MANATEE -- The Gulf Coast Fellowship of Christian Athletes is active in 17 schools throughout Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties.
And there are six more additions planned for this school year, area director Rodney Ring said.
The Gulf Coast FCA branch has between 450 and 500 members. Ring said the group is getting into community ministry.
"We're really moving toward club sports like travel-volleyball, travel-baseball, Pop Warner football and things like that," Ring said. "Any kind of organized sport that doesn't meet in a school is kind of what we call 'community.' We kind of partner with those organizations to do Bible studies, chaplains and things like that."
Now celebrating its 60th year, the national organization hit milestones with
more than 350 camps, 50,000 campers and 1,000 FCA staffers in 2011.
The non-denominational national group began in 1954 when it became incorporated with founder Don McClanen and featured charter members such as Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Sarasota resident Otto Graham; former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine; the Rev. Donn Moomaw, once an All-American linebacker at UCLA; and Baseball Hall of Famer Branch Rickey, notable for integrating baseball by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945.
On the local level, there are five participating schools in Manatee County: Nolan Middle, Braden River High, Lakewood Ranch High, Manatee High and State College of Florida.
Each school has a "huddle sponsor," who is a coach who facilitates either weekly or monthly meetings.
At Lakewood Ranch, it's a monthly meeting before school starts.
"We have a worship get-together, which we call 'huddles,'" said Dave Frantz, the huddle sponsor for the Mustangs. "What we do is we have a service, we have a prayer, and usually we have a speaker."
Frantz, who led the Mustangs to three consecutive boys golf state championships from 2011 to 2013, said Lakewood Ranch has 75 members with 12 officers and spent last year focusing on outreach to the athletic programs.
This year, the aim is worship.
The Lakewood Ranch FCA is participating in a cause for the holidays, planning to deliver gifts to 41 children in need with the Adopt-A-Family program next week.
"It's a big event," Frantz said.
The Gulf Coast FCA also puts on camps that incorporate athletics. Ring said he's working on getting a baseball camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Pirate City in Bradenton.
But how faith and sports get blended is up to each coach, Frantz said.
"I've been involved in different types of prayers and so forth and get-togethers with my golf team for the last four or five years," Frantz said. "And I think the guys generally respond to it pretty well, even those that are not believers. I think it's a good way to have the kids understand that we're here playing sports, but God has a plan for us that is on a much higher level than what we do on our daily lives in regards to athletics."