The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 5, 2012

Lushko carries Christian message to athletes

—  Matt Lushko and his colleagues are using athletes and coaches to spread the word of the Lord.

As director of the Laurel Highlands Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Lushko oversees the ministry’s mission at 18 schools and two colleges in Cambria, Somerset, Indiana and Blair counties.

“The FCA’s mission is to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of athletes and coaches,” Lushko said.

The chapter holds meetings called huddles at each school and college. Each huddle is supervised by a coach, usually a teacher at the school, but the students are in charge.

Huddles typically are held weekly and are scheduled either before or after school. The meetings are about 30 minutes in length.

“FCA is a student-led organization,” Lushko said. “We try to get the students to teach the lessons. It’s like a Bible study program.”

During the huddles, the ministry’s core values of integrity, serving, teamwork and excellence are taught, Lushko said.

“Sports is the largest influence in our culture,” Lushko said about the popularity of the pastime. “We want to catch athletes at a young age, so that we can teach them to become a positive influence in their schools and communities.”

Lushko said the students already are exerting that positive influence.

The past two summers, athletes went on a mission to the Bahamas to build homes and conduct Bible study programs for children.

Both mission trips were led by Kayla Zambanini, an assistant huddle coach at Conemaugh Township Area High School.

Next summer, the athletes are planning a camp for abused and neglected children from the Johnstown region.

“We just want to give those children the attention they normally don’t get,” he said. “We want to show them that someone truly cares about them.”

Lushko organizes annual events to provide fellowship for the athletes and to help them to grow spiritually.

One such event, called Fields of Faith, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at Forest Hills High School football field.

“It’s is a night in which we get all the schools together and meet on a football field,” he said. “It’s a peer-to-peer event.

“Students will give testimony about how God is working in their lives.”

The event, in its fourth year, expects to draw about 250 athletes.

“It’s drawing them (students) toward a closer walk with Christ,” Lushko said about the event.

Casey Long, a teacher at Forest Hills and a coach for chapter members at that school, will talk about how God is working in his life, Lushko said.

Musicians from Windber will donate their talents to provide worship music, he said.

Another event that Lushko organized was a dinner for football players at the Oakwood Restaurant near Davidsville on Sept. 20.

Lushko invited former Pittsburgh Steelers great Jon Kolb to provide an inspirational speech to the players.

The students enjoy the ministry, he said.

“It’s a place for students to come together and feel comfortable knowing that there are other students who believe what they believe,” Lushko said.

Lushko said the 10 members of the board  of the Laurel Highlands Chapter work hard and support all of his efforts.

Lushko, who was a basketball standout for both Ferndale Area High School and Pitt-Johnstown in the 1990s, said he enjoys being involved with the ministry.

“I get to combine my love of sports and my love for Christ to help others,” he said.

“It’s just been a real blessing in my life. It has challenged me to grow in my faith. I just want to challenge the athletes and the coaches to grow in their faith as well.”

Lushko, a physical therapist assistant at the Westmont office of Vantage Physical Therapy, said his wife, Amy, is supportive of his work with the ministry and helps him to organize events.

The Lushkos have three children, Mattie, 7, Alex, 5 and Mae, 1.

Todd Cover, board president of the Laurel Highlands Chapter, said Lushko does a fine job of organizing and leading the various events.

“It’s in his blood,” he said about Lushko’s work with the ministry. “He has a great love for students and athletics.

“He has a very deep faith in Jesus and really lives out his faith with integrity and the other core values of FCA.”

 Zambanini said Lushko does an excellent job of leading the program.

Lushko’s efforts allows athletes to meet athletes from other schools and gives them the opportunity to grow in their faith.

Abby Hoffman, a board member of the Laurel Highlands Chapter, said Lushko has provided great outlets such as the Fields of Faith program to help athletes grow spiritually.

“He’s really building a strong community among the students of schools in the Laurel Highlands,” said Hoffman, assistant athletic director at Pitt-Johnstown.

The school districts involved in the Laurel Highlands Chapter are Windber Area,

Ferndale Area, Conemaugh Township Area, Berlin Brothersvalley, Forest Hills, Westmont Hilltop, North Star, Cambria Heights, United, Glendale Area, Conemaugh Valley, Richland, Shade-Central City and Spring Cove. Some of the districts also have middle schools, in addition to high schools, in the program.

Johnstown Christian School along with Pitt-Johnstown and St. Francis University also are members of the chapter.

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