In an evolving sports world, athletes are changing. They are brought up to be bad role models. That is one image that Athletes in Action is hoping to change.
Athletes in Action is the sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ International. It was founded in 1966 to meet the needs of athletes and coaches and enhance their relationship with Christ.
“It began with a group of US wrestlers who went to Japan,” said Mark Householder, President of Athletes in Action. “They used their match as a platform to communicate their faith.”
Since then, Athletes in Action has grown to include many different sports including basketball, baseball, tennis, track and field, volleyball, wrestling, soccer, softball, and hockey. There are many different teams for each sport that travel throughout the United States and go to several countries around the world each year.
“We’ve been all over the world,” said Chris Beck, Director of Baseball Operations for Athletes in Action. “We’ve been to countries like Australia, Korea, the Philippines, Yugoslavia, Mexico and Nicaragua. One summer we put 9,000 miles on the van traveling across the United States playing.”
The Athletes in Action basketball team has had a historic reputation. The team from the 70’s was considered the top amateur team in the world. According to Householder, this team defeated the Russian National Team at least five times and was asked to represent the United States in the 1978 FIBA World Championship tournament. Athletes in Action basketball teams used to play exhibition games against college teams for pre-season practice but the NCAA changed pre-season policies and these exhibition games were discontinued.
Athletes in Action also holds an annual Super Bowl Breakfast and names the winner of the Bart Starr Award for leadership and community service. This year’s recipient of the Bart Starr Award was Drew Brees. Brees started the Brees Dream Foundation that has raised over $6 million to advance cancer research and helps rebuild schools, parks and playgrounds in several cities like New Orleans and San Diego.
This is the baseball program’s thirty-third year. The baseball program has several strong ties to TJC.
Former TJC head baseball coach Jon Groth played on the Athletes in Action baseball teams in the early 80’s.
“In 1982 I played on a team that went to Sweden and in 1983 I played on a team that went to the Orient. We played in Japan, Korea and Taiwan,” said Groth. “Those summers changed my life. It challenges you. It took me to places I’ve never been. Those years solidified my day to day relationship with God.”
Doug Wren, TJC head baseball coach, coached an Athletes in Action team that traveled to Nicaragua in the summer of 2009.
“We went to Nicaragua with 20 guys,” said Wren. “We played for two weeks. It was a great experience.”
Schedules are usually very compact with lots of events and practices put together.
“Over the summer they play eight to ten weeks. There isn’t a whole lot of practicing. There are usually only three to four practices before the first game,” said Beck. “They typically play 50 to 60 games each summer which is close to a pro schedule.”
While traveling, teams give clinics to underprivileged children teaching them baseball and also played exhibition games against local teams.
“We have a great time doing it,” said Beck. “We minister to the people but they minister to us more. For many of the players, this is their first time out of the country. They come back changed.”
Stateside teams also go to several prisons and play softball games against inmates.
Beck said that this is a training ground for athletes, not only spiritually but also mentally.
“As a professional athlete, fans are always wanting something from you. We train our athletes to show humility and maturity handling these situations.”
There are also several requirements for athletes wanting to play on these teams.
“They must be able to compete stateside,” said Beck. “There are no requirements to know Christ but players must be open to what we are doing. We are upfront so all the players know what they are getting themselves into.”
Several professional baseball players have gone through Athletes in Action. One of them is Ben Zobrist who is currently the second baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays. He played with one of the baseball teams in 2001. Another alumni is Robbie Weinhardt who is a relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Last year was his first year to play in the major leagues.
For more information about Athletes in Action, playing opportunities, or internships, go to the organization’s website at www.athletesinaction.org.