A Test of Character: How Athletic Competition Helps Us Grow

Senior forward Mallory Mitchell of Coronado, Calif., leads the No. 2 Warriors with five goals. The women’s soccer team has won its first five games, including a 2-0 road victory over No. 3 Lindsey Wilson College of Kentucky. The lady Warriors battle top-ranked Concordia University of Oregon Friday, Sept. 12, at 4 p.m. on Westmont’s Thorrington Field.  This is a rematch of the 2013 National Championship title game, which Westmont lost 1-0 in Alabama.

Sophomore Kelly Collins of Pleasant Hill, Calif., earned All-Golden State Athletic Conference honors last year and was Westmont’s top finisher at the NAIA National Championship. The No. 15 women’s cross country team is gearing up for the Mustang Invitational (Sept. 20) and the Pomona-Pitzer Invitational (Oct. 4). Kelly finished third in both races last year.

I was born and raised in Eugene, Ore., a college town where the epicenter of life always revolved around the University of Oregon. Most of what we did growing up involved going to plays, listening to orchestra concerts and attending sporting events at the U of O. My father loved the athletics while my mother loved the music and drama. I developed a lifelong interest in both areas.

This past weekend, I had an opportunity to return to Eugene with my son, Ricky, to attend my brother-in-law’s retirement weekend, see my sister and brother, and visit other members of our extended family. Like so much of the time we spent as children, the weekend events included visits downtown to participate in various activities at the university.

A highlight was returning to Autzen Stadium to watch the football game between Oregon and Michigan State. My earliest memories of Oregon football feature games at Hayward Field with my father. When I was 8 years old, the university built Autzen Stadium, which became the site of some of my most formative memories. I remember seeing Bobby Moore (Ahmad Rashad), Dan Fouts and Joey Harrington play for the Ducks. I recall watching O. J. Simpson, Ricky Bell, Jim Plunkett, John Elway, Chuck Muncie and Troy Aikman beat them. I remember the crushing losses and the exhilarating wins. But what I remember most is being there with my father.

As I sat in the stands on Saturday, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of his passing. It seemed right to be back at Autzen, reflecting on his influence and remembering his love of football and his wider love of what we learn when we involve ourselves in activities that develop us. Beyond football, my father possessed a deeper love of Christ and His Church. But he loved the way athletics tests our character. He believed that competitive athletics develops honor and teaches us to approach our responsibilities in life with a sense of respect. He also thought that athletics develops within us a capacity to limit our own self-interest to pursue greater goals embodied in a team.

Senior forward Mallory Mitchell of Coronado, Calif., leads the No. 2 Warriors with five goals. The women’s soccer team has won its first five games, including a 2-0 road victory over No. 3 Lindsey Wilson College of Kentucky. The lady Warriors battle top-ranked Concordia University of Oregon Friday, Sept. 12, at 4 p.m. on Westmont’s Thorrington Field. This is a rematch of the 2013 National Championship title game, which Westmont lost 1-0 in Alabama.

My own participation in competitive athletics made a huge and positive impact on me. It taught me the joy of winning and the necessity of learning how to recover from defeat. It taught me how to win with dignity and lose with class. Ultimately, it taught me how to sublimate my own ego to pursue goals greater than myself.

As we move deeper into fall semester, our Warrior teams are doing well. Women’s soccer has picked up right where they left off and is ranked No. 2 in the country. Our volleyball team is finding its stride after struggling early. Our men’s and women’s cross country teams are already notching important achievements, and men’s soccer is off to an impressive start.

But all of this is secondary to what we see happening in the lives of our athletes as a result of competing. They are becoming better people. They are growing in their faith. And they are representing the college with distinction and class. Athletics isn’t for everyone, but those who choose to participate and are able to compete learn lessons that last a lifetime and endure long after we’re gone.

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