The West Kentucky Fellowship of Christian Athletes hosted its Game Changer banquet at First Baptist Church of Paducah on Saturday with keynote speaker and softball legend Jennie Finch.
Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) is a ministry with a vision to impact and transform the world through athletes and coaches for Jesus Christ. FCA has campus huddles, allowing public school athletes to meet each week to share God’s word.
Finch was an All-American pitcher at the University of Arizona and led the 2004 United States Olympic team to a gold medal in Athens and the 2008 U.S. team to a silver medal in Beijing. She was inducted into the USA Softball Hall of Fame in 2016.
As well as playing professional softball for many years, Finch has a solid Christian background and is devoted to her faith as a mother of three.
“It is crazy to think that I fell in the love with the game at 5 years old.” Finch said. “My grandmother was our prayer warrior. When I think of faithfulness and God’s goodness, I always go back to her. She was my biggest fan for sure.”
In 2000, during her sophomore year at Arizona, Finch threw three no-hitters, led her team in home runs, slugging percentage, and had a 60-game winning streak. “My message is don’t give up. Playing is a gift no matter what your ERA is, no matter what your batting average is.”
Eric Grogan is the West Kentucky FCA area director. “The banquet is always a great night to look back and see what God has done for us,” Grogan said.
Grogan and his wife, McCracken County High School girls cross country coach Maria Grogan, have been a part of West Kentucky’s FCA since 2012.
“There is one person that makes this ministry work and that is my wife, Maria,” Grogan said. “We would not be able to do what we do without her.”
During the banquet, each table was assigned local high school members. Each member gave their testimony to the table they were assigned.
“Fellowship of Christian Athletes gives us an opportunity to have a friend group that holds us accountable,” McCracken County junior Carew Ellington said. “I always know I can lean on Jesus and my fellow members of FCA.”
Ellington is a cross country and track distance runner for the Mustangs.
Ellington’s older sister Abby Ellington is a senior at McCracken County and plays basketball for the Lady Mustangs.
The pair also has an older brother, Rook Ellington, who played baseball at McCracken. He recently committed to Florida State as a transfer.
“I know I can always just stop and pray,” Abby Ellington said while standing beside her younger brother. “God is the one who gets me through everything.”
The banquet also had a panel of student athletes speaking about how FCA has helped shaped their lives in and outside of the sport they play.
“Just knowing that I could come in and no matter what happened throughout my week, having these people to support me,” said McCracken County senior Gillian Davis, who runs cross country and is a member of the school’s co-ed cheerleading team. “It keeps me pushing through the next week and encourages me.”
Paducah Tilghman senior Keiler Belt, a softball player at the school, reflected on her own experience with FCA.
“I was in a gas station checking out and this little girl runs up to me, giving me a bear hug and asked if I remembered her,” Belt said. “She said that I was her FCA huddle leader two years ago. I think that meant a lot to her, but she’ll never know how much it actually meant to me.”
Lone Oak Middle School seventh-grader Austin Brazzell runs cross country on McCracken County’s varsity team.
“When you do FCA, you feel really close to God,” he said. “You feel like you can do anything when God is by your side. I admit before FCA that I was a very lost kid and I didn’t know what to do with my life. But when I joined FCA, God helped me feel like a new person.”
Earlier in the afternoon Finch’s clinic, Fastballs and Faith, hosted softball players ranging from ages 5 to 15 at McCracken County High School’s Indoor Facility.
Finch gave her testimony and spent two hours with more than 100 girls. She shared her life and faith with them, before ending the clinic demonstrating her different pitches with Rend Lake freshman catcher Mackenzie Durbin there to catch her.
“Jennie Finch is the reason I wanted to become a catcher,” Durbin said. “Being able to catch her, there are no words to express what it means to me.”