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May 8, 2014

Breakfast of Champions spotlights work of FCA and Hokies' team chaplain

By: Jimmy Robertson

Approximately 125 people attended the sixth annual FCA Breakfast of Champions and got to hear how the ministerial work of the FCA and Tech team chaplain Dave Gittings has impacted the players’ and coaches’ lives.

Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer and his wife, Cheryl, have made many charitable contributions over the years, which comes as no surprise to those who know the kind-hearted couple. They even established their own charity, Herma’s Readers, a foundation that promotes reading to youngsters during their formative years and is named after Beamer’s mother, a former schoolteacher.

But on the morning of the annual Maroon-White game, Beamer spoke to his and his wife’s investment in another cause – the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and the work being done by the Hokies’ team chaplain, Dave Gittings.

“It’s one of the best investments we’ve ever made,” Beamer told an audience of around 125 people at the sixth annual “Breakfast of Champions” held at Rector Field House.

Beamer, Gittings, Tech AD Whit Babcock, assistant football coach Shane Beamer and players Sam Rogers, Demitri Knowles and Ronny Vandyke all delivered remarks in some form or fashion at the breakfast, which has become an annual spring game tradition. It started when Johnny Shelton served as the team chaplain, and it continues under Gittings, who took over for Shelton last fall after Shelton left to become the chaplain of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

The breakfast serves a couple of purposes. From a practical standpoint, it’s a fundraiser, though there is no charge to attend. Those who come get to participate in a silent auction, if they wish, and this year’s auction featured an array of popular items, including signed memorabilia (helmets, jerseys, photos, etc.) from past Tech players, autographed items by baseball and football stars such as Cal Ripken, Jr., Hines Ward, Tony Dorsett, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Roger Staubach and others; a framed portrait of golfers Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer; and certificates from local golf courses, restaurants and businesses.

The money from the auction serves as a supplement to Gittings’ salary (he is not an employee of the athletics department), and the money also helps pay for any other resources that go along with the FCA program. The auction, though, isn’t the only way to contribute to the cause. One can simply donate if he or she likes by filling out a form and leaving a credit card number or check, or by visiting the website ( and making a contribution that way.

“That’s the case with all chaplains and all FCA staffs across the country – we are missionaries, and we’re responsible for raising our own support for wherever we are, whether it’s on a college campus or even with a professional team,” Gittings said. “We have a little more leeway with a professional team. Most times, we’ll receive funds from anyone who gives individually, but nothing financially comes from the institution itself.”

The more important purpose of the breakfast, though, is that it provides a forum for the FCA, and Gittings, in particular, to educate the people about the work they do and the impact they’re having on the student-athletes at Tech, especially the football players. The three players and Shane Beamer participated in a panel discussion with WDBJ-7’s Travis Wells, who served as the master of ceremonies at the breakfast and the host of the discussion. They spoke passionately about their faith and the ways in which God continues to move them.

Gittings has established a junior chaplains program, and seven players on the football team serve as junior chaplains. They work in coordination with Gittings and minister to their teammates, usually in a small group setting. The junior chaplains encourage their teammates to participate, but everything is voluntary. Players participate only if they feel led to do so.

Tech team chaplain Dave Gittings has implemented a junior chaplains program, created an initiative to minister to coaches’ wives and set up various community service outings during his brief time as the chaplain at Tech.

Gittings also meets with a group of players in one-on-one settings. The group consists of 16 players, and he sees that group becoming larger in the future. He continues to coordinate outreach opportunities in which players visit local schools, and he established a “Behind the Bench” program in which his wife, Kim, ministers to other coaches’ wives.

“We’ve been very fortunate that God has given us a great plan in our minds and our hearts, as to how to move the ministry forward,” Gittings said. “Johnny [Shelton] did a great job of laying the foundation, and we had to come in and have a plan to move it forward.

“The junior chaplains program is totally exceeding everything I thought it would be. Those guys are really getting after it. There is a hunger and a thirst there, and we know, being a Christian organization, that that comes with a relationship with Christ, but in addition to that, those guys understand that just having a good Biblical view and a moral compass helps everyone on the team.”

Gittings sees his and FCA’s role expanding on campus. Former Tech player E.L. Smiling is in the process of becoming a full-time staff member with FCA on campus, and plans are in the works to hire a female staff member to minister with women’s sports at Tech.

Those plans continue even though the spotlight has been on Christianity recently following an outside group’s complaints about Clemson and head football coach Dabo Swinney, a devout Christian who proudly and publicly proclaims his faith. This outside group claims that Swinney violates the constitutionally protected separation between church and state, arguing that Swinney shows favor to one religion and tries to coerce players of a different faith, using playing time as a way to leverage those players to see his viewpoints.

Clemson and Swinney strongly deny that. But the issue has received national attention and caught the eyes and ears of those within the FCA – an organization that has been involved in athletics since 1954 and whose goal is to use athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ.

“All we’re wanting to do is just to be a service to any athlete or any coach who wants us around,” Gittings said. “The good news is there are more coaches and athletes who want us around than there are of those in the verbal minority who seem to not want us around. Our goal is to provide a service to the coaches and athletes who want that Biblical view and moral compass encouraged during their college careers.

“One of the roles of a chaplain is to be a comfort in critical situations and be an encouragement, and I think we do that well at the college level. When you have a player that breaks a leg or gets injured seriously, that’s a critical situation, and that athlete needs to be comforted and encouraged in ways that sometimes coaches just can’t do. So we play a pivotal role, and not having a chaplain around could be detrimental in some cases for an athlete or a coach.

“I don’t think we’re worried [about outside groups] – and I’m not worried – but we are careful. We are concerned about every aspect of the institutions that we serve. We respect our coaches, we respect our athletics directors and we respect our presidents of the institutions we work along with, and we’re certainly not here to make waves or cause problems. We do want to be a help.”

How impactful has Gittings been in less than a year on campus? Five players have given their lives to Christ. Three other players have rededicated their lives, with one of those – former defensive end J.R. Collins – being baptized by Gittings after the spring game.

“Dave is a great guy and a great pastor,” said former defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, who was a junior chaplain last season. “He loves the guys, and he loves the Lord and he loves impacting guys. He’s an influential guy. He’s a great guy to have around the team, and his impact has been great.

“You know, when Johnny left, people didn’t know who the new chaplain was going to be, and they were asking was he going to be good and all that. But Dave came in running, and he’s doing great things.”

Those interested in learning about those great things should keep in mind next year’s “Breakfast of Champions.” The event is certainly worth it, but the cause makes it that much more worthwhile.