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FCA: Ex-Clemson coach helps put faith in play at schools

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Former Clemson University head football coach Tommy Bowden told Fellowship of Christian Athletes supporters last week that too many American families have become dysfunctional and children are looking for godly role models.

They can, he said, find them at school.

“Nothing can help our young people more than a relationship with God,” Bowden told an audience dotted with familiar looking bright orange shirts worn by members of the Georgetown County Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “The FCA has found a way.”

Ryan Wright of Pawleys Island has begun organizing FCA chapters in the county’s high schools as well as some middle schools, and Bowden along with former Clemson football team chaplain Tony Eubanks came to All Saints Church last Thursday to build enthusiasm and financial support for the movement. “FCA is a student-led ministry,” Eubanks said. “They want to be mentored and led. They need Christ in their lives.”

Morgan Welch, a recent Waccamaw High graduate, was captain of the Warrior girls soccer team when she injured her knee early in the season and had to have surgery. “Her positive outlook on life has to be Christ,” Wright told the audience. “Morgan spent her whole career becoming captain of a very good soccer team. Two weeks into the season, it was gone, but Christ was not.”

Welch said she was upset and frustrated after hurting her knee. “It was my last year,” she said, “and I got a little bit down.” Finally, she asked God what his plan was. “As the season progressed,” she said, “I realized that my position as a captain was to be on the sidelines for the girls to talk to and to help the coaches communicate with the girls. I had so much encouragement from my teammates and people in FCA who prayed for me when I had my surgery it made me realize that I might not have known what God had in mind but he has it all worked out. I was able to grow closer to some of the girls. Through every situation God has a plan, even if I might not see the picture.”

Welch said there are so many influences on high school students they find it hard to stay connected with other young Christians. The weekly FCA “huddle” meetings at school provided a time to relax and reconnect with other Christians on Waccamaw High’s campus. She became a leader. “God put that in my life,” she said, “to keep me accountable. Not only was I responsible for my actions, people were looking at me to see what I was doing as a leader.”

Roger Wigfall, who will play football for Waccamaw High this fall, said an FCA summer camp taught him how to totally commit. “Before I went to camp,” he said, “I was a selfish player and never gave my all. I never used to do anything. Our theme is ‘All In.’ This year I want to be all in for Jesus Christ.”

Carrie Brassel, a cheerleader at Georgetown High, said going to high school was scary until she joined FCA. “I met wonderful teen-agers not afraid to stand up for God,” she said. “It was great to see that. Having those teens behind me, helped me overcome my fears. I know it’s going to be OK because I have God.”

Eubanks, a football team chaplain at Clemson and the University of Georgia before becoming pastor of evangelism at Simpsonville First Baptist Church, said he found Christ through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes the same way: at his high school in Nashville, Tenn. He said he misses the quiet morning chats he shared with Bowden at Clemson. “I never met someone who knew the Old Testament more than coach Bowden,” Eubanks said. “He’s living proof of God’s word.”

Bowden said he and his father, Bobby, former head football coach at West Virginia and Florida State universities, will speak to 10,000 Christian men in Nashville this week. “I’ll be held accountable for the opportunities I’m given,” Bowden said. “I’m not going to be held accountable for my sins. That’s what Christ did for me. Luke said, ‘When much is given, much is expected.’ That’s the platform we have. God is going to ask, ‘Could your players see me through you?’”

Bowden said he clashed with the American Civil Liberties Union while he was at Clemson for taking players to church in a bus owned by the university. “They asked if I would stop, and I said we wouldn’t go to church any more on buses,” he said. “The next Sunday we loaded up in cars and went to church anyway. There’s a way to get around it. I can’t understand an agenda to suppress Christianity. We are a Christian nation. Do we have other religions? Yes, you can join any religious organization you want, but about 75 percent of people in this country profess Christianity. In South Carolina, it’s probably 80 percent. In Georgetown, it’s probably 85 percent.”

Bowden said the government took the Bible out of public schools, but it’s the first thing issued to a prison inmate. “We are a dysfunctional country,” he said. “We are going in the wrong direction.”

Bowden was asked to comment on coach Dabo Swinney and Clemson’s latest dust up over religion. A foundation claimed Swinney and his assistant coaches were being too much of a Christian influence on their players, Bowden said. “When the Freedom from Religion Foundation from Wisconsin comes to the epicenter of the Bible Belt to try and attack a coach who won 11 games the last two years, they didn’t have a chance,” Bowden said. “I don’t know what they are trying to do. There’s not a mother in the Southeast whose antenna didn’t go up when they heard that Clemson was too religious. It’s a recruiting bonanza. It’s funny how God works.”

Bowden said there’s no doubt that Clemson’s coaches and players express their religion. It’s completely legal as long as it’s voluntary. That’s the way the Fellowship of Christian Athletes works too. “The FCA is the perfect marriage between the Bible and athletics,” Bowden said. “It helps players meet the five foundations of character: commitment, accountability, responsibility discipline and sacrifice.”

Bowden said that if a coach wants to stay employed he needs to win. “A lot of Christian coaches are no longer employed,” he said. “You’ve got to get players to make good decisions.”

In 11 seasons as head coach at Tulane and Clemson, Bowden won 90 games and didn’t have a lot of discipline problems. “As a head coach, I wanted as many resources as possible,” he said. “I want them to get involved in the local church. I want them to read the Bible. I want them in FCA.”

Recruiting Spiller, competition was stiff

Former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden began his remarks to an audience of Fellowship of Christian Athletes supporters last week with some anecdotes from his coaching days against his father, Bobby, that were entertaining if not wholly believable.

He said the recruiting of running back C.J. Spiller came down to a final four of Clemson, Southern Cal, Florida and Florida State. Each head coach was allowed one home visit.

“You better go in there with both barrels loaded,” the former Clemson coach said. “It’s a big production going into a home. If you are going to recruit a young man you better recruit his mama. So I hugged her and hugged the little kids in the house. You want the mama to see you are good with kids.”

Tommy Bowden said he told Mrs. Spiller that he didn’t care where C.J. went to college as long as he was happy. He wanted what was best for him. “My father is coming here next week,” Bowden said. “He had six children. I want you to know that he used to beat us.”

A week later, it was Bobby Bowden’s turn to visit the Spiller house. “He’s a veteran,” his son said, “one of the best ever. He hugs the mother and bounces the kids on his knee. He told Mrs. Spiller that he didn’t care where C.J. went to college as long as he was happy. He cared about him as a person. “I want you to know that I had six children,” Bobby Bowden told Spiller’s mother, “and of all them Tommy lied the most.”

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