Athletes of God
Athletics at CMU Balances Sports, Academic and Spiritual Life
|Rachel Parsons and Janelle Hume: CMU best place to get a university education, play competitive sports and make good friends
Athletae Dei—Athletes of God.
That’s what some early Christians called themselves, taking inspiration from the Apostle Paul’s injunction to train themselves in godliness. (1 Tim. 4:7)
Paul himself was inspired by the image of the gymnasium, where ancient athletes trained for games and feats of endurance. Christians, he said, should approach their spiritual lives with the same kind of dedication and discipline as athletes who dedicate themselves to sport.
Dedication to sports and faith is important at CMU, too. Each year about 80 students take part in the university’s intercollegiate athletics program, playing sports such as soccer, volleyball, basketball and hockey. Many others participate in intramural or informal athletic activities.
“Athletics has grown to be an important program at CMU,” says President Gerald Gerbrandt. “It plays a significant role in shaping the reputation of the university.”
One way sports enhances CMU’s reputation is by winning championships—and CMU teams have won a lot of them. Since 2000, CMU teams have won 20 titles in the Central Plains Athletic Conference (CPAC), made up of nine colleges and universities in Manitoba and Minnesota, and one in the Association of Christian College Athletics (ACCA), made up of 25 mostly U.S. teams. This past year CMU’s men’s hockey, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball teams all won championships.
“Successful sports teams affect institutional morale, and engender pride among alumni and supporters,” says Gerbrandt.
It also gets CMU mentioned in places it would never otherwise appear, like the sports section of local newspapers. This, in turn, helps with recruitment.
“Athletics is also an important part of CMU’s recruitment strategy,” says Director of Enrolment Abe Bergen. “It brings CMU to the attention of students who might otherwise not know about us, and who wouldn’t otherwise consider us as an option.”
Bergen knows that CMU isn’t for every student athlete; some students want to pursue sports at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics, and some don’t want to study at a Christian university. But it is proving attractive for those who “want to play competitive sports, and also get a good university education.”
Balancing Sports And Academics
While he’s proud of how well CMU does in sports, Gerbrandt says athletics should be kept in perspective.
“Sports are great, but they should never dominate the life of a student or the university, ” says Gerbrandt, himself an ardent baseball fan. “It needs to be balanced with the intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual growth of the student.”
When it comes to academics and athletics, CMU is doing pretty well; this past year 39 percent of student athletes had grade point averages of 3.5 or higher. At this year’s ACCA basketball tournament in Bethany, OK, CMU had more Academic All-Americans—nine—than any other school.
“We are proud of the commitment our athletes show on the court and with their studies,” says Marilyn Peters Kliewer, who is responsible for athletics at CMU in her role as Dean of Student Life. “They are students who are committed to excellence in all aspects of life. The number of students with high grade point averages shows the quality and type of student-athletes we have at CMU.”
The importance of academics is regularly underscored by CMU coaches, all of who serve as coaches in addition to their regular jobs.
“In terms of balancing sports and school, our coach is very specific,” says Rachel Parsons, a second year student and basketball player from Winnipeg. “School is number one.”
Women’s basketball coach Keith Michaelson laughs when he hears that comment. “My players hear that a lot from me,” he says. “For me, athletics is at the bottom of the list of priorities. Family, faith and academics all take precedence.”
For Michaelson, who is semi-retired and part of a Roman Catholic house church in Winnipeg, it’s all about keeping things in perspective. “I’m proud of how well we do on the court, but I’m just as proud of how well the students do in class, and in the rest of their lives,” he says.
Men’s soccer coach William Wiens feels the same way.
“Soccer is important,” says Wiens, a member of Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church and a loan officer for Steinbach Credit Union. “But it’s not the only thing. Church, school, family, friends-these things are also important.”
Jonathan Wolfe echoes those comments. “God, family and academics all come before basketball,” says the men’s basketball coach, who teaches physical education at an elementary school in Winnipeg. “I really promote that.”
Wolfe, a member of the Morden, Man. Mennonite Church, tries to stay on top of how his players are doing academically. “I try to keep up with what the players are doing in class. I encourage them to stay on top of their studies and try to build the practice schedule around their courses.”
It’s a scenario that works well for Janelle Hume of Winnipeg. “Coming to CMU has been good for me,” she says. “I have been able to take a full course load and play competitive basketball.” Adds Jaron Friesen, a volleyball player from Waldheim, Sask.: “I can balance my sports interests and my academic interests at CMU. It gives me pretty much the whole picture.”
|2008 Men's CPAC hockey champions
Academics are important, and so is winning. But sportsmanship is also key at CMU. “We play to win each game,” says Wiens. “But good sportsmanship is equally important. We play to win within the rules.”
Wiens is proud of the fact that none of his players have been red-carded—ejected from a game—in the three years he has been coaching at CMU. “It’s a testimony to the good sportsmanship of the athletes,” he says. Adds Michaelson: “I’m proud that we had no technical fouls this year, and only two last year.”
Wiens also draws satisfaction from knowing that referees like officiating CMU games. “They say time and again how much they appreciate it,” he says. “They say we are not rough and undisciplined. I think that’s the highest compliment my players can receive.”
Jason Wicklund, assistant coach for the men’s hockey team, says that he encourages his players to stay controlled during games. “The teams that win are disciplined teams,” says Wicklund, who works in CMU’s Enrolment Department and attends Oasis Community Church. “The fewer penalties we get, the better our chances of winning.”
Sports and Faith
Keeping God in mind is also an important part of CMU athletics. Teams pray before games, and sometimes also before practices. Each team also does a service assignment, such as playing games with refugee and immigrant youth or at the local prison, or serving at a homeless shelter.
But it goes beyond prayer and service to include the quality of relationships between team members.
“I’ve never played on a basketball team that’s been so close and so tight knit together,” says Hume. “It’s really been great.”
Kalon Bergen felt that warmth first-hand. The all-star volleyball player almost left the sport entirely following bad experiences with coaches on other teams. Her experience at CMU was just the opposite. “I had never played on a team where I felt so supported by my coaches and team mates,” she says of her first year playing at CMU. “I recovered my enthusiasm for the game.”
She also appreciates the emphasis on faith. “Faith plays a big role in sports here at CMU,” she notes. “We’re always reminded that God should be in every aspect of our lives, including volleyball.”
One of Wicklund’s goals is to create a positive environment for athletes. “Most athletic environments are pretty raw,” he says, recalling his experience playing hockey at the university and junior B levels. “We try to promote a positive and healthy environment for the players.”
Not everyone who comes to play at CMU is a committed Christian. But that’s OK, says Michaelson, noting that one player who was not church-going when she began at CMU started going to church with her team mates as the season progressed. “Her involvement at CMU made her open to church and to faith in Christ,” he says. “I know her life has been changed.”
“Each player is at a different place on his faith journey,” adds Wolfe. “At CMU they can be part of a community where they can explore faith together with other team members.”
For Peters Kliewer, it all adds up to showing the importance of athletics at CMU. “Athletics is part of our mission,” she says. “It contributes to an environment where students can develop leadership and athletic skills, and find enjoyment in athletic achievement.”
Or, as Hume puts it: “CMU is the best place you can go to play post-secondary ball, get a university education, play competitive sports and make good friends. It’s the best combination of them all.”
People interested in CMU Athletics can find out more at www.cmu.ca
Posted June 27, 2008
For more information contact John Longhurst, CMU Communications Director, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, Manitoba R3P 2N2, telephone: 204-487-3300 ext. 630, fax: 204-889-1694, firstname.lastname@example.org (www.cmu.ca)