Thursday, May 26, 2016

About  Contact  Join  Donate

Catholic Education Daily


Student Athletes Strive for Excellence at University of Mary

The University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, hopes to form leaders in the service of truth, and uses athletics as one means to achieve this goal. The University offers 16 sports teams that compete in NCAA Division II.  Athletes are encouraged to use their gifts to the best of their abilities and to strive for excellence. We thank the representatives from the University, including Roger Thomas, athletic director; Michael Mortenson, a junior on the football team; Ben Keller, Varsity Catholic missionary; and Michael McMahon, admissions director and former defensive coordinator for the football program, for speaking to us at Catholic Education Daily.

1. What role does the University of Mary believe sports should play on a Catholic college campus?

Roger Thomas, University of Mary Athletic Director:

The University of Mary believes that competitive sports can help further a student-athlete’s social, emotional,and spiritual growth through positive team and individual leadership experiences.  The university was founded to prepare leaders in the service of truth, and that is something we strive to do daily in athletics. 

2. What does the University of Mary do to aid in the formation of the whole student-athlete: mind, body and spirit?

Roger Thomas, University of Mary Athletic Director:

By providing our student-athletes with the opportunity to compete in NCAA Division II, the University of Mary allows students an elite competitive experience that forces them to make the most of their gifts. It almost goes without saying, then, that U-Mary certainly forms the student’s physical body. Moreover, our university is distinctive in its commitment to form servant leaders with moral courage, global understanding, and commitment to the common good, so we are positioned to devote ourselves fully to key attributes of NCAA Division II’s “Life in the Balance,” including learning, service, balance, passion, resourcefulness, and sportsmanship.

Of course, athletics always must serve to reinforce the student’s rigorous academic instruction. The nearly 60 undergraduate majors will challenge the student to use the grit and determination from their athletic arena to his/her academic pursuits. The discipline that a student-athlete learns on the field spurs their efforts in the classroom.

Some practical examples o four desire to form the whole student athlete include our strong emphasis on service. Our athletic teams all spend considerable time in the community. One such event is the North Dakota State Special Olympics Bowling Tournament, an event that—we have been told—would not be possible without the aid of U-Mary athletes. The component of community service is terribly important; the student-athlete is, perhaps, particularly vulnerable to an egocentric mindset, to caving in themselves in self-worship, and we must combat that tendency directly.

Additionally, our identity as a Christian, Catholic, and Benedictine institution allows us to directly engage students to properly order athletics in their lives. One of many examples of this effort is the involvement of FOCUS missionaries with our athletic programs through Varsity Catholic.

3. In what ways can student-athletes find connections among their academic, athletic, and spiritual pursuits?

Michael Mortenson, University of Mary football player, junior from Dickinson, N.D.:

What makes athletics great is that it instills discipline and a competitive spirit. Both of these aid the student-athlete in everything that he or she does. In academics, we do not compete with another opponent but with ourselves. We learn to settle for nothing short of our best effort and to do this we must be disciplined enough to study. In the spiritual life, we must compete “to win the race” (1 Corinthians 9). If we don't, we risk not achieving our true purpose in this life, which is heaven. To compete to the fullest against Satan, we must become well-formed to habitually choose the good. Being able to habitually choose the good is a precious virtue we should all strive toward. This is where discipline comes into play. Making the right choices can be difficult. However, if we are disciplined enough to start making right choices, the right choices become easier to make.

Ben Keller, FOCUS Missionary at University of Mary, Varsity Catholic:

I didn't see a connection between spirituality, academics, and athletics until I started diving into my faith in college. One thing that links them is that faith, athletics, and academics all take discipline. We don't get anywhere in sports without practicing every day and always striving to get better. We don't get anywhere in our academics if we don't take the time to study and learn the material. We also won't grow closer to God if we don't take the time to get to know Him and what he wants for us. There are many aspects of sports that apply directly to faith. St. Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 when he compares his sharing the Gospel to a marathon runner training. Both he and the runner have a clear goal and are giving everything they have to achieve that goal.

Another way of looking at the whole issue is that once the student-athlete understands their faith and why they exist, it gives them even more drive to pursue excellence. We were created by God and for a relationship with God. One way that athletes can glorify God is to pursue excellence in everything that they do. God gave everyone gifts and talents, and they were given for a reason. Athletes have the opportunity to use those gifts and talents to glorify Him and give him the credit. When this is understood, it gives the athlete even more drive to strive for excellence because they are doing it to bring glory to God.

For me, when I brought my faith into my sport, it gave me the strength to push myself harder and make sure I gave 100 percent because I was playing not just for me, my parents, my coaches, my friends, but for God.

This factored into academics the same way. I always tried to give 100 percent for the glory and honor of God. He is the one that put the brain into our heads so we can use it to pursue excellence for His glory and honor.

4. Does the University of Mary have any faith-based programs for student-athletes? Or for the athletic staff?

Roger Thomas, University of Mary Athletic Director:

U-Mary has two active “athletic” faith-based programs for all students on campus, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and Varsity Catholic through FOCUS. These organizations are also open to our coaches and other members of the athletics staff. Additionally, U-Mary has an active Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which plans and implements many community service projects for the student-athletes. SAAC also collaborates with other groups on campus to offer leadership and community service projects.

