November 2008 University of Texas Longhorns The Heart of Texas Clay Meyer
-"Hook ’em ’Horns."
-The Longhorn hand symbol.
The list could go on and on.
Mention any one of these, and someone will instantly know what you’re talking about.
It’s just that simple. In many cases, the University of Texas (and they wouldn’t mind us mentioning this) is larger than life. After all, isn’t everything bigger in Texas?
And really, it’s tough to disagree. The Greater Austin metro area has a population of 1.6 million people. UT’s 350-acre main campus employs 21,000 faculty and staff while serving as the educational grounds for nearly 50,000 students, many of whom are members of one or more of the 900 registered student organizations.
FCA's Chris Snapp (center) with Erica Campanelli and John Gold.
Impacting the campus and community for Christ sounds like a great vision, but where do you begin?
One place to start is with a few athletes and coaches from the football and soccer teams who play in front of a combined 100,000 fans every week. Not even the most revered pastors in the largest churches in America are filling the pews with that many people.
So, after getting to know these young men and women, who understand the sphere of influence they have as Longhorns, it is quite refreshing to hear them say they realize what their athletic platform should be used for: glorifying the Lord.
FCA is there on the campus as well, serving as the natural place where the athletes can retreat. A place where they can be poured into, find fellowship, sing praise and be encouraged by the Word of God—encouragement they can take to their individual fields of play and be a light for Him.
Chris Snapp, the FCA area representative in Austin, is in his second year with the UT Huddle. Already he has seen an increase in meeting attendance, which he attributes to the work of previous FCA area rep Ben Johnson combined with the athletes’ growing awareness of the influence they have as Longhorns.
“I think the athletes really want to come and be involved and have an impact on the campus,” Snapp said. “Texas is so big with hundreds of campus ministries to choose from. But as an athlete, they can put their time into FCA because that’s where they are going to have the most impact and the best chance to influence people for Christ.”
The opportunity to influence others arises when spectators and opponents see how these athletes carry themselves and interact with others. So, this semester, Snapp and the Huddle’s leadership team felt it would be beneficial for them to study the book of James, a virtual handbook for Christianity in action.
“We felt like James is a fundamental ‘how to live your life as a Christian’ book,” Snapp said. “It’s a way to encourage [athletes] with how they can do that on campus. It is so important to give them a foundation, no matter where their faith is, to remind them of what it looks like to live out their faith.”
On the fall athletic teams—two in particular—the athletes and coaches are already bearing the fruit of FCA’s study on James and making their lives living testaments to God’s glory.
Chris Hall #71
John Gold #47
ON THE GRIDIRONTalk with Longhorns’ offensive lineman Chris Hall for a few minutes, and he will shift the conversation to his favorite subject. The 6’4”, 300-pound lineman won’t rave about pancake blocks or even pancakes, but he will get to what he’s most passionate about: his heavenly Father.
Just a few years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case. Hall didn’t have a personal relationship with Christ when he arrived on campus in 2005, but through the shepherding of upperclassmen football players Richmond McGee and Stevie Stigall, he came to know Jesus Christ as his Lord. After accepting Christ in his dorm room, Hall followed the encouragement of McGee and Stigall to join them at FCA. And he has been participating in the Huddle ever since.
Hall’s experience with FCA and what it means to him can be summed up in one simple word that he uses often: “sweet.”
“I can testify we’ve really had some sweet times together in the Lord,” said Hall, now a redshirt junior. “As Christians, we need that aspect of meeting and enjoying the Lord together. It’s been great to pray concerning the team and pray about young players that we’d really love to see grow in their walk with the Lord. I’ve had a really sweet time here in college.”
Snapp was quick to point out that Hall has a unique opportunity to witness now that he has become a starter and leader on the football team.
“Chris is just so open and easy to talk to,” Snapp said. “There is rarely a time you can talk to him without him talking about the gospel. Now that he’s been elevated to a starter, he’s gotten more respect, and guys listen to him.”
John Gold, the Longhorns’ redshirt-sophomore punter, is an example of Hall’s influence. Gold began going to FCA his freshman year at the invitation of Hall and other teammates. He’s continued to attend and now serves on the Huddle’s leadership team. His heart is to spread Christ to his teammates through team Bible studies and prepare underclassmen to take on future leadership roles within FCA.
Said Gold, “My biggest desire is to find younger people who are willing to get involved and help out, to really mentor them and help them grow into a position where they can lead.”
