Playing sports in college is a huge appeal for many high school athletes. After years of watching college football and basketball on television, they apply and try out for some of the biggest name schools in the country — an attractive idea, but ultimately a difficult one for Catholic students as well. Finding a school where they can continue competing while also studying in a Catholic environment is hard, but incoming athletic scholarship winners John Paul Vander Woude and Liliana Speier both found their solution in the same place: Christendom College.
Vander Woude and Speier come from opposite coasts, with Vander Woude hailing from Virginia and Speier from Arizona, but both share multiple similarities. Both were valedictorians of their high school classes, Vander Woude for Seton School and Speier for Ville de Marie Academy, and both fell in love with Christendom after attending the Experience Christendom Summer Program. They both ultimately applied, and each was awarded the college’s Thomas S. Vander Woude Memorial Athletic Scholarship to study and compete at Christendom.
In the case of Vander Woude, winning the scholarship was of special significance to him. His grandfather, who the scholarship is named after, was the athletic director and basketball coach at Christendom for years before he sacrificed his life to save his son, John Paul’s uncle Joseph, in 2008. John Paul was 7 at the time, but he has carried the legacy of his grandfather with him ever since, in particular his mantra, which is now written above the doors of Christendom’s Crusader Gymnasium: “for the love of the game and the glory of God.”
“Sports have played a huge role in both my life and in my family’s life,” shared Vander Woude. “In fact, the last memory I have of my papa, Thomas Vander Woude, is him being the all-time quarterback for a football game that my cousins and siblings were playing the evening before he died. When I was trying to decide which Catholic college to attend, athletics played a role in that decision. I wanted to continue playing the sports I love most for the next four years. Christendom provided that opportunity and when I was awarded the Thomas S. Vander Woude scholarship, that sealed the deal.”
Vander Woude, who plans on playing soccer and basketball at Christendom after playing four years varsity sports in high school, is the oldest of his siblings, with his Dad, Daniel (’92), and many of his aunts and uncles attending Christendom before him. He grew up knowing about the college and sees it as the place where he will be set on the path for success in his life.
“The number one reason I am attending Christendom is that I believe Christendom will help me to become a good Catholic man and in so doing, bring me closer to Heaven. Specifically, I think the Christ-centered classes, the faith-filled friendships, and the opportunity to frequent the Sacraments will help me to become the man God wants me to be,” said Vander Woude.
Speier, when asked why she wanted to attend Christendom, echoed Vander Woude’s thoughts.
“The number one reason I decided to attend Christendom is its aim to be radically, authentically Catholic and to restore the culture in Christ,” said Speier. “I know that Christendom will give me the formation as a whole person that I require to be a part of that restoration of our culture. Christendom also sets itself apart from the other colleges I applied to by their obvious devotion to uphold the true, good, and beautiful.”
Speier hails from Arizona and is the oldest of five children. From kindergarten to her high school graduation, she studied at Ville de Marie Academy — a Catholic liberal arts school, where she developed a deep love for the faith and the liberal arts. While there, she heard about Christendom from two of the teachers, alumnae Hannah Ethridge and Magdalena Cuddeback, as well as from the school’s headmaster, Daniel Ethridge, who encouraged her to attend the summer program in the first place.
Her love of sports carried Speier through years of basketball, soccer, and volleyball, giving her a desire to continue competing at the collegiate level as well. When looking for a school that combined her love of the liberal arts and her love of sports, Christendom fit that bill.
“In high school, I was blessed to play for a program which focused not only on building our basketball skills but also pushed us to grow in virtue both as individuals, and as a team. Our coach always strove to teach virtue through basketball as well as build community within the entire school. I wanted to play sports at Christendom because of their similar philosophy: that sports are an opportunity to grow in individual holiness as well as build community and spirit,” shared Speier.
Both Speier and Vander Woude share similarities: a love of the liberal arts, of sports, and of Christ-centered culture. Their academic achievements both earned them valedictorian honors, while their accomplishments on the sports field earned their athletic scholarships as well.
As student-athletes, each will be presented with a unique opportunity as well — the ability to directly evangelize to other college athletes their age from other teams. That alone is thrilling to them, and makes the opportunity to study and play sports at Christendom that much more exciting.
“At what other times do students from other schools come onto Christendom’s campus? When they do come, they are not going to see the Christ-centered classes, or attend Mass, or hear the talks, or go to the dances. They will only see how Christendom athletes, coaches, and fans conduct themselves. This is why it is so important that Christian athletes strive for virtue in the heat of competition. Their kind words, helping hands, or warm smiles could just be the match to start a tiny fire of faith in their opponent’s heart,” concluded Vander Woude.”