Most players want to win. Maranatha’s student-athletes are no different in that regard.
There is more to sports at a Christian college, however, than the win-loss records. That aspect— the spiritual side of sports—is what makes Maranatha’s athletic program more than you expect.
“As Christians, we’re called to a higher standard,” men’s soccer coach Jeff Pill said. “I think this is the burden for us at Maranatha, especially with the sports teams. Our efforts are eternal in nature, and they have eternal significance, both for our lives and for our testimony in front of others.”
That “higher standard” extends to the athletic arena as well as the spiritual one. Some Christian colleges field no teams. Maranatha faces some of the best competition NCAA Division III has to offer in the tough Northern Athletics Conference. Most conference members have higher enrollments and considerably more resources than Maranatha.
“My girls love the fact that we must take our game to a higher level, a higher standard, to be competitive in our conference,” volleyball coach Regina DeLozier said. “They want to compete against the best. For many of them, it’s what led them to choose Maranatha in the first place. I love that about my players.”
For most college students, intercollegiate athletics is, historically, part of the campus experience. Students enjoy rooting for their teams—especially at a small college, where they get to know the players personally through interaction in the classrooms and residence halls. Saturday afternoon college football is part of the American sports fabric; watching intramural soccer just isn’t the same.
Maranatha does indeed field a football team as well as teams in volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling, baseball, and softball. The Crusaders hold dual membership in the NCAA and the National Christian College Athletic Association.
“I’ve had referees, coaches, and other players tell me how much they enjoy watching our team play because of how much our players enjoy each other,” DeLozier said.
Ministry is one of the shared experiences that cements those friendships.
Maranatha teams may combine ministry with a long road trip, providing music and preaching for Sunday church services. Many teams volunteer for community service projects such as picking up trash along Watertown’s highways. The men’s basketball team conducted free clinics for elementary school children; the volleyball team hosted a free clinic for the Wisconsin School for the Deaf Teams have gathered for missions trips to Germany, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, and Guam since 2006. A team of football players are scheduled to compete and minister in Israel during the summer of 2012.
Football coach Andy Peterson said he sees this type of service and leadership as going hand-in-hand.
“Leadership is not who can be loudest,” Peterson said. “The leadership we care about is the service of others. We start within the team—within the immediate community—so that we can serve the greater community around us.”
Some teams hand out Christian literature to their opponents after a game. The volleyball team takes it a step further, distributing cards that have inspirational messages on one side and the Maranatha player’s name and contact information on the other.
“We have had girls from the other teams email our players, find them on Facebook, develop contacts in a lot of ways,” DeLozier said. “Last year, one of our opponent’s best players told me, ‘This is the third time I’ve gotten a card from one of your players, and I look forward to it every time.’ To me, that was just a reaffirmation that we can make a difference.”
Peterson said he looks for as many ways as possible for his players to make a difference.
“We find the young men who are already driven to serve and lead and we challenge them to serve and lead,” Peterson said. “We give them vision for how God has gifted them in service. Sometimes
that looks like community service. Sometimes that looks like team Bible studies. Sometimes that looks like witnessing of the eternal life that every man can accept through faith. Sometimes that looks liketrips to help missionaries or pastors make relationship inroads into hostile areas.”
Only a handful of Maranatha athletes have played professional sports. Hundreds of former Crusaders, however, use the leadership skills they sharpened in athletics to effectively serve their families and churches.
“One of the things that attracted me most to this college, one of the big reasons I was excited about coming here, was the burden to impact the next generation of church leaders,” Pill said.