Too often, college athletics is highlighted in the news media for mammoth athletic staff salaries, questionable recruiting practices, and the disheartening behavior of some players and staff. But, at Marian University, and other NAIA schools under the banner of “Champions of Character,” we consistently achieve outstanding results for our scholar-athletes by engaging our athletics department as a laboratory of character development and academic success.
Today, Marian University is preparing to play in the NAIA National Championship game in Daytona Beach, FL, on December 19. At the same time, I am writing a letter of recommendation for Tevin Lake, our two-time AFCA NAIA All -America running back and an NAIA Champion of Character. Reflecting on this juxtaposition, I believe we have an important message to share. Our message is about football, but it really concerns the entire athletics program and its significance to our students and our city, state, and nation. The scholar-athletes that institutions like Marian attract are individuals who want to become leaders in their professional careers and personal lives. Similarly, the men and women who guide our teams as coaches do more than simply hone the athletic skills of their students. They prepare them to be transformative leaders and they assist in the development of strong character and talents that will ensure these student-athletes can have a profoundly positive impact on society.
Tevin Lake is a good example. He is now in the process of applying for admission to graduate programs in Physical Therapy with the goal of earning a doctoral degree. Tevin is joined by a distinct cadre of student-athletes both past and present who demonstrate excellence in athletics and in the classroom. Among these are defensive back Griffin Ebert who will graduate with a degree in pre-med in three-and-a-half years and pursue a terminal degree in medicine; softball player Michelle Marcum, a 2014 School of Nursing graduate, who earned Capital One Academic All-District® College Division honors and received the NAIA Champions of Character award; cyclist Sinead Miller, a 2012 chemistry and mathematics graduate who won the 2009 Collegiate Cycling National Criterium Championship and is now studying for her Ph. D. in Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University; and, golfer Jordan Ahmay, a NAIA Scholar-Athlete designee and 2014 graduate, who was named an Outstanding Future Educator by the Indiana Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. In fact, since 1982, Marian University has had 272 NAIA All-America Scholar Athletes. In 2013-2014 alone, we had 36 students honored with this distinction.
Marian University is able to achieve such remarkable results because our student-athletes are coached by men and women of tremendous talent who live out the clear charge of this institution (and the NAIA) by insisting that their scholar-athletes grow in character, intellect, and loyalty to the Marian community and our values as well as excelling in athletic competitions (winning!). Under the leadership of our Athletic Director, Steve Downing (an exceptional athlete in his own right), our student-athletes receive instruction and support from individuals like Head Football Coach Mark Henninger and his coaching colleagues at Marian University.
Coach Dean Peterson, head coach of Marian’s 27-time national championship cycling team, summarized the mission of our Athletics leadership well when he said that the goal of the coaching staff is “to help all student-athletes grow into better students, better athletes, and better human beings.”
We at Marian are tremendously proud of our student-athletes and the bright futures before them. And, we are equally proud to be among the institutions in the NAIA that give priority to the charge to use athletics as a means to develop students as “Champions of Character” above all else.
As alumni, friends, community leaders, parents, and sports enthusiasts watch with great enthusiasm our scholar-athletes make amazing plays from the stands in Daytona, or on ESPNU’s national telecast, please take even greater joy in knowing you are witnessing a process of great leadership development under way. More specifically, you are watching our community’s, state’s, and nation’s future leaders in healthcare, education, business, ministry, and civic society developing. We are thankful for the opportunity for Marian’s scholar-athletes to represent our city, the state of Indiana, and the esteemed institutions of higher education that belong to the NAIA.
Marian is blessed with outstanding alumni, donors, supporters, and community leaders whose incredible support and generosity brought our football program to life just eight years ago. Many will travel to Daytona to be with our team as they compete for yet another national championship. All will be with us in spirit as we demonstrate how collegiate football can truly be a “Laboratory of Character Development.” Thank you!