Braving above normal temperatures, thunderstorms, and extremely limited access to the technological privileges that have become a part of their daily routines, approximately 130 student-athletes congregated at Camp Cedar Falls for the Golden Eagles Inaugural Champions of Character Retreat. The retreat took place from August 10-12, in the San Bernardino mountain retreat location, just out of Big Bear. The student-athletes, coaches, and members of the Student Life family of La Sierra University, participated in various team building and character development activities during the course of the weekend.
On Friday afternoon, the group arrived, settled into their cabins, and enjoyed some free time to meet with their respective teams and/or spend some time getting to know one-another. After dinner, Yami Bazan, La Sierra University's Vice-President for Student Life and Marjorie Robinson, La Sierra's new Dean of Students, introduced the group to the goals of the weekend retreat. Bazan told the student-athletes that the intention of the weekend was to introduce and help the student-athletes better understand the faith-based community of which they are members of and also responsible for representing. Another goal of the weekend was to allow for the opportunity for each individual, student-athletes and coaches alike, to gain information toward their individual and collective character development.
The student-athletes were divided into 11 "Family Groups". Each family group was seated around a table with a leader who would assist them in discussions and activities. The groups were made up of members from each of the six sports that the Golden Eagles Athletic Department sponsors: Women's Volleyball, Men's Soccer, Women's Basketball, Men's Basketball, Softball, and Baseball. The interaction between the sports created a great familial atmosphere within the Golden Eagles Athletic Department. It also allowed incoming recruits and returning student-athletes the opportunity to get to know their new La Sierra University family.
During the course of the weekend, these family groups participated, within their respective groups and with the other groups, in a variety of activities designed to help them meet and get better acquainted with members outside of their respective teams. The activities also allowed for teambuilding and camaraderie.
The weekend retreat also included speakers who focused on topics ranging from the NAIA Champions of Character initiative to an introduction of what Seventh-Day Adventists believe (La Sierra University is affiliated with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church). Bob Wilson, Vanguard University athletic director, presented the group an explanation of the five core values that the NAIA Champions of Character program is built on. Wilson, who is also a member of the Champions of Character national faculty, informed the group what character means on the court or field of play and off, and throughout the rest of their lives. "I am envious that you were able to host this event," said Wilson. "On our campus we emphasize all of the things I spoke on, but we have never been able to have a retreat like you had with all of your student-athletes."
Former University of California-Riverside athletic director, Stan Morrison, concluded the weekend with a lecture on how athletics played an integral role in his life development and success. Morrison touched on various aspects of his career, ranging from winning a basketball national championship at the University of California-Berkeley, playing professional basketball in Spain, coaching at various NCAA Division I institutions, and as an athletic administrator at two NCAA Division I institutions. After 30-plus years, working in intercollegiate athletics, Morrison retired in August of 2011.
La Sierra University campus chaplain, Sam Leonor provided the spiritual focus for the weekend. Leonor assisted student-athletes in their focus on what La Sierra University stands for, and reminded them about the enormous responsibility they carry to represent La Sierra University in the most positive manner, both on and off the field of play. "I was impressed with how respectful and attentive our students were during our conversation about Adventist beliefs and identity," said Leonor. "I am satisfied that they will be great representatives of our institution and what we stand for."
On Saturday afternoon, a strong band of thunderstorms knocked out power during Pastor Sam's discussion, but even with a sore throat he wouldn't be slowed. After lunch, the weather improved enough to allow the student-athletes to participate in a variety of activities with their family groups. Saturday evening gave the student-athletes time to socialize, sing karaoke, and participate in recreational activities of their choosing.
Marjorie Robinson, La Sierra's new Dean of Students, was blessed by the intentionality of the weekend, when asked about her reaction to the Champions of Character Retreat. "It was a privilege to have attended the Champions of Character Retreat," said Robinson. "It was a bonding experience for the student-athletes, the coaches, and the staff along with their families."
Even though Sunday signaled the end of the retreat, in many ways it was beginning. It was the beginning of what will be a conversation that will continue throughout the season, throughout the school year, and beyond. With the feedback received from those who attended the weekend retreat, the hope is to make this an annual tradition as a kickoff to the new athletic/academic year.
"I love the community that we saw beginning to form among the [student]-athletes, said Leonor. "One of our objectives was to have a real sense of belonging in the athletics program; it was beautiful to see it happening. From my view, the gospel lived out in close community, and was experienced by these students."
About the Champions of Character Program
The NAIA launched the Champions of Character program to promote the five core values that are an integral part of a youth's development; integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership. The purpose of the program is to use the avenue of athletics toward the continued character development of student-athletes that they can possess for the rest of their lives, and eventually pass down to others.
The Champions of Character program has recently implemented the Live 5 program, which is a curriculum that instructs student-athletes how to apply the five core values in all aspects of their lives. In addition to the instruction directed towards student-athletes, the NAIA has also designed a training course for coaches and administrators. All NAIA coaches (head and assistant) must complete the course prior to having contact with any of their student-athletes.
"The ultimate goal of our athletics program is to develop individuals willing to work for the wellness and wholeness of mankind, even as we strive to achieve optimal results in the athletic arena, said athletic director Javier Krumm. "We believe involvement in organized athletics is designed to help students mature in their physical, social, mental, moral, ethical, and spiritual value spheres."
The La Sierra University Athletic Department utilizes this program towards meeting their goal of integrating faith and learning within the athletic environment. It is also the goal of the Athletic Department to develop leaders and citizens that will represent La Sierra University and the values they uphold. Leonor stated that "the Champions of Character theme was a great way to explain how La Sierra views student-athletes. I think we accomplished the goal ofexplaining to them that Character is a core value."
"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."
-John R. Wooden
"While listening to Pastor Sam at the retreat, I concluded that spirituality motivates our physical energy."
Nick Medrano, Baseball
"I think the retreat was an overall positive experience. We all got to know each other and get to bond with one another and feel the new teammates out. The activities were fun and I think it will help out our team to come together through thick and thin. We should start this as a new tradition for our LSU Athletic Program every summer."
Joe Mascarenaz, Baseball
"The retreat overall was a good experience and an eye opener. I think it taught us to be leaders in many ways."
Johanna Tope, Volleyball