Fellowship of Christian Athletes impacts lives in Jacksonville

by Anna Ferraro

“I got into teaching because I wanted to impact students’ lives,” says Todd Sweatman, director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in Jacksonville and the surrounding areas {CHECK ONLINE}. He continues, “I saw that you can do that as a teacher, and as a coach as well. Figuring out how to demonstrate your values, and demonstrate your faith through how you taught and treated kids and athletes, gives you an opportunity to share your faith. FCA gives an opportunity to share your faith directly.”

Since 1992, Sweatman has been a math and physical education teacher in Jacksonville. Around 1995, he was able to start an FCA group at teacher at Turner Junior High, and oversee the group, along with several other teachers that were involved in FCA with him.

FCA groups now meet before or after school, in student-led “huddle groups.” Right now, in Jacksonville, FCA has huddle groups at Jacksonville High School, Illinois College and MacMurray College. More than just Bible study groups, in Sweatman’s words, “they also try and serve the community through different projects as they grow in their faith.”

Sweatman’s vision is also to partner with more churches here in town, saying additionally, “We would like to involve anyone possible.” And when it comes to involvement, the options are limitless. Sweatman shared about the many events that FCA has coordinated for coaches and athletes in the community – banquets, camps, mission trips, community service projects, meetings and more.

Last September, Sweatman recounts, “We had a player from the Denver Broncos come to the Jacksonville area.” The player spent four days with Sweatman, going to schools and speaking to over 6,000 kids about “playing drug-free and making wise decisions.” “He was very practical, and he really impacted a lot of kids,” said Sweatman. Such an experience fueled Sweatman to continue his work. Why? He saw impacted lives.

Personally, Sweatman himself is most passionate about FCA summer camps. He shares, “They’re my favorite week of the year.” After coaching in public schools for 25 years, he shared, “I love taking that platform [at the camp] to spread the Gospel. To see 300 high school kids worshipping and growing, taking it back and applying it to their lives is so neat.”

Sweatman shared, “Over the last seven years, have had about 1,500 kids attend our camps in Jacksonville. Those camps can be life-changing for the kids – [giving a chance to] live out their faith in sports with other kids who have common interests and common values.” He added, “The kids look up to those athletes [at the camps]. And sometimes our athletes forget that – the impact they can have. When they really grasp that and take it back to their team and their communities, it’s amazing the different they can make for younger kids.”

But Sweatman’s heart is not just for the athletes themselves. He shared with feeling, “My biggest goal is to build relationships with as many coaches as possible, and to help them become as effective as possible in what they do.” One tangible way the FCA did this was to have an appreciation dinner for coaches and their wives. The evening included exciting speakers, a meal and gift bags for the spouses. Sweatman shared that FCA wants to “show support and appreciation” for the coaches that are investing in young athletes. He commented that when FCA is able to “encourage the coaches, that trickles down to their athletes, as well.”

Coming up in 2017 are some exciting FCA events. Some of the highlights include the FCA banquets in Springfield on April 2 and in Quincy on April 3. Along with a dinner and presentations, the event will feature “Big Puma” Lance Berkman – a former outfielder and first baseman. According to www.westernilfca.org, “He played 14 seasons in MLB for the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. Bergman is a six-time MLB All-Star, and won the World Series and was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year with the Cardinals in 2011.“ Sweatman shared that these banquets are “a great opportunity to hear from sports celebrities. When they share their faith, it’s very impactful. We forget [that so many of] these guys are Christians.”

In addition, this summer, the annual FCA camps will be held in Jacksonville at Illinois College July 10-13. Participants can register online before June 5 for the early bird discount. For boys, the FCA camp offers baseball, basketball, football, golf, soccer, track and cross-country, swimming and wrestling. For girls, the FCA camp offers basketball, cheerleading, golf, soccer, softball, swimming, track and cross-country, volleyball and wrestling.

For more information or a complete listing of events, visit www.westernilfca.org or follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fcafans. For information on how you, your family or your church, school or business can become involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, call or text Todd Sweatman at 217-370-2008 or email him at tsweatman@FCA.org.

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