The staff shrank and funding fell, but more students than ever attended meetings of the Greater Augusta Fellowship of Christian Athletes this school year.
Since Area Director Greg Wilson was hired in April 2008, the organization has nearly tripled the number of high schools where FCA groups meet, from six to 17.
Growth was especially rapid in Richmond County, where the number of student huddles grew from one to six in the county's 13 schools.
The Greater Augusta FCA ministers to students in 31 high schools in 11 counties. Its mission field, Mr. Wilson said, includes more than 6,400 athletes and 525 coaches.
They're served by just two employees: a part-time administrative worker and Mr. Wilson, the women's basketball coach at Augusta State University from 1999 to 2008.
The organization briefly employed a third staffer, former Augusta Spartans and Colts head coach Bubba Diggs, but FCA couldn't continue to pay him.
Giving fell by two-thirds at the group's largest fundraiser, a banquet featuring Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt earlier this month.
FCA won't know how hard its $160,000 annual budget was hit until donations are tallied at the end of the year, Mr. Wilson said.
A drop could stall plans to hire a larger staff, which would supervise the start of future huddles.
Mr. Wilson hopes that established huddles will continue to see gains.
At Evans High School this year, students led the creation of a weekly huddle, which meets at 6:45 a.m. Thursdays before school.
Huddles at most schools meet once a month in the evenings for dinner, worship or a Bible study.
"The kids carry these programs," Mr. Wilson said. "It all starts with them. They call or e-mail and say, 'Why don't we have a group here?' and we give them the resources to get it done."
Considering the economy, Mr. Wilson considers the growth of FCA's program "a bit of a miracle."
"One of the most satisfying parts of the job is watching God do what I can't do," he said. "I took the job three or four months before the economy crashed, and yet every month something comes through and we keep going and growing."
Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or email@example.com.
Call (706) 868-6000 or go to augustafca.org