Shealy aims to finish tenure as FCA president with integrity

by Allen Palmeri, posted Tuesday, April 20, 2004 (14 years ago)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)--Going into his 13th year as president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Dal Shealy is doing the same thing he did for 28 football seasons before coming on staff with the largest interdenominational, school-based Christian sports organization in America.

Shealy is coaching.

"I have a heart for coaches," said Shealy, a Southern Baptist since 1968 and a deacon at First Baptist Church, Raytown, Mo. "I believe if we don't have coaches, we don't have FCA. In today's society, our male coaches need to understand that they are the father figure for so many of these young men and women that they coach. Anywhere from 75 percent and up of the athletes don't have a daddy in the home. That coach has got to be a stability person. That's really what I want to concentrate on [in retirement]."

Shealy, who is pondering retirement, is FCA's sixth president. He has told FCA's board of trustees he wants to stay on through 2004 as the ministry celebrates its 50th anniversary and he hopes his successor will be in place by 2005. If not, Shealy will continue as president until God's man is found.

"They've eliminated probably 20 people, and they have it down to probably seven or so right now who are on a short list," he said.

Shealy does not fit the mold of the polished chief executive officer or the oratorical megachurch pastor. He is a football coach who struggles to speak, but he is precisely whom God chose in the early 1990s to guide FCA with integrity.

"Moses couldn't talk either," Shealy said. "And Gideon. I relate to those guys real well."

As a child growing up in Batesburg, S.C., he stuttered and mumbled so much that he "could hardly tell you my name, much less talk."

As a high school sophomore, he dreaded giving his first speech to the student body. His Latin teacher said he should think of his name, Dalmuth.

"Your name commands you," the teacher said. "Your name says Dal, you muth get up and talk."

He went on to become president of both his junior and senior classes.

His first coach was a Southern Baptist named Lyman B. Puette. As a fifth grade history teacher and principal of Shealy's elementary school, Puette had a commanding presence. One day he saw Dal and his buddies playing schoolyard football and reached out to the boys.

"I made a tackle on a boy who was a seventh grader, and he probably should have been a ninth grader," Shealy recalled. "I thought I had lost my right arm when I tackled him. Well, Mr. Puette saw that and said, 'We need to help you boys learn how to play this game.' So he went out and raised some money and got us some uniforms and started teaching us the fundamentals of football -- the stance, blocking, tackling, how to carry the ball, how to punt the ball. He taught everybody all of these basic skills."

From there he soon learned that God wanted him to coach. He played football, basketball and baseball, devouring every morsel of the games.

"As a catcher, you called the pitch and you ran the ball club," he said. "I liked that. The Lord blessed me with an ability to understand what's going on. Whether it was football, basketball or baseball, the Lord gifted me to be able to picture the field. Somehow or other, on the football field, I could see all 11 people. That's why I'm a coach."

At Mars Hill College, a Baptist institution in North Carolina, Shealy built the football team from scratch in 1968, the same year that he was baptized at First Baptist Church, Mars Hill. Shealy was raised Methodist but has been a Southern Baptist for most of his married life. He and his wife, Barbara, will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in March.

At Mars Hill he learned how to raise money for a program that only existed on paper. It took him a whole year to do it -- a year he includes with the 27 he spent coaching players on the field.

"We started alumni groups in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, and I ended up with 24 football scholarships," he said.

After going to his alma mater, Carson-Newman College, a Baptist school in Tennessee, to coach in the early 1970s, Shealy embarked on a journey of being an assistant coach at the highest level of college football. He served on staffs at Baylor, Tennessee, Auburn and Iowa State before accepting the head coaching position at Richmond. He stayed there nine years before going to Kansas City to join the FCA staff.

A plaque in his office from his players and coaches is one of his most prized possessions. It refers to him as a great coach, leader, motivator and teacher, and speaks of how they will be forever indebted and grateful for his influence.

"While setting a high standard with his coaching philosophy, wins and losses, he never changed his high moral values," the inscription reads. "Coach Shealy's greatest gift to his players and assistant coaches was his Christian commitment and spiritual walk with the Lord. Coach Shealy set the example of a Christian coach."

As coach and president of FCA, Shealy tended to rely on the men who had grit and determination.

"A lot of folks wouldn't take out insurance on them -- too little, too short, too slow, not heavy enough," he said. "But those guys had hearts with arms and legs on them, and they wanted to play. They had character, and I took character over speed, toughness over skill, a lot of times. You end up with guys who want to play the game, and they play hard for you and they buy into your philosophy. It's fun to see them out there coaching now in high school and college, and a couple of them in the pros."

His legacy with FCA can be tied to his service as a lieutenant with the United States Marine Corps. Shealy strives to lead the interdenominational FCA family by living up to the Marine Corps motto of "Semper fidelis" -- "Always faithful."

"I certainly would hope that I'm a person with integrity of heart," Shealy said. "I think I'm a loyal person, honest, and I try to be above reproach. The main thing is I want to be faithful to the course to which God has called me. I don't want to mess up my testimony for Jesus Christ.

"We want everything we do in FCA to present Jesus Christ and Him crucified and resurrected, and give people an opportunity to receive Him as their Lord and Savior. I want to be faithful to that cause. I would hope that some way, somehow, that we've had the integrity to be faithful and above reproach in trying to pull Team FCA together so that we can be a part of Team Jesus Christ and have an impact for eternity."

One of Shealy's favorite Marine Corps sayings goes like this: "You're born to fight, you're trained to kill, you're ready to die, but you never will." He likes to unleash the spiritual power inside of that message.

"We're born to fight," he said. "We come out fighting for air. Kids fight, but how do we get trained? We need to fight against the fiery darts of Satan.

"If you grow up in the church and the old teach the young, then you're trained to kill those fiery darts of Satan. In Ephesians it says to put on the full armor of God. It doesn't say cower down and run," he said. "And so we've got to be ready to die. If you're a Christian, you're ready to die. Paul says, 'For me to live is Christ but to die is gain.' So you're ready to die but you never will. You're going to live in eternity. The question is where are you going to spend eternity? Are you going to spend it in heaven with Jesus Christ, or are you going to spend eternity in hell?"

Shealy, who will turn 66 in August, wants to trace the pattern of his life verse, which is Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." This is how he plans to finish out his months with FCA.

"I've tried to live that verse and coach that verse," he said.


Allen Palmeri is a writer with The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: LEADING WITH PURPOSE.

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