It was my first open gym at Huntington College, the summer before my freshman year. I was anxious and nervous about the transition to basketball at the college level—not quite knowing what to expect. To be honest, the only thing I remember about that day is when it was finally over, and we gathered at center-court for a team huddle, sweaty hands mingling together in the middle. I waited for the usual cry of “Team!”or some other phrase that had ended my previous years of practice. Instead, Coach Culler quietly bowed her head and said, “Let’s pray.”
That moment has stuck with me ever since. In some ways, I’m still getting used to the blessing of our team, acknowledging our faith together. The privilege of participating in athletics at a Christian college is an incredible one, and having coaches deeply committed to their faith who end each practice in prayer always serves as a powerful reminder of that opportunity.
So what makes athletics at a Christian college any different from a secular college or university? We’re not less competitive or less talented. Opportunities and success abound at HC. Our Foresters compete at high levels of athletic competition as members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the well-known Mid-Central Conference. Our 14 intercollegiate athletic programs have produced national champions, All-Americans, and All-American Scholar Athletes. Our teams have qualified to their respective national championships on several occasions, and our baseball program has turned out major league players.
At a Christian college such as Huntington, I have found that the difference is that we strive to celebrate the love of the game, and in doing so, we also seek to celebrate the love of something much greater. Just as 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
For example, I know my college values demonstrating Christian character in competition. I also know what a challenge that can be in a physical sport where elbows fly, jerseys are grabbed, and bodies often hit the ground. However, this past season at Huntington, our women’s basketball program made a team covenant, promising to focus on Christ-like characteristics. We endeavored to show love, unity, mental toughness, respect, integrity, encouragement, and enthusiasm both on and off the court.
Not only do I appreciate being part of a team that strives to build and express Christian character, but I’m thankful for the incredible level of support from both teammates and coaches during all the ups and downs of that process. Throughout a rough sophomore season when our team was plagued with injuries and family troubles, it became even more of a privilege to have teammates that circled together to pray for each other. During tough times, we were sustained by being teammates, as well as being sisters in Christ.
Throughout my four years at a public high school, I was blessed to play for a Christian coach who truly cared about faith and integrity as part of competition. The transition to athletics at a Christian college did not appear so different. However, I quickly realized that not only did my college coach care about those things, but so did my teammates, the athletic department, the faculty, the staff, and the student body.
I’ve learned that athletics at a Christian college is so much more than just a routine prayer before or after the game, doing team devotions, and team service projects. It’s about being part of a whole community that chooses to recognize athletic talent as a true blessing, a valuable gift straight from God. It’s about being part of a community that chooses to use those gifts, above all else, to glorify the Lord. As my teammate Lane often says, “It’s about playing for an audience of one.”
Christian colleges may not be among the most widely known competitors in college athletics; however, they do provide an environment in which I have been challenged through athletic competition and academics, as well as in my faith. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” In
Christian college athletics, not only do we endeavor to fight a good fight or to finish each race strong, but I hope that we also try to keep the faith every step of the way—faith in ourselves, in our teammates, and most importantly, in God.