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For the love of the game and the Glory of God. This is the mantra of the Christendom athletics program. At most colleges, student athletes play a sport to keep their scholarship, or because it’s a hobby. At Christendom, the athletic program has a much higher purpose than mere entertainment. Our students play not just for love of the game, but for the sake of developing virtue, finding meaningful community, and glorifying God.

The Catholic identity of our students plays an integral role in how they approach sports. Our athletes know that praying together is essential for success. Simply put, the team that prays together, plays together. Every practice and every game opens and closes with prayer.

“When we begin and end every practice and match with a prayer, we focus on giving everything we have to God and thank Him for the ability to use our talents for His honor and glory,” says Nina Francis ’22, a member of the Lady Crusader volleyball team.

Prayer unites the teams, helping them focus on higher goals than merely winning. One of those goals is to be an example of Christian sportsmanship to other teams. Crusader teams pray publicly before and after games. The rugby and soccer teams, for example, belt the “Non Nobis, Domine” chant, and then loudly roar the Hail Mary in Latin after every game. This bold act of faith shows great pride in their Catholic identity. By praying at games, all of the teams openly proclaim that they are proudly Catholic.

This story originally appeared in Instaurare – the Christendom College magazine. Subscribe today!

But responsibility comes with this public display of Catholic identity. As former athletic director Coach Tom Vander Woude would always say, “You might be the only Catholic your opponent ever encounters. Act like it.”  The way the athletes treat their opponents, teammates, and the referees, and their overall composure during a game, are expected to reflect their Catholic identity. Christendom athletes take this call seriously by maintaining a high standard of sportsmanship and encouraging one another during games. The supportive dynamic makes for dreamwork on the field, court, and pitch.

According to varsity soccer player Daniel Duca ’22, one of his teammates truly inspired him during a recent game. It was a tight and hard-fought one, and with less than 10 minutes left on the clock, Duca was exhausted. Senior Ian Heisler was playing center back with Duca and had just managed to stop an opponent from scoring.

“I was getting up off of the ground after making the play and Ian came over to me and said, ‘Danny, we’re almost there. Let’s offer this up to God and give everything we’ve got,’” Duca recalled. “Him saying that gave me the strength and energy I needed to finish the game strong because it reminded me of why we were playing in the first place: for the glory of God. Needless to say, we won the game.”

It is this kind of support that makes Christendom teams great, win or lose. United by the desire to give glory to God through competing to the best of their ability, the teams spur each other toward victory.

The rugby team’s unprecedented success bears testament to the power of a supportive team dynamic. From winning the NSCRO 7’s National Championship in 2017, to securing second place last spring at the NSCRO 15’s National Championship, to defeating much larger schools such as Duke University, James Madison, and The Catholic University of America, there is really only one explanation for their statistically inexplicable success: the players’ interaction on the pitch. Even a bystander attending a Crusader rugby game can see that these players interact differently than other rugby teams.

In a rough and tumble game, it is not uncommon to see opposing teams fighting with each other and becoming visibly frustrated and indignant when the going gets tough. Christendom rugby players, on the other hand, communicate better. When tensions rise, the players remind each other to “behave like gentlemen.” It is this type of dynamic that makes winning possible, even against the odds.

It is only when a team is united by common values and a desire for virtue that a they can truly thrive. At Christendom, sports are not played for their own sake, but rather, are seen as an opportunity to develop virtue. Through studying human nature and ethics in the classroom, students understand that the pursuit of physical excellence can translate into moral excellence. Strengthening the body, and enduring the difficulties of training, can inculcate courage, endurance, fortitude, and even temperance. The experience of being on a team helps athletes to practice charity, responsibility, and humility. In summary, Crusader athletes play not just because they enjoy their respective sports, but as an opportunity to bring what they have learned about human nature in the classroom to the field, court, and pitch, so that they can grow in virtue.

With this ultimate end of virtue in mind, Christendom’s athletic program advocates for keeping sports in its proper place. While playing a sport at Christendom is clearly a great opportunity, a Crusader athlete’s primary vocation is as a student.

Christendom athletes are tackling the challenge to be both academically and athletically excellent. Over the summer, the college was awarded the USCAA’s 2019 President’s Cup for Academics. This award is given to the school with the most Academic All-Americans and whose athletes have the highest GPA. During the 2018-2019 school year, the cumulative GPA of Christendom’s student athletes was 3.314. This indicates the success of the athletic program in prioritizing academics.

Captain of the Lady Crusaders volleyball team Mary Margaret Heisler ’20 was inspired by her captains during her freshman year to prioritize her studies. In addition to praying and attending Mass together, the team captains organized weekly “study halls” to make sure the team was on track academically. The lessons Heisler learned from her captains freshman year now affect how she leads the team as a captain today.

“I have realized that athletics become most valuable when used to develop the whole human person,” remarked Heisler. “Through my experience I have found that athletics at Christendom encourage and foster not only one’s athletic progress, but academic and spiritual growth as well.”

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