June/July 2011 Clay Meyer
The majestic beauty of Niagara Falls is no secret to the world. Millions of tourists visit the falls every year to take in its resplendent sights and experience the grandeur of the 170-foot waterfalls that separate the United States and Canada. What few people know, however, is that the water cascading over the falls was first harnessed in 1759 as a way of supplying power to a small sawmill. Now, more than two centuries later, Niagara Falls still provides electricity, but on a much larger scale, serving as the largest power source for the entire state of New York.
Logically then, most mentions of Niagara’s “power” are considered references to the surging waters that light up the state. Rarely is a connection made to the other Power from Niagara—one that generates greater light than even Horseshoe Falls itself.
This Niagara Power is FCA’s collegiate-level summer league baseball team. Founded in 2007 by FCA’s Cal and Sherrie Kern, the team has been impacting players, coaches and even the community not by sharing the light of science and technology, but by shining the light of Jesus Christ.
In a region where ministry is often met with great resistance, the Kerns have been able to make inroads by bringing the sport to the baseball-hungry people of Niagara. The presence of the team has been positive in so many ways that no one seems to mind that they are fully affiliated with a Christian ministry.
|FCA Baseball Update|
One of the Niagara Power’s biggest fans is FCA Baseball National Director David Daly, who sees the work that is being done in New York as a great avenue through which FCA can reach people for Christ through baseball. Each member of the visiting teams in Sal Maglie Stadium in Niagara receives a free copy of the FCA Baseball New Testament, which features testimonies from some of the biggest names in the game. Already, FCA Baseball has given away more than 10,000 New Testaments and is currently raising the funds to distribute another 10,000. To find out more about what God is doing through the FCA Baseball ministry, visit fcabaseball.org.
Yes, Niagara may be known for one of the most famous natural sights in the U.S., but locally, the Niagara Power baseball team is becoming a landmark of its own.
After finishing his professional soccer career, Cal Kern dreamed of owning and operating a minor league baseball franchise. It seemed strange to transition from the soccer field to the diamond, but America’s national pastime had always been an area of interest to Kern, and it was a sport he’d spent a great amount of time
“I would purposely drive around to different cities and check out the minor league stadiums,” Kern said. “I just had this passion for owning a baseball team and a real fascination with the minor league teams.”
Kern’s interest in baseball was trumped only by his passion for ministry. In 1993, he came on staff with FCA in the state of New York and remained there until 2000 when he stepped away to work in radio. In 2007 he rejoined FCA, taking on the full-time position of Western New York FCA area representative.
In his second stint with the ministry, Kern quickly saw an opportunity to combine his two passions. With Sherrie’s teamwork, Kern began to pursue his dream of managing a baseball team, but more specifically one affiliated with FCA and located in a prime spot.
“Niagara had minor league baseball until 1995 when the franchise moved,” Kern said. “They built Sal Maglie Stadium in 2000 with the hope of bringing baseball back, but nothing came of it. So there was this new professional baseball stadium just lying dormant in a city that loved the game.”
Already realizing a chance to fill a vacant stadium, Kern saw additional opportunity through the existing New York Collegiate Baseball League—a summer wood bat league for college players. Kern approached city and league officials about the prospect of starting a faith-based team, and, much to his delight and surprise, the doors to his dream swung wide open.
“I told them, ‘Let’s bring baseball back to Niagara Falls,’” Kern said. “Even after I told him that we’d like it to be a religious-based team with FCA, the league commissioner was still in favor of it. The city actually paid the fee to get into the NYCBL, and the school district, which leases the stadium, agreed to let us play there. It was a dream that just came to be through God’s favor.”
June 3, 2007
Total number of players in five-year history: 125
Total fan attendance in first four seasons: 20,600
New York Collegiate Baseball League
|Former NYCBL players in MLB:|
• Tim Hudson – Atlanta Braves
• Brad Lidge – Philadelphia Phillies
• Dallas Braden – Oakland A’s
• Hunter Pence – Houston Astros
3 POWER PROMOS:
• “Power Catch Night” – After the game, kids take the field to play catch with the players.
• “Faith Night” – Area churches bring large groups for fellowship outings.
• “50¢ Hot Dog Night” – Fans come out for a cheap meal and a great game.
