All JBU athletic teams participate in The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ program called Champions of Character. The program strives to “change the culture of sport,” as stated the Champions of Character website.
Last school year, this program was revamped to include a new reward system. Schools can earn classifications including gold, silver and bronze, based on how well they implement the program. JBU snagged a silver title in 2012-2013, the first year of this new system. JBU is among the top in the silver category, said Jeff Soderquist, Assistant Athletic Director and Champions of Character Liaison.
Soderquist also said that there are several main aspects to implementing Champions of Character at JBU. The first is having good coaches. Soderquist said that not only are coaches hired through a deliberate process, but they are also trained in an online Champions of Character course.
“It goes beyond how to rebound and how to shoot. It’s using the athletics to teach a lot about life,” Soderquist said.
Soderquist adds that even if it weren’t for the Champions of Character program, promoting good values through athletics is still something JBU coaches strive to do. He explained that just as professors integrate faith into their classrooms, “we integrate faith into our practice.”
Another aspect of implementing Champions of Character is through promoting core values. According to NAIA, these values are integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership, according to the Champions of Character website. Soderquist said all JBU varsity athletes are required to take a 15-minute online course about these values at the beginning of the year.
The final and most well-known aspect of Champions of Character is how the athletes give back to the community. Soderquist works to organize one service project per semester that involves every varsity team at JBU. The athletic teams come from basketball, soccer, tennis, cross-country, golf, volleyball and cheer. Soderquist explained that last semester, the university-wide sports project was a day-long clinic with girl scouts.
Kaitlyn Collier, a freshman education major from JBU’s cross-country team, explained that for the girl scout clinic, each team did different drills and games with the girls that related to their own sport.
“It was so much fun,” Collier said.
Students also participate in service projects that are specific to their teams. Marko Cardona, a sophomore international business major and JBU soccer player, explained that his team leads soccer clinics one to two times per week with children ages 6-14 from the Siloam community.
“It’s a good time to reach out to the community,” said Cardona.
While JBU scores well on implementation of the character-building program, some students are more aware of the program than others.
After speaking with four students from three different NAIA sports teams, several patterns began to emerge. All of the students remembered taking the Champions of Character online course at the beginning of the year. Only some said they knew who their team representative was. All fondly remembered doing the clinic with the girl scouts last semester, but none knew that it was part of the Champions of Character program. However, all could recount times that they or their team members had done mission trips or service projects together.
While student athletes may not be very aware that the service projects they did were part of the Champions of Character program, Kileab Ammons, a junior youth ministry major and basketball player for the Golden Eagles, explained. He said that while titles can often get in the way of having a genuine heart and programs can become cheesy, he still believes that most of the guys on his basketball team would say that the service projects they do are important to them.
“There’s something special about meeting people and helping them,” Ammons said.