football season. But it wasn’t because the Comets had only won three games the whole season. It was because, on October 29, 2006, he and a friend had been in a serious car accident. Both were just blessed to be alive. Ben had been life-flighted to the hospital with an 8-inch gash in his head, a broken ankle, a shattered hand, two broken bones in his leg and a concussion. He received 57 stitches and 20 staples in his head and a 4-inch plate with six screws in his hand.
“I really thought I was going to die that night,” said Ben, “and I was wondering where I was going to go when all of that was over. I wasn’t sure, so I started to pray. I thought, ‘I’m not going to Hell; I need to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior.’ It just kind of happened right there in the helicopter.”
Ben’s new commitment to Christ led him to start the FCA Huddle at Genoa. With the help of his parents, Marty and Amy, who had been praying for Christian influences in the high school for years, Ben set up a meeting with FCA Northwest Ohio Area Director Rick Isaiah and several others student-athletes in March 2007.
For the diverse group of leaders from many different sports, finding a time to meet was the biggest challenge. They finally started meeting every other week on Sunday nights, but after just two meetings, the Huddle decided to meet weekly. “The biggest blessing is having this group of students become a family, from all grades and sports,” said Isaiah. “They support each other, pray for each other, read the Bible together and stand up for one another. We are one group, one body for Christ. There have even been several students who have met Jesus for the first time!”
This fall the Huddle also began meeting in the gym every Friday after school for a time they call “Power Pack Prayer”. About 50 kids meet to pray for the athletes and the games during the coming week. Said Ben, “We pray that all the sports teams, coaches, teachers, community and school would live their lives for Christ, and that everything we do would be for Him and His glory.”
Photos courtesy Ann Dieknan; Lindsey Goff; Tom Sheck; Frank Reynoso
*For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.