Longtime urban sports director impacted thousands of children in urban Knoxville


Dwayne Sanders, Director of Sports Ministry with Emerald Youth Foundation and Director of Urban Fellowship of Christian Athletes, passed away April 29 after a determined battle with cancer.


Sanders, 51, devoted his life to ministry with urban young people and was a staple in the Knoxville youth sports community. A native of Knoxville, Dwayne grew up in the inner city just blocks away from where Emerald Youth would eventually be launched decades later. He came to faith in college and subsequently devoted his life to ministry with young people through the vehicle of youth sports.


His tenure with FCA began over 25 years ago, and in 2012, he was given the opportunity to have his two passions converge with the launch of a joint partnership between Emerald Youth and Greater Knoxville Area FCA that allowed him to serve both organizations. This collaboration offered Dwayne a unique platform through campus and community-based ministry. It also provided him the opportunity to work alongside his college roommate and great friend, Steve Diggs, President & CEO of Emerald Youth.


Under Sanders’ leadership, Emerald Youth’s sports ministry with city children grew from 322 children on 38 teams in 2012 to over 1,600 young people playing on 169 teams this past year. Additionally, the ministry of Emerald Youth Sports and FCA grew to add new sports, including soccer, track, wrestling, lacrosse, performance training, swim lessons and baseball. This expansion provided additional opportunities for children from the heart of the city to attend FCA camps and be involved in campus ministries as well.


To accommodate the growth in sports offered and youth served, additional facilities were also added under his tenure including the New Hope Recreation Center and E.V. Davidson Pool – both in partnership with the City of Knoxville – and the Sansom Sports Complex in partnership with the Sansom Family Foundation.


Sanders’ heart for reaching young people through sports began through his own experience growing up in urban Knoxville through seeds of influence planted by his high school football coach. He went on to play football and tennis at Maryville College and came to know Christ during his time there before formally launching his ministry after graduation in 1988.


In spite of tremendous results and achievements professionally through athletics, Sanders was always quick to avoid the limelight. He viewed his work as a calling and was known for his remarkable sense of humor, ability to relate to others, and personal story of faith.


He dedicated his life’s work to sharing the gospel with young people, while also ensuring sports were implemented with excellence.


In fact, the only thing Dwayne loved more than reaching children through sports was his family. He and his wife Lisa were married in 1990. Together, they have two children, Madison and Baylor.


The family will receive friends on Friday, May 4 from 5:00-7:00 pm at North Knoxville Baptist, Dwayne’s childhood church. A memorial service will be held at 7:00 pm that same evening officiated by Steve Diggs, Dean Craig, and Pastor Tim Parker.


In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to Emerald Youth Foundation and Greater Knoxville Area FCA. Arrangements are being handled by Berry Highland Memorial Funeral Home.