Larry Novotny was in ninth grade when he joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization. He remembers attending an Easter breakfast with some peers at the home of Ed and Sylvia Christopherson in Alexandria. It was a great experience for him and one he will always remember.
At that time, which was 46 years ago, both Ed and Sylvia were heavily involved in the FCA organization. In fact, Ed became the primary FCA leader in the Alexandria area six years prior, in 1967.
More than 50 years later, Ed has been inducted into the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Hall of Champions. And Larry and his wife, Dee, couldn’t be happier.
“Ed is relentless in teaching and getting kids off the streets,” said Larry. “The influence he had has spread across the world.”
With permission, Larry shared a text message from Tom Lehman, a former classmate and FCA peer and a world-class professional golfer.
His text message said, “Coach Ed Christopherson has had an influence on me that has lasted a lifetime. Not only that, but it will also last an eternity. I respect and admire Coach immensely, and am beyond grateful to him for caring enough to pour his faith, love and knowledge into me.”
Dee Novotny said prior to joining FCA in 1986, she didn’t really know about FCA, but the aspect of God and sports was so appealing to her.
“Ed was always so welcoming. Sylvia was too, but she was more in the background,” Dee said. “He is so deserving. It was very wonderful to have that opportunity.”
Because of Ed’s health – he has a hard time hearing and speaking – Sylvia, along with Larry and Dee, provided some background on his long history with the FCA organization.
When asked what the induction meant to him, two words came to mind for Ed, disbelief and overwhelmed.
Sylvia said it was a “real blessing” for the both of them.
Next April, the FCA will host an awards ceremony in Kansas City, and Ed and Sylvia hope to attend. Ed, along with seven others, will be inducted into the Hall of Champions at that time.
The FCA announcement of the inductees stated that Ed and Sylvia have impacted an entire town through the FCA for more than 50 years. Ed has been an FCA donor, local board member, past leader, prayer warrior and FCA cheerleader.
“The clear, recurring theme across Ed’s life is his love for Jesus, and flowing from that, his commitment and longevity with FCA,” wrote one of his nominators, who was not named. “God has taken Ed’s faithfulness in showing up in the lives of students, persistence in fundraising for Camp money, and continued service to produce a lasting ripple effect in Alexandria. The fruit is still being reaped, and even more seeds are being planted.”
The FCA announcement stated:
“The football coach and his wife, Sylvia, have impacted an entire town through FCA. His passion for teaching, sports, students and Jesus made FCA a natural vehicle for ministry in his life, and the couple regularly invited athletes to their house for the FCA Huddle.
“Ed also saw the significant impact FCA Camps can have on students. His vision to raise funds to pay for half of every local student’s cost to attend Camp became a reality – one that continues today – and Alexandria has sent over 1,000 students to FCA Camps since Ed’s vision began.”
Making an impact
Ed became a high school football coach in Alexandria in 1967 and was invited to join FCA by then-head coach John Gustafson. Within several years, Gustafson left and Ed took over as both the head football coach and the primary FCA leader.
Ed came from a large family with five boys and five girls and had experienced a life focused on Christian faith. He both watched and played sports with his brothers and was excited to be part of an organization that combined both his love of sports and his love of faith.
When Ed took on the role of primary FCA leader, meetings were often held at the Christopherson home. Sylvia said there could be anywhere from 10 to 50 students in their living room each week.
Larry can remember walking into their home and the giant pile of shoes on the floor just inside the door.
“I have vivid memories of those days,” said Larry. “Ed would teach us about the bible and how to follow Jesus. He was influential here and on the field or court. He made such an impact.”
Sylvia said she and Ed would prepare Bible studies but that after teaching the students about them, the students would divide into small groups and talk about what they learned. Group discussions and prayer would always follow.
“Afterward, some students departed quickly to do their homework, while others lingered around the snacks in the kitchen,” said Sylvia.
Over the years Ed and Sylvia were involved in FCA, at least 100 events – holiday breakfasts or noon lunches – were planned with student, parent and community participation. Speakers were often well-known sports personalities or area residents who shared their faith journey. Multiple FCA opportunities have been added over the years, Sylvia said, including Fields of Faith, a student-led event each fall.
The FCA camps held each year were near and dear to both Ed and Sylvia. Sylvia shared the story of how Ed would take out loans to help pay for students to attend the camps. Larry shared a time he remembered when Ed went into the bank to get a loan, and the loan manager told Ed even though he didn’t qualify, he would get the money anyway.
Dee said one of the main goals of the FCA is influence and that both Ed and Sylvia have been huge influencers for the organization.
She recalled when Ed once told a referee at a basketball game that he wasn’t being a good influencer to the student players.
“He was bold enough to stand up for the students,” said Dee. “It’s the truth that Ed loved his students.”
Both Dee and Larry said no one was more deserving to be inducted into the FCA Hall of Champions. They said both Ed and Sylvia were a blessing not only to the FCA organization as a whole, but also to the Alexandria Lakes Area community.
“He’s definitely a big deal,” Larry said.
Today, FCA remains strong here and in fact, FCA Hockey is headquartered out of the Northstar Complex in Alexandria. And Ed and Sylvia, along with Larry and Dee, are still involved.