Catholic Education Daily spoke to Charlie Gartenmayer, director of athletics at Benedictine College, about their holistic formation of students—mind, body and spirit. This philosophy is applied on and off the field on Benedictine’s 16 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) teams, and the positive impact is being felt campus-wide.
What role does Benedictine believe sports should play on a Catholic college campus?
As our student handbook states… athletics are meant to promote “intellectual, social, physical and spiritual growth of student athletes.”
How does Benedictine aid the formation of the whole student-athlete: mind, body and spirit?
Mind: We stress academics at each stage from recruitment to graduation, and our focus is paying dividends. Benedictine College student-athletes average a higher than 3.10 GPA. Six Benedictine College varsity sports teams received NAIA Scholar Team recognition in 2013. In the same year, Benedictine College swept the HAAC (Heart of America Athletic Conference) Commissioner’s Academic Awards by receiving all four awards: highest GPA for the women’s sports team; highest GPA for the men’s sports team; highest GPA for a female athlete (Elizabeth Stinson);and highest GPA for a male athlete (Brad Lorang).
Body: We promote athletic competition and exercise to all students. More than 85 percent of students at Benedictine College participate in some kind of intramural sport activity, in addition to many club sports opportunities for competition between schools. Our turfed soccer field is equipped with lights and available for night use to all students.
Spirit: Team activities incorporate Catholic and non-Catholic prayer services and are scheduled to ensure opportunities to attend church. Our teams are involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Varsity Catholic, which includes on-site visits by missionaries to practices.
In what ways can student-athletes find connections among their academic, athletic, and spiritual pursuits?
At games the college spotlights faculty accomplishments in printed material, in the broadcast script and by spotlighting specific departments or faculty members. At Sunday masses on campus, athletic teams participate through various responsibilities and are publicly recognized for their involvement. Our mission of community, faith and scholarship applies to every event. Varsity Catholic promotes chastity, sobriety and excellence with student-athletes involved in their program that fosters the integration of academics, athletics and spiritual pursuits.
Does Benedictine have any faith-based programs for student-athletes? Or for the athletic staff?
At Benedictine College, the birthplace of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), the FOCUS-affiliated Varsity Catholic runs 19 bible studies on 15 different sports teams. More than 150 athletes participate. Benedictine offers a spring break mission camp for soccer players to travel to Benque Viejo, Belize, where they run a soccer camp for elementary school students to high school students. This past year we had 22 men’s and women’s soccer players go to Belize led by Varsity Catholic missionaries and students. An additional 18 athletes (4 baseball players and 14 volleyball players) traveled to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on Varsity Catholic mission camps to proclaim the Gospel and serve the local youth. Varsity Catholic hosts a weekly Eucharistic Adoration Holy Hour for athletes and helps lead opening prayers before athletic events.
How do sport teams contribute to the community, and avoid creating a divide among students on campus?
Benedictine College strives to create one united student body serving the one mission of community, faith and scholarship. Student-athletes are invited and encouraged to become active participants in daily and weekly Mass. Additionally, we encourage our student-athletes to unite with all campus student leaders to become active participants in leadership seminars held multiple times throughout the school year. The Soaring on to Glory Athletic Leadership Development program and the Benedictine College Leadership Seminar program are just a few examples of such practices. We also provide unifying traditions. Athletes wear beanies for the first week of their freshman year along with all students. Athletes participate in our bed races, homecoming floats and other campus traditions as well.
Athletes who aren't necessarily looking for a faithful Catholic education may bring an increase of sexual promiscuity and higher rates of drinking to campus. How has your institution addressed this challenge? If it has not been problematic so far, how would your institution address it if it occurred?
We recruit students in athletics the same way we do in the rest of the college: All athletic department staff members are encouraged to recruit mission-fit student-athletes.
Students who choose Benedictine College have chosen to attend a private institution that defines itself by its Catholic character in its guiding documents and in its marketing and advertising materials. Students should expect that here the Church’s teaching will be explained in class, proclaimed at faith events and promoted in student life policies. All students are given presentations on emotional and physical chastity during freshman orientation and we are aware that students turn to Benedictine College expecting help in living their Christian life.
Nonetheless, we acknowledge that some members of our student body have been influenced by the culture in our country that promotes promiscuity and “hooking-up.” We have many initiatives in residence life that promote a healthy view of the human person and appropriate human relationships. First and foremost, providing single-sex residence halls across campus naturally supports and promotes chastity on campus. Our 50 resident assistants (RA) on campus receive instruction in Theology of the Body as a part of their RA training. The incoming freshman class is required to attend chastity talks as a part of their orientation weekend that promotes both physical and emotional chastity.
Benedictine College strives to cultivate the virtue of sobriety in our student body, as well as a moderate drinking culture for our students who can legally consume alcohol. To accomplish this, we have both proactive and reactive initiatives in place.
Benedictine College’s goal is to promote excellence in virtue for every student, such that students seek a life of purity in their dorm rooms and outside them, during the school year and afterwards. This approach includes a mix of freedom and strictly enforced rules on the one hand, and many points of contact regarding virtue-building on the other. This leadership program is designed and directed by committed Catholics from the director level down to its extensive peer-to-peer component in Varsity Catholic and FOCUS. We consider it to be as effective as any other in the nation.
How can a Catholic university find the right balance in recruiting the best athletes without compromising excellence in academics and student life?
The important thing about an institution is not its win-loss record, but its mission. It is the mission of the school that will attract new students; produce graduates who are focused and driven; and make the school stand out in the academy and in the academic marketplace. Our mission is community, faith and scholarship. When we recruit student-athletes for Benedictine College, we encourage the recruiting of those who are mission fit and academically excellent. We also present the college in one way for all audiences, so that everybody knows what to expect: A Catholic school that believes in truth in advertising.
Do you follow certain guidelines related to Catholic identity in hiring coaching staff?
All prospective staff hires meet with the president of Benedictine College who clearly articulates the nature and significance of the mission in the life of the college. These candidates-for-hire are asked how they envision themselves contributing to this mission. This interview is a crucial step in the hiring process.
Does Benedictine plan to continue competing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)? You’ve grown to include more teams over the years—are there plans for more?
As with any school that is enrollment driven, a yearly review of current trends in sports offering by the NAIA and Heart of America Athletic Conference (HAAC) of which Benedictine College is a member is conducted. Currently we are studying the possible additions of bowling, tennis, golf, lacrosse and men’s volleyball.
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