June 28, 2012
Summer and the offseason are often more relaxed times for student-athletes. While many do stick around campus to take courses, train or work summer camps, the atmosphere is much calmer compared to the hustle and bustle of the academic year, which features practice, conditioning, weight training, study hall, games/matches and classes.
Two Lobo softball players are using the slower schedule of the summer to do some scheming for the betterment of their fellow student-athletes and the University of New Mexico campus community.
Redshirt senior Kaity Ingram and redshirt junior Jordyn Bledsoe restarted a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at UNM last fall. The idea was hatched during downtime while the Lobos were on their way to a game and waiting at an airport. Ingram had been involved with FCA at her high school and at Pima Community College, prior to transferring to UNM in 2010, and was surprised to find there wasn't an active Lobo chapter. Bledsoe had never heard of the organization until Ingram brought it up to her and to assistant coach Christi Musser, but was interested in helping revive its presence.
According to its Web site, FCA is the largest Christian sports organization in the United States, beginning in 1954 and reaching athletes and coaches at all levels and ages, from youth on up to professional sport. The four values of the organization are Integrity, Serving, Teamwork and Excellence and lay the foundation for the vision and mission of FCA.
Ingram and Bledsoe asked around and learned UNM had an active FCA group at one time, but it had faded out. They were told that former director of strength and condition Mark Paulsen had been involved in UNM's chapter.
"My wife and I started an FCA group in the late 80s at the request of one of our football players," Paulsen said. "I had never been involved and didn't know much about it, but we figured there was a need and a request for it, so we started one."
The recent retiree says the group was active and got involved on the national level, even making trips to Estes Park in Colorado for gatherings. He and his wife continued to head up the group for six or seven years before they started having children.
"The coordination of it got handed off and it was still going strong for a while, but then it just kind of faded in to obscurity maybe five or six years ago," Paulsen said.
Ingram and Bledsoe went to Paulsen last fall looking for direction and a place to start.
"He gave us some ideas, but his biggest piece of advice was just to go do it--get it started," Bledsoe said.
"Being that Lobo athletics is one of the main sports attractions in the community, a lot of young kids and even adults look to the student-athletes. Sometimes there are bad examples set and we want to be sure to be the ones that set the good examples and to show the community that we're here for them too. They come and watch our games and support us and we want to give back and help." -Kaity Ingram
Softball student-athletes were the nucleus of the group and were joined by fellow Lobos from baseball, football, track and field, and golf as well as other sports.
A typical meeting included some sort of message in the form of a story or a Bible verse, and discussion along with some food. Mostly though, meetings provided a comfortable break for student-athletes and a chance to vent about shared stresses--being away from home, dealing with injuries, academics and struggling within one's sport to name a few.
"It's also a time to relax," Ingram said. "We come and talk to each other for ten minutes before we get started and we eat pizza and check in with each other. It's a good break from everyday stresses and realities."
Ingram and Bledsoe dove right in to recreating an FCA chapter, starting basically from scratch amidst fall ball and classes. Coach Musser volunteered to serve as the group's huddle coordinator--similar to the role Paulsen took on--and helped with the official registration paperwork. Now after nearly a year of existence, the pioneers have two goals in mind: gain more members and get out in the community and serve.
The pair has relied heavily on word of mouth and Facebook to attract members to the group. This year they're planning to promote the FCA chapter at new student orientation and during welcome back days.
They also want people to know that while FCA is a religious-based organization, it is not and exclusive group.
"You don't necessarily have to be Christian to come," Ingram explained. "We do talk about religion and the Bible--it's our main focus---but it's not as if you have to be Christian to come. We want to have open arms and reach out to as many people as we can and be a support system for everybody."
Serving the community is also a priority for Ingram and Bledsoe.
"Being that Lobo athletics is one of the main sports attractions in the community, a lot of young kids and even adults look to the student-athletes," Ingram said. "Sometimes there are bad examples set and we want to be sure to be the ones that set the good examples and to show the community that we're here for them too. They come and watch our games and support us and we want to give back and help."
Bledsoe agreed and added: "I think it's important for the community to know that we're not just here for ourselves or just for our scholarship, that we give back."
Musser knows the value of having an FCA chapter as she was a participant in her college days at Kansas.
"I think having a positive thing like this on campus and having opportunities for student-athletes other than the normal activities college students have opportunities to do is fantastic and a great idea," Musser said. "Whatever they want to do with it, I'm here to help them."
While the group is still finding its footing, Ingram and Bledsoe are committed to making UNM's chapter of FCA a solid one.
"Even though our group is small right now and we're just getting started, we've already seen it affect people in a positive way," Ingram said. "We want to reach as many people as we can."
"It's a process," Bledsoe added. "We started it for the University and for other student-athletes."
Look for more positive things to come from the initiative of these two student-athletes and New Mexico's chapter of FCA.