Twenty years in action

Think back to where you were in 1996. Perhaps you were listening to the Spice Girls, dancing the Macarena, and collecting Beanie Babies. A lot of things have changed in the last 20 years and a lot of things we thought would last haven’t stood the test of time.

That isn’t the case for Dallas Williams, who began running Athletes in Action summer sports camps in Manitoba in 1996 with just one camp and 42 kids. Two decades later, the camps are still going strong and Dallas is still the man in charge.

camphighfiveThis past summer was the 20th anniversary of Athletes in Action sports camps in Manitoba. They ran 39 basketball and volleyball camps with 611 campers and reached another 16,280 kids through their spring sports programs at local schools.

Debbie Yeboah has been a coach with the camps for the last seven years, but developed a new appreciation for Dallas when she worked with him as the Camp Supervisor this past summer.

“As a coach, we know that Dallas does a lot,” she says, “But when I’m with him in the office I see how much is really on his plate. I really get to see how much work he puts in.”

Dallas is quick to deflect any praise and point it back at the people around him. “The thing I enjoyed most about the summer,” he says, “Is just how incredibly bright and wonderful my staff are.”

“All of these coaches,” he says, “They’re like my children. I care for them and get to know them and think highly of them and help them any way I can.”

“Certainly now, unfortunately, they’re young enough to be my grandchildren,” he adds ruefully, then laughs. “I mean, I’m 66, so you do the math!”

It’s hard to ignore the pride in his voice when he talks about his coaches. “We have the credentials,” he says. “We’ve had 16 captains of university teams, seven have made national teams, and a whole bunch of them were academic all-stars — in other words, they’re not just top athletes, they’re also top academically.”

“Two of my coaches won national championships while holding 4.5 grade point averages,” he adds. “That’s just astounding. They’re just flat-out brilliant.”

Debbie is quick to credit Dallas when it comes to the coaches, however. “I know that our coaches have a lot to do with the success of the program,” she says, “But he hired all of them.”

“He’s got a knack for seeing something in people and bringing it out of them. So it translates to our coaches and it translates down to the kids, who end up wanting to come back year after year.”

That’s what it all comes down to: the kids. Dallas’s passion for combining coaching with sharing the gospel began years before he started the camps in Manitoba.

For him it was 1985, when he was still an officer with the Winnipeg Police. He was asked to work with 11 boys at a local Christian hockey camp. “Two were Christian,” he recalls, “and nine were non-Christian. By the end of the week, all 11 were Christian.”

“That had a major impact on me. I figured, ‘Wow, this is an amazing way to reach kids for Christ.’ So that’s why I started the camp. That was the impetus behind it, over ten years earlier.”

It’s the same passion that drives Debbie to come back to coach the camps year after year. “One camper that I really connected with,” she recalls, “She was going to the high school that I went to. And I had a chance to pray with her at the end of the week and help her accept the Lord into her heart.”

“She told me it was by far the best week of the summer and that she would definitely be back next year. It’s those kinds of moments that really make me like Athletes in Action.”

Thanks to the passionate work of people like Dallas and Debbie, the Manitoba sports camps have had a significant impact for the kingdom of God, with over 2,000 kids committing their lives to Christ over the past 20 years and 129 this past summer.

With such important work to do, Dallas isn’t going anywhere and Debbie is certain to return as well.

“I’m coming back next summer for sure,” says Debbie. “The camps are just so much fun. The campers and the coaches, the energy and the atmosphere, is just so much fun. You really get better at your sport and you get to learn about Jesus, which I think is an amazing combination.”


Athletes in Action is committed to equipping and empowering coaches to use their passion and platform in sport to impact the next generation.  What are you investing in? #goAIA #AIAcamps