Hall has an even larger vision for FCA’s influence on the football team and how it can be used to reach the campus and the city of Austin for Christ.
“Hopefully when people turn on their television and see a great football game they will also have the opportunity to see someone expressing, honoring and speaking for Christ,” he said. “No matter where believers are, we have an opportunity to express the Lord.”
ON THE PITCH
Dianna Pfenninger #8
Erica Campanelli #19
The Longhorn soccer team’s FCA involvement follows a similar path to that of the football team: a strong, core group of Christian upperclassmen who are continuing the trend of inviting younger athletes to the Wednesday-night FCA meetings.
Senior goalkeeper Dianna Pfenninger was invited by older teammates when she was a freshman. Now, as a senior, she is sending the invitations. She enjoys passing on the opportunity for others to be blessed by FCA, just as she was blessed as an underclassman.
“FCA has been a part of my growth since I have been in college,” she said. “Especially as a student-athlete, it’s great to know that you have fellowship on your team and that you have fellowship within the athlete community. It has been a huge part of my getting connected with other Christians on campus. And the opportunity I get to worship Christ is just something that helps me grow closer to Him.”
Pfenninger, the only goalkeeper in Big 12 history to earn the offensive and defensive MVP awards in the conference tournament, invited sophomore Erica Campanelli to FCA when she joined the team. Similar to the football story of Hall and Gold, after Pfenninger’s invitation, Campanelli has continued to attend and has now joined the leadership team.
Last spring, the two attended the FCA College Extreme Retreat in Austin. It was an opportunity for college student-athletes throughout the state of Texas to put down the books, put away their sports equipment and focus on God.
“I would recommend that camp to anyone,” Campanelli said. “You meet so many amazing people, and you worship morning, afternoon and night. It is a chance to really figure out who you are and your purpose in life.”
For both Campanelli and Pfenninger, that purpose is to be a witness to their teammates as well as the city of Austin. And according to Pfenninger, it all starts with just one heart.
“I think it is a ripple effect,” she said. “It starts individually with each one of our walks with Christ, and from there we build fellowship through our team. We really can change the city of Austin because we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, and, as the Body of Christ, we are active and moving and growing and changing. With the Spirit of God in us, we can’t discount how much we really can do—how much God can do through us.”
OUT OF THE OFFICE
Coach Ken Rucker
Ken Rucker, UT football’s director of player development and also the FCA liaison, recalled how FCA poured into him and his family in the past, both as an athlete and coach. He now continues to participate in the ministry at Texas.
His connections to FCA extend back to his high school days when he attended an FCA Camp in 1966 at Black Mountain, N.C. He also has ties to former FCA President Dal Shealy, playing for him at Carson Newman College and coaching under Shealy at the University of Richmond in the early ’80s.
“FCA has helped me be a better father,” said Rucker, a 31-year coaching veteran. “As a coach, you are removed from your family for quite a few hours in the day, but every summer we would go to Black Mountain, and it would give us a chance to be together and encourage our daughter’s Christian growth. It has helped me be a better husband and provider, and it has helped me to be the spiritual leader in my family. FCA has meant so much.”
If approached by players about spiritual matters, Rucker is free to express his faith and what FCA can do for them. It’s his chosen role to develop players outside of sports where they can have an influence on so many others.
“[FCA] is a great positive influence,” he said. “You see the growing of college retreats around the state and on this campus and young people getting involved because of FCA. It has been here a long time, and that is because of the influence that it has had over time. God hasn’t changed; He never does.”
IN THE HEART
Maybe everything is a little bigger in Texas. And if that is true, no small goals for FCA should be accepted.
Chris Snapp is ready, and he’s eager to embrace the immense challenge of spreading Christ beyond the campus.
“I want them to understand that the University of Texas is the central focus of the city,” he said. “Working with all the schools in Austin, I see that they have an opportunity to impact the community, the schools and the kids. Their influence goes beyond the campus. It is the heartbeat of this city, which has a lot of brokenness. It is a city that needs Christ.”
With almost every team on campus in the hunt for conference or national championships, chances are good that the masses will be exposed to one of those conspicuous UT symbols. If that’s you, the next time it happens, don’t focus on the Longhorn pride and tradition. Instead, be reminded that God is constantly at work everywhere, in places as small as one’s heart or even as large as Texas.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of UT Athletics Photography and Chris Snapp.