MT. VERNON – Walking the walk. Talking the talk. That’s what Rend Lake College softball coach Dave Ellingsworth has been doing for 16 seasons. With that level of steadfastness, it was amusing to see him taken by complete surprise when he was named the first recipient of the inaugural Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Scott Tickner Huddle Coach of the Year Award.
His initial response at the April 21 FCA Annual Banquet in Mt. Vernon was, “Do I have to give a speech?” For those who know him, that quote is a gem. After a day or two to let it sink in, he had this to say.
“Number one, it was total surprise. Number two, it’s not deserved. I don’t feel like it’s deserved. To me there are a lot of people out there who are more deserving than me. It’s a very nice award. Being honored by an award with Coach Tickner’s name on it ... that’s a classic right there. That’s quite an honor.”
Named after Mt. Vernon Township High School Wrestling Coach and longtime local FCA representative Scott Tickner, the award was created to honor individuals and coaches who have demonstrated a passion for FCA’s faith-based values through years of dedication, action and leadership.
“We’ve been doing one down in Carbondale with that FCA banquet in the name of a coach who has been real influential in FCA ... in that area,” said Roger Lipe, the Southern Illinois FCA representative since 1994. “We wanted to start something up here in the Mt. Vernon area because coach Tickner ... has 30-plus years of serving in a very faithful, consistent and steady way in Southern Illinois.”
Lipe talked about the kind of person who deserves this award.
“I’m looking for similar ... coaches who have been serving, doing FCA stuff, and leading in their schools consistently over time,” he said. “Dave Ellingsworth has been that kind of guy at Rend Lake College. Leading a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at a community college is really, really hard.”
“All you can do, I think, is provide a good role model ... set a good example,” Ellingsworth said. “And if you are going to require good values then you have to have good values yourself. If you are going to require Christian values, then you have to have Christian values yourself. I think that’s what you have to do.”
Tosha Ellis, Ellingsworth’s left-fielder, said her coach is very deserving.
“He’s good,” she said. “He has good morals and good standards. All he has done is lead us in the right direction.”
Ellingsworth has been involved with FCA primarily as a huddle coach; setting up meetings, speaking at events and getting students more involved. Ellingsworth, who just wrapped up his 16th regular season as the Lady Warriors coach, has racked up more than 600 wins, and is a two-time Great Rivers Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and 1996 Region XXIV Coach of the Year.
FCA at RLC is made up of student-athletes across the gamut of the college’s 16-team department.
“In FCA, the student-athletes must take ownership of it,” he said. “We have a problem ... at the JUCO level with the fact that we don’t have senior leadership. It’s very difficult to have student ownership and there are some kids right now who are ... taking ownership of it and taking leadership roles.”
Ellis has been a member of FCA since her freshman year at Mt. Vernon Township High School. She said athletics is a great vehicle for learning about the Gospel of Jesus Christ because students can bridge their enthusiasm for athletics with their enthusiasm for Christ.
“It’s a bunch of students getting together and learning more about Christ ... what he means to us and everything he’s done for us ... how God sent Jesus down to die for us and everything he has given up.”
“[Ellingsworth] has been really faithful, stayed at it, and has been incredibly influential with his student-athletes – certainly the kids that he coaches, but even beyond that,” Lipe added. “When I think of faithfulness, Dave Ellingsworth is the kind of guy whose face pops into my mind. ... A great example of what FCA wants coaches to be.
“From the scripture, what the Lord really honors is faithfulness as opposed to flashiness, as opposed to dynamic personality or any of that other stuff. That kind of faithful, consistent, lifestyle and steady influence is what we wanted to really honor. We see that in coaches like coach Tickner, coach Ellingsworth and others in the area.”
Lipe said the future is bright for FCA with many young huddle coaches in the region who are doing tremendous things in their schools. When asked how much longer he’ll be directing traffic from third base, Ellingsworth replied, “Until it stops being fun.”