5. How do sport teams contribute to the community, and avoid creating a divide among students on campus?

Roger Thomas, University of Mary Athletic Director:

U-Mary student-athletes take an active role in campus life, from participating in daily classroom discussions to serving in student government to writing for the school paper. Our student-athletes help assist new students moving onto campus for the first time and volunteer with various organizations. We encourage our student-athletes to have a life beyond the gym and the weight room, and expect that they will contribute to the betterment of campus life for all. College athletics generally attracts people who are leaders and high achievers, and our student-athletes are already predisposed to being involved in campus life. It is not uncommon to see many of our student-athletes attend plays, concerts, and support other activities by our students. In turn, our general student body is eager to come and support their classmates at our sporting events.” 

6. Athletes who aren't necessarily looking for a faithful Catholic education may bring an increase of sexual promiscuity and higher rates of illegal 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?

Roger Thomas, University of Mary Athletic Director:

Any institution convicted in its ideals and morals must make an effort to recruit student-athletes who respect the culture of that institution. By virtue of the campus culture and our identity, the University of Mary attracts student-athletes who are invested in its moral conviction. When a student does come to us with a particular weakness, student-athlete or not, the culture of our campus will engage that individual in such a way that the student must examine his/her choices. The most powerful agent of change for a person struggling with sin is the witness of another faithful, virtuous peer.

In regards to alcohol specifically, it should be noted that studies show that college athletes are less likely to drink than the average college student. However, when student-athletes do drink, they tend to consume more in a single event than the average college student. At the NCAA Division II level, most student-athletes are committed not only to their sport but their academic studies and have significantly less free time than the average student. Our coaches talk repeatedly about the need to live a healthy lifestyle in order to optimize athletic success. While our coaches cannot be with their student-athletes around the clock, we continually discuss the need to make good choices at all times, especially when socializing. We also encourage our student-athletes to socialize through other avenues of entertainment and community service rather than turning to alcohol.

7. How can a Catholic university find the right balance in recruiting the best athletes without compromising excellence in academics and student life?

Michael McMahon, University of Mary Admissions Director and former Defensive Coordinator for the Football Program:

All athletic administrators and coaches must maintain proper order when making strategic decisions, particularly recruiting decisions. The primary goal of athletics must be to form young men and women in virtue and character, which serves the mission of the institution. Additionally, all recruited students must be capable of, and committed to, academic success at the institution. Winning is still an objective of any competitive contest, but it cannot be the primary objective. By maintaining this conviction, athletic coaches will recruit students who understand—or are at least open to—the proper role of athletics in life.Coaches may need to “pass” on a talented prospect who is resistant to the culture, but we have discovered this occurrence to be rare. High school student-athletes are hungry for Truth, and they are often attracted to a program that offers more than a successful athletic career. Student-athletes at a Catholic university will likely be a diverse population—varying in geographic location, socio-economic class, race, and more—yet they will share one quality: they will be compelled to compete at an institution that cares more for their soul than their athletic accomplishments.

8. Do you follow certain guidelines related to Catholic identity in hiring coaching staff?

Roger Thomas, University of Mary Athletic Director:

“The university’s ‘Hiring for Mission’ policy applies to all positions at the institution. The policy is available on the website, and a selection is quoted below:

Those who apply for employment at the University of Mary honor us. They are enquiring about the kind of place this is. They are choosing to put themselves forward as potential members of our community. They are beginning to imagine what their future could hold if they were working here as partners for the advancement of our mission in Catholic higher education.

For these reasons the university takes seriously the responsibility to articulate our mission and values in a clear manner for applicants who have been invited to interview for a position. We also invite these applicants to respond thoughtfully to our mission and values, demonstrating how they understand them and how they might support them. This process is meant to assist the applicants in discerning whether employment at the University of Mary would be a good fit for them, whether they could be happy here.

It follows that the hiring process at the University of Mary at all levels should include meaningful conversations about mission and values, both out of courtesy and concern for the applicants and in service to the university.”

9. Does University of Mary plan to continue competing in Division II?

Roger Thomas, University of Mary Athletic Director:

After a long and successful history competing in the NAIA, U-Mary made the move to NCAA Division II in 2006 and became an active member in 2007. U-Mary made the quickest move to active membership in NCAA history, taking just three seasons after the final two years of anticipated provisional status were waived. The Marauders compete in 16 sports, eight for men and eight for women. A member of the Northern Sun, where 15 of our teams compete, U-Mary also maintains membership in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference for men’s soccer. Both leagues are among the most successful in the nation. The Marauders annually finish in the top half of the NSIC all-sports standings and in the top third of all NCAA Division II schools in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup all-sports rankings.

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.


Renewal Report


Latest Featured

Catholic Is Our Core


More News Categories




Join Us

Join thousands of Catholic families and individuals standing with The Cardinal Newman Society for faithful Catholic education. Members receive news roundups by email, about weekly.

Start your no-cost membership now!



Our work is possible only through the generosity of countless supporters who share our mission. We have promoted and defended faithful Catholic education for 20 years! Please support our successful work by making a donation today.


Stay Connected

Keep up with the latest developments by joining our social media networks:



Google Plