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Reflections on the most exciting season in EMU history

Posted on April 14th, 2010

How does one ever begin to re-cap what has been arguably the most exciting sports season in EMU history (and that includes EMC—my era). Hopefully you were following some of the action whether on our website, through word of mouth, newspaper or watching a webcasted game. And since things were happening so fast and going beyond expectations, I didn’t have time to update you since the beginning of the school year.

The focus of attention was on the men’s basketball team that set many individual, team and school records and gathered tremendous interest and support from the campus community, Harrisonburg and from alumni scattered in many parts of the country. Visits to the athletics pages from Harrisonburg (but off campus) were up over 1000% and visits from Ohio were up 444%. It seemed like nearly everyone was contracting “Royal Fever.”

While I have never believed that athletics should be the central focus of an educational institution or our lives, I have a better understanding of the value of a successful sports program in opening the doors and windows of EMU to the broader community and prospective students. And I am proud of the fact that what people will discover when they get to know EMU is that the men’s basketball team is only one of many, many programs of excellence.

Here are just a few highlights from the men’s basketball season. Look for a new webpage being developed dedicated to a season to remember.

  • Beating two nationally ranked #1 teams (both ODAC schools)
  • Finishing the season ranked fourth nationally
  • Hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament
  • Junior Todd Phillips named Second Team All-South Region by NABC
  • Coach Kirby Dean named South Region Coach of the Year by NABC
  • Todd Phillips named D3hoops.com First Team All-American
  • Averaged over 1000 fans per game for the second half of the season

The spotlight on the men’s basketball team should not cause us to overlook other accomplishments within the athletic program:

  • Richy Bikko qualifying for Nationals in his first season of cross country competition
  • Chris Baker hitting for the cycle in a recent baseball game
  • Justin Reesor being named First Team NECVA Western Division in men’s volleyball
  • Mitchell Leap, Dillon Brunk and Jared Troyer named to the ODAC First Team in men’s soccer
  • Ben Shank named to Scholar All-Region Team in men’s soccer
  • Alyssa Derstine named Second Team All-American in field hockey

I wish there was a good way to share with you the significant achievements of personal growth and the development of life skills by athletes through their participation in EMU’s athletic program. While the athletic achievements noted above are important, nothing compares to recognizing the development of character and person that we see each year in our athletes. My philosophy of athletics being the avenue for personal growth and development appeared in a short piece in the fall/winter 2009-10 issue of Crossroads, the EMU alumni magazine:

‘We Want You to Be Successful’
If you’re an athlete, you’ll likely agree that collegiate-level sports offer students a unique experience. The experience is somewhat akin to intensely engaging in music, art, and theater at college, but athletes primarily tune, shape, and act with their bodies.

All student-athletes struggle to balance their academic work with the huge time and physical demands of the sports they play. All learn about dealing with both failure and success. With being self-disciplined. Recovery from injuries. Pain. Relationship building. Team work. Setting goals and meeting them. Taking responsibility and deferring to authority.

When athletes make obvious mistakes in front of spectators or fail to deliver as the coach expected – especially under pressure – they may struggle with self-esteem issues. Or when playing time is less than they would like. Or when their performance seems to have hit a plateau, or perhaps even worsened.

All this is true of athletes at Division I, Division II, or Division III colleges, such as EMU.

But there’s a difference at EMU: We take a long-term view; we focus on the athlete’s well-being. Athletes will be people a lot longer than they will be athletes, so our major concern is who the athlete will be when he or she is age 35, 45, 55 or 65.

We ask: How will the experiences you’re having as a scholar-athlete contribute to your future roles in the community, workplace, and church? To be successful as humans, you need to develop Christian character traits and life skills that will see you through adulthood. In short, we want you, the athlete, to be successful, not just the program. We want sports to enhance your college education by being a positive impact on your understanding of self, others and God.

For instance, EMU’s “star” athletes are helped to grasp that their gifts do not make them better or more important humans than others. They need their team members as much as their team members need them. And they need to appreciate what they can learn and offer in other venues – in the classroom, on a cross-cultural venture, in an art gallery, or in a soup kitchen. The athletes who aren’t standouts also learn important lessons – some of the best coaches I know were the ones who spent much time on the bench. They are able to break down the game and teach others how to play.

Typically in Division I colleges, the emphasis is not on the particular student-athlete being successful, but on the team as a whole having a great record, which enhances the school’s reputation and income. In other words, in most Division I sports programs – and in too-many Division II and III programs as well – the spiritual, emotional, physical and academic well-being of each athlete is secondary to this over-arching goal of winning.

At EMU (we repeat) the long-term well-being of the student comes first. Not that winning is unimportant. The EMU Athletics Department has set a minimal goal of 65% wins for all EMU intercollegiate competition, combined with at least one team competing for conference championship every three years. But these achievements will be a byproduct of working hard and smart, while all concerned – players, coaches and teachers – were also working at staying “balanced and integrated” in the Christian sense, as compassionate, service-oriented human beings.

Dave King ’76 played three intercollegiate sports – soccer, basketball, and (as a freshman) baseball — as an undergraduate at EMU. His wife, Debra ’77, played volleyball here. Their three children all came to EMU and did intercollegiate sports: Derek ’03, volleyball; Ryan ’07, basketball; and Lisa ’08, field hockey. All three have gone on to graduate school or responsible jobs.

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