First National Conference (Camp) at Estes Park, Colo.

FCA’s first National Conference in 1956 has been called by many the most important event in FCA’s history. However, there was some doubt as to whether it would pan out.

In fact, FCA founder and executive director Don McClanen had reserved rooms for 500 people (450 high school and college athletes and 50 coaches), but when Gary Demarest, the camp’s dean, picked up Branch Rickey at the airport, Demarest was worried the camp would be a bust, noting that as of a month prior, only 38 reservations had been made.

“Don’t forget,” Rickey told Demarest on the way from Denver to Estes Park, “Jesus started with 12!”

Demarest continued the story. “There were 256 present that night when Mr. Rickey gave the keynote message calling us to bold witness for Christ and the church. Out of that camp grew the network of citywide programs, chapters, Huddles and all the rest that’s made FCA national in scope.” (From Wayne Atcheson’s book, “Impact for Christ.”)

Listen to Branch Rickey’s keynote address here

Along with his responsibility as the keynote speaker, Rickey was the director of baseball; Michigan State’s Biggie Munn and University of Denver athletic director Tad Weiman were deans of athletics programs and coaches clinics; Kansas basketball coaching legend Phog Allen was director of basketball; retired USC coach Dean Cromwell led the track portion of the camp; Otto Graham and Doak Walker served as football directors; Oklahoma coach Ray Jenkins was in charge of wrestling; and Guideposts editor Len LeSourd, who was instrumental in helping McClanen make early contacts during the founding of FCA, handled tennis.

Even sports announcing and sports writing were covered, with former Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon, then the CBS Pacific Sports Director, in charge of announcing and Kansas City Star sports editor Ernie Mehl directing sports writing.

Olympic hero Rafer Johnson, who won a silver medal a few months later in the 1956 Olympics and a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, and former Baylor football player James Jeffrey (who eventually became the third executive director in FCA history) were among the 10 Huddle leaders.

McClanen willingly stayed behind the scenes as camp director.

Since then, FCA Camps have become a staple of FCA’s ministry, not only in the United States, but around the world.


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