By DaQuan Lawrence,
Special to the AFRO

The Baltimore City Fellowship of Christian Athletes (Baltimore City FCA) and the Park Heights Saints Football club recently hosted the Annual Victory Celebration and Fundraiser banquet at Martin’s West in Baltimore. 

The event took place May 1 and honored Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and his wife, Ingrid Harbaugh, who partnered with Baltimore City FCA to meet the needs of Baltimore City youth.

Super Bowl winning coach, NFL Hall of Famer and author Tony Dungy issued keynote remarks, highlighting the importance of family, faith, friendship and being an honorable Christian– no matter the circumstances. 

“I had the benefit of having great parents. My dad was a college professor who taught biology. I learned so much from him and he always talked about not letting anyone else define you,” said Dungy. “My mother was a teacher as well, who taught high school English and public speaking. She always said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do in life, if you do it for the right reasons and do it for the Lord– you’re going to be successful.’”

The Baltimore City FCA is the local arm of the Maryland Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which is a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to leading coaches and athletes as they grow their faith. The organization operates several programs throughout the city to serve Baltimore’s youth and provide community members with necessary support. 

Dungy spoke on how his faith influenced his life.

“As a young man, I often thought of Mark chapter eight, verse 36 which says, ‘What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

In an interview with the AFRO, Dungy explained why he supports the Baltimore City FCA and the work they are  doing in the Baltimore community. 

“I came to Baltimore to support the Baltimore City FCA because it’s a wonderful organization. I love the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and what they can bring to a city,” said Dungy. “I’m here to support our young people and because I have a lot of history in Baltimore.”

Dungy highlighted the importance of providing opportunities for youth and athletes to experience spiritual, educational and professional development beyond sports. 

The fundraiser honored some of Baltimore’s youth, athletes, coaches and community members who are using faith-based principles to serve the Baltimore community.

Attendees heard remarks from a slew of inspirational speakers and honorees including the Harbaughs, Baltimore Ravens chaplain Johnny Shelton, former NFL football player Steve Fitzhugh and Morgan State Director for Intercollegiate Athletics Dena Freeman-Patton. FCA Park Heights Saints’ head coach Garrick Williams and FCA’s Metro Director Sirena Alford were also in attendance. 

In 2022, Freeman-Patton became the first woman in Morgan’s 156 year history hired to lead its athletic operations. Alford, an organizer of the banquet, celebrated her tenth anniversary with the Baltimore City FCA. 

Chaplain Shelton, another key organizer of the fundraiser, commemorated his tenth season with the Baltimore Ravens. 

“Coach Dungy agreed to come to attend our banquet and he has a great heart for the Lord. Being a coach and former athlete himself, he knows this is a great field to spread the gospel to our young people,” Shelton told the AFRO. 

Pastor John Shearin, who serves as chairman of FCA Baltimore City’s Advisory Board, celebrated Alford for her leadership. 

“Congratulations to our courageous and spirit-led Metro Area Director [Sirena Alford] on your ten-year journey of outstanding leadership. Working beside you has been a daily adventure and great blessing,” said Shearin. 

Kelly Benefits CEO Frank Kelly III and former Maryland State Senator Francis X. Kelly, Jr. issued remarks on behalf of the Kelly family, who are major donors to BCFCA. 

“This evening we are blessed to be able to recognize and celebrate the many years of ‘behind the scenes’ encouragement, wisdom, affirmation and unconditional support provided by the Honorable Francis X. Kelly, Jr, Frank III, John, David, Bryan and all the members of the Kelly Family,” said Shearin.

During his remarks, Maryland FCA State Director Brad Johnson, acknowledged the importance of diversity in sports and creating and supporting spaces for athletes with a disability. 

“I am extremely excited about the advancement of All Ability Sport in Maryland.  All Ability Sport is a ministry to coaches and athletes who happen to have physical or cognitive disability,” said Johnson. 

“Last year, FCA as an organization launched all ability sports. The state of Maryland jumped in headfirst and we launched four all ability sports camps last summer. In 2023, we will have six camps – one which will be in Baltimore city – and that will be the most of any U.S. state,” said Johnson. 

Shelton said this event was important because in addition to it being a fundraiser, the stakeholders “are able to raise awareness of the organization and its importance for Christian athletes.” 

“We would like to raise funds to develop our staff and work with more athletes at their schools and [on their] campuses,” he said. 

Dungy offered his thoughts about the importance of getting today’s youth to consider educational or professional development opportunities beyond sports despite the potential high salaries in sports.

“I love for people to be involved with athletics and I think it teaches you a lot of things, but athletics is not our whole life,” said Dungy. “There’s going to be a time when you’re not going to be able to play, so what do you do? What do you have to lean on? That educational piece is so important.”

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