The all-star lineup at Denver included George Kell of the Chicago White Sox, Vernon Law of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Robin Roberts of the Phillies and Carl Erskine of the Brooklyn Dodgers. From professional football came Dan Towler of the Los Angeles Rams and Adrian Burk of the Philadelphia Eagles. For this occasion they were all on the same team. But none of their athletic skills were called for. The stars were exhibiting what they considered to be the least of their talents: public speaking before audiences of high school and college students in the first of a new series of rallies sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
None of the stars ever bore down harder. They made appearances at Denver University, at North, South, Manual and Aurora high schools, addressed a Sunday School class, a boosters' club luncheon, visited the Air Force Academy and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Their smallest audience numbered 30, their largest 2,000. The theme of all the talks was, "Go to the church of your choice." Sometimes the athletes got tangled up in their own words, but their sincerity won them their listeners as few polished speakers could have done.
Palmer Hoyt, publisher of the Denver Post, was so impressed that he gave $1,000 and invited the team to speak to his editorial staff, later declared: "I consider this a frontal attack on juvenile delinquency."
For a slender, quiet-spoken young man named Don McClanen, balding at 30, the rally was a dream come true. For the whole idea of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is his. "It occurred to me," he recalls, "that nearly everybody was capitalizing on the well-known social phenomenon of hero worship. I knew that if guys like Otto Graham or Bob Feller told kids to eat a certain kind of cereal, the kids ate that kind of cereal. I wondered why, if sports stars could endorse breakfast foods, cigarets or sportswear, they couldn't endorse Christianity."
February 6, 1956
In March 1954, when he was coaching basketball at Eastern Oklahoma A&M, McClanen wrote to 19 leading sports figures about his idea. The response was enthusiastic. Branch Rickey got Pittsburgh businessmen to underwrite a year's expenses for the FCA. Alonzo Stagg, Tom Harmon, Bud Wilkinson, Bob Mathias, Alvin Dark, Bob Davenport, Pepper Martin and Bob Richards volunteered their services. Don McClanen resigned as coach to become full-time executive director of FCA.
Other rallies are scheduled for Houston (Feb. 5-6) and for Lincoln, Neb. sometime in March. Meanwhile, a motion picture has been completed and will be shown in schools and on television to keep the fellowship campaign rolling.