Find out why this camp is a priority to some of today’s most successful coaches and athletes.
By Rick Weber
|Clemson's Tommy Bowden and his father, Bobby, at camp. |
Bobby Bowden has the attention of hundreds of high school boys. They’re listening because he has more wins than any coach in major-college football history—the head coach of the only program ever to appear in 14 consecutive bowl games without a loss, the only coach to lead his team, the Florida State Seminoles, to 14 straight seasons that ended with a top-five Associated Press ranking.
But they’re going to find themselves listening for a different reason. Bobby Bowden “The Legend” is about to become Bobby Bowden “The Evangelist.”
“Men,” he says, “you’re really wise to come to this camp. Some of the greatest football players I’ve had at Florida State were Christians. All of our great ones just happened to be Christians, you see. You’re at this camp—the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; not the Fellowship of Athletes, but the Fellowship you’re interested in Christ.
“I got blasted a couple of weeks ago on ESPN and in all of the magazines, including Sports Illustrated, because I made a statement that I wanted all of my boys saved. They blasted me. I ain’t backin’ down from that. I want all of my boys saved.”
Bowden talks about how his 15-year-old grandson, Bowden Madden, and former son-in-law, John Allen Madden, were killed in September 2004 when their car was hit a by a utility truck that was helping to restore power outages caused by Hurricane Frances.
He says that we never know when our time is coming.
|Campers from Black Mountain, N.C. Camp |
And now he’s really on fire.
“There is no reason for any of you young men to walk off this mountain not bein’ saved,” he says. “If you are not saved when you die, it is your fault. The same things I’m tellin’ you, I tell my football team. I don’t give a dadgum what is politically correct. Boys, when someone tells you that you’re not politically correct, tell them you’d rather be spiritually correct.”
He goes on to tell them exactly how to be saved. He finishes by saying, “Great to see y’all. I hope we meet again in heaven one day.”
There is a thunderous roar. He has planted the seed. Bowden leaves, knowing he’ll be back. He’ll return to the FCA’s Black Mountain #1 Camp at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in North Carolina because he always returns. He doesn’t get paid to appear. The only thing he receives is a round-trip flight. He keeps coming back because he believes “there isn’t anybody in America more important” than these campers, because he believes they will have a great opportunity to witness to others.
“There’s a great need for our young athletes to have positive role models,” says Bowden, who first appeared at the camp in 1968. “It’s beneficial for them to be in an atmosphere with other athletes seeking the same kind of spiritual help, as well as being under the influence and care of leaders who have the answer—a Bible, prayer and a Savior. Not only have I seen hundreds, probably thousands of lives changed through FCA, but it keeps getting better and better. I’ve seen high school and college programs change for the better because of FCA.”
“There is no reason for any of you young men to walk off this mountain not bein’ saved. If you are not saved when you die, it is your fault.”
- Bobby Bowden
“You guys aren’t going to like this answer, but I dare you to write it. I wouldn’t trade seven state championships for what happened this past year at the FCA Camp at Black Mountain, North Carolina.”
– Mark Rickman
It’s the same reason that Bowden’s son, Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden, comes almost every year. It’s the same reason that Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, the 2005 NFL rushing champion and single-season TD record-holder, has come for five years. It’s the same reason Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy came last year.
“I think I have a tremendous platform and opportunity to share Christ with athletes,” Tommy Bowden says. “I think the opportunities that they have to grow spiritually are tremendous. The fact that they are surrounded in that type of environment for a week gives them a lot of the fundamentals of Christianity.
“I have talked to many athletes who have been involved in FCA Camp and have come back more committed. If they have not come back more committed, they have come back as Christians, and for a number of them, it was their initial introduction to Jesus Christ.”
For the Bowdens, Alexander, Dungy and dozens of college and high school coaches, this is Kingdom work of inestimable value. Lives are being radically changed.
Side bar: STILL WINNERS
FCA regional director and camp director Del Wright says that last year150 of 500 campers indicated a commitment to follow Christ—which falls in line with the yearly average of 25-35% of campers making decisions for Christ.
In 2001, Coach Mark Rickman brought his basketball team from Boone High School in Orlando, Fla. Only three of the 10 were Christians when they arrived. The other seven were when they left.
“It’s a phenomenal example of a coach using his influence to introduce these kids to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” says Wright. “This team had nothing in common, outside of basketball. After the camp, they had everything in common. They went back and were playing Christian music during warm-ups, having Bible study before games, FCA Chapels and hanging out outside of basketball.”
Boone returned to the 6A state championship game for the second straight year, losing this time by four points to two-time defending champ Fort Lauderdale Dillard. The Orlando Sentinel headline: BOONE STILL WINNER EVEN WITHOUT TITLE.
“Rickman was asked, ‘What’s it like losing to the same team two consecutive years in the state championship game?’” Wright says. “He said, ‘You guys aren’t going to like this answer, but I dare you to write it. I wouldn’t trade seven state championships for what happened this past year at the FCA Camp at Black Mountain, North Carolina.’”
Rickman, now at Pine Castle Christian Academy in Orlando, will be the head clinician this year. And he’s bringing his entire team again.
Photo courtesy of Gary Zeringue and Baine Godfrey.