The first pitch of the Niagara Power was thrown on June 3, 2007. Now, five years later and still part of the NYCBL, the Power plays 44 games in and around the Western N.Y. area throughout June and July. While the results on the diamond have required more patience, the ministry aspect immediately exceeded expectations. Through the scheduled daily devotionals, Bible studies and small groups, the Power athletes have experienced life change through the presence of Christ in sports each and every season.
“It was the best summer of my life,” said Derek Glenn, a junior infielder from Southern Nazarene University (Okla.) who played for the Power in 2010 and will take the field at Sal Maglie again this season. “It changed my life and ushered me into this past year in a divine way. I’ve always had a desire and heart to learn, and last summer we were challenged every day to examine where we were with the Lord.”
Through outreach efforts the Kerns plan during each offseason, the Power not only engage with one another on a spiritual level, they also take their faith to the community. Among their activities are youth baseball camps, speaking engagements at local churches, volunteer jobs at vacation Bible schools, and strategic times of fan interaction.
“The Power has opened up a lot of awareness about FCA that wouldn’t have happened through the normal methods,” Kern said. “Every game here is like a faith night at a minor or major league park. We’re heavily involved with churches, local Christian organizations, and even secular organizations in the community. Each home game has a special promotion to draw more people and families to the park, all the while exposing them to Jesus Christ and FCA.”
Beyond the community outreach, the ministry opportunities also extend to the Power’s opponents. Every team that visits Sal Maglie Stadium is greeted in the visitor’s clubhouse by two Power players who share their Christian testimonies and hand out free copies of the FCA Baseball New Testament. According to Kern, he continues to hear stories of players from other teams opening their Bibles and continuing to do so for the rest of the season after being impacted on their trip to Niagara.
Also reaping the benefits of the team’s ministry is the coaching staff, which is led by third-year head coach Eric Ebers, who contacted the Power as a high school coach looking for an opportunity at the college level. What he found turned out to be more than just an ordinary coaching opportunity.
“Every summer I go in thinking I’m going to be teaching these young men, but that hasn’t necessarily been God’s plan for me,” said Ebers, who now serves as an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee-Martin. “Through this position, I’ve been able to get closer to the Lord through fellowship with the players and Cal. I’ve learned important lessons, including that I can’t just rely on myself. In the game of baseball there are ups and downs, and if I didn’t have that solid rock of Jesus Christ, I know I couldn’t do it.”
Playing a rigorous professional-style baseball schedule with games six nights a week has prepared the players mentally and physically for a higher level of competition. They each return to their college teams with enhanced skills and the capacity to endure a heavy schedule—something Kern says is part of the experience. But, as he stresses, that is just a part of the whole package in Niagara.
“We can help them improve their game and really prepare them for the next level,” Kern said. “We also help them grow in their faith and develop a personal relationship with Jesus through fellowship, teaching, and messages from challenging speakers. We want to grow these guys in the game of baseball, but most of all in their faith.”
Celebrating their fifth season is an accomplishment for which the Power and the Kerns credit God and His provision during tough economic times. “It’s challenging from a financial standpoint, but the more people learn about the ministry, the more help we get,” Sherrie Kern said. “This is where God’s called us, and we’ll do this as long as He keeps the door open. It is very much a family, and volunteer-run operation around here.”
In their management roles, the Kerns have made a habit out of future-casting. The couple begins thinking about the following season—including rosters and host families—as soon as the final out of the season is recorded. The effort has proven worthwhile as more connections are made with coaches across the country, the talent continues to get better on the field, and the results of ministry continue to be felt beyond the season.
“The players come here as baseball missionaries,” Kern said. “They raise support like they’re going on a two-month mission trip to Western New York and Niagara Falls. And, like missionaries, we’ve had players go back to their schools and start FCA Huddles and Bible studies with their teams because of what they experienced here. Every day is a ministry opportunity. It is so much more than playing a baseball game.”
|Experience the Power!|
Attention, college baseball coaches: Do any of your athletes want to get better as players while cultivating a closer relationship with the Lord? Contact Cal and Sherrie Kern to recommend your athletes for a spot with the Niagara Power by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, for more information about the team in general, visit niagarapower.org.
--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.
Courtesy of Rachel Bowden