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This past weekend, over 120 student-athletes joined the athletic department staff along with personnel from the student life division at La Sierra University, for the 2nd Annual Champions of Character Athletic Retreat. For the second year in-a-row the group travelled to Camp Cedar Falls, which is located in the San Bernardino mountain range, for a weekend of bonding, team-building, and leadership development.
Once again, the student-athletes were divided into 12 "family groups", which consisted of members from each of the six sports that are sponsored at La Sierra University. Staff members from the student-life division served as leaders for each "family group".
"The idea is that these [student]-athletes will not only be nurture by their teammates in their respective sports, but they will be exposed in a micro-scale to the idea of the La Sierra University aim, 'from diversity…community'", said Yami Bazan, La Sierra University Vice President for Student Life.
On Friday evening, the group participated in a variety of activities that allowed them to get to know each other better and also allowed them to meet new members of their athletic family. For the incoming freshmen and transfers this was an opportunity for them to become acquainted with their new teammates and athletic family.
Bazan added that student life staff work really hard to create a family-like loyalty within their group with the hope that the family can serve as a support system for the upcoming school year.
"The retreat was a good excuse to have fun and build chemistry, not only with our team but with members from other teams as well," said Roman Santiago, senior member of the men's soccer team. "The newcomers now feel more comfortable with us and we feel more comfortable with them. Now we can call ourselves a family."
"The retreat definitely helped in the area of team bonding, [with] some of the newcomers [becoming] more comfortable after the trip," added Jesse Olivas, men's soccer coach.
The evening also featured a message from Pastor Sam Leonor, La Sierra University's campus pastor, before the evening was capped off by final group activity.
The next day was packed with various activities, highlighted by some ropes course exercises.
The 12 family groups were divided into two subgroups (with six family groups in each subgroup). During the morning session, one subgroup participated in the ropes course while the second subgroup moved through three different rotations. After lunch the two subgroups then switched.
During the ropes course session, the student-athletes participated in a variety of exercises that emphasized building trust, working as a team, leadership, encouraging one another, and overcoming your fears.
The rotation session focused on three different areas. The first consisted of a hike where the five core values of the Champions of Character program were introduced and discussed. On the hike, individuals experienced a trip to the infamous Camp Cedar Falls Tree-house, which includes a trek across a bridge that hangs approximately100 feet above the running creek below.
The second rotation was a sit-down with Yami Bazan (Vice President for Student Life) and Marjorie Robinson (Dean of Students), where student-athletes were informed about the various aspects of student life (citizenship, worship requirements, leadership, etc.) they will be expected to comply with, while a student-athlete at La Sierra University.
The final rotation consisted of a question and answer session with "Pastor Sam". During this session, student-athletes were encouraged to ask questions in order to better understand the values and principles of what Seventh-Day Adventists believe.
Leonor expressed appreciation at having the opportunity to interact closely with the student-athletes. In answering their written and anonymous questions, Pastor Sam found it extremely useful in providing him "narrative research" that will allow him to minister to them more effectively during the upcoming year.
After a day full of activity, Pastor Sam brought the Sabbath to a close with a summary and synopsis of their day, emphasizing the point that he introduced the night before, that as student-athletes, who don the La Sierra University uniform, they represent him and all associated with the university. He reminded them about the huge responsibility that comes along with being a student-athlete at La Sierra, but most importantly that they are all "friends of God".
The evening introduced a new feature to the athletic retreat…"Retro Sports Open Mic Night". It was an idea brought forward by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) to have everyone dress in some type of athletic apparel, retro style if possible. With nearly 100% participation, the event proved to be a smashing success, but that was only half of it. With everyone dressed in a festive manner, the microphones were turned up and the band was ready to play. The open mic portion of the evening saw student-athletes from each team take turns at the microphone singing oldies, love songs, and other Top 40 hits. It proved to be a true family experience.
Javier Krumm, La Sierra University's athletic director, deemed the weekend a success. "We accomplished our goals and the student-athletes and staff spent an amazing weekend together, having fun and learning," said Krumm.
"The team-building and high ropes course activities were a great addition to this year's retreat. The feedback from our student-athletes has been positive."
"The only little downfall was there was no [time for] rest," said senior volleyball player Ashley Baumgaertel. "The things we did were beyond fun, but I was exhausted."
During the course of the weekend, student-athletes were also introduced to two separate organizations that the athletic department has specifically chosen to focus on this year, as service opportunities.
Dr. Pablo Mleziva, a professor at Loma Linda University, introduced his organization called Team Pepo. Team Pepo is an organization that supports autism awareness and other related disorders around the world. Dr. Mleziva briefly described what autism is and also talked about his son and his personal experience with autism. He finished by asking for their help and participation in spreading the word and awareness about autism.
Also, former Golden Eagles men's soccer player Carlos Trevino and his business partner talked about their non-profit organization called "Project Kickabout". The organization works to collect soccer equipment (new or used) to donate to less fortunate kids around the world. They also raise funds to personally deliver this equipment and run soccer clinics for these children. The organization has made trips to Mexico and Haiti.
"I thought the retreat was a great experience, not only for the returning athletes but also for the incoming freshmen and transfers," stated soccer players Dakota Shelton, who also serves as this year's SAAC president. "It gave us time to connect, bond, create friendships, and most importantly it allowed us to come together as one unified family."
So as the Golden Eagles prepare to begin another academic and competitive year, they hope the lessons learned and connections made during this weekend retreat will serve as a good sign of what lies ahead. And if the comments and attitude of their student-athletes are any indication, this should be a fun year for Golden Eagles Athletics.
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For more information on the NAIA Champions of Character initiative CLICK HERE