Already looked up to as school leaders because of their talents on the court or playing field, student-athletes are in a powerful position to become role models – for better or for worse – among their peers.
That’s the idea behind the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a national organization that encourages high school and college-level athletes to become more fearless examples of Christian living, both inside and outside of competition.
On Oct. 27, St. Charles Borromeo launched what is believed to be the first local middle-school chapter of the FCA. The group is open to sixth, seventh and eighth graders of all Christian denominations, no matter what school they attend.
“One of the beliefs in our school is that activities beyond the school day are an opportunity for the kids to exercise their spirituality,” said Mary Schmidt, St. Charles Borromeo’s principal. “If they’re going to learn about their faith in the classroom and practice it within the confines of the school, that’s one thing,” Schmidt said, “but can they practice it outside of school with their peers?”
The FCA meetings, held on the first Thursday night of the month and lasting about an hour, are composed of four parts: a high-energy icebreaker activity to get the young people talking to one another; a short testimony – given by an FCA member or an outside speaker – on the role of faith in his or her life; reflection time in small groups, led by the young people themselves; and a concluding meditation, typically backed by Christian music.
At the Oct. 27 kick-off, Steve Barrios, a former Tulane and New Orleans Saints football player and Tulane football’s current color analyst, discussed his faith journey from the kid who was “always late for Mass” and obsessed with football, to a 24-year-old who finally realized that a relationship with Christ was the only way to fill the void he felt in the pit of his stomach. The evening closed with a live concert by Christian music artist Jake Smith.
The theme of each monthly meeting will be planned by the chapter’s four student-officers with the help of three co-moderators – all St. Charles Borromeo teachers. The group was started after the school’s athletic director, Amanda Buchanan, encouraged a handful of students to observe an FCA meeting at St. Charles Catholic High.
“They came back on fire! They were so excited!” Schmidt said, noting that the St. Charles Catholic meeting explored “offenses of the mouth” – activities such as cursing and gossiping – through skits and reflections.
In addition to their attendance at the monthly meetings, the St. Charles Borromeo FCA members are making a more concerted effort to invite players from other teams to pray with them at the beginning of athletic contests.
“The prayer at the beginning of each game has always been important to us as Catholic athletes, but now the kids are wanting to extend that prayer to not just their teammates, but to all of their peers prior to their games,” said Buchanan, who was involved in the FCA during her high school and college years.
“I wanted something in place at our school for our students and other middle school students to be involved in at a social level,” Buchanan said. “Middle school is a very trying time for kids – many are trying to find themselves and figure out what direction to take. (FCA) gives our students, athletes or not, a place to go to have fun and talk about how our faith is involved in every aspect of life.”
Buchanan said that for at least one hour, members get to relax and talk about something other than schoolwork.
“They are not there for practice or a game, so they do not feel the pressure of having to do well or having everyone watching their every move,” she said. “It is simply an hour for the kids to slow down, focus on their lives and learn from each other and themselves about the power of their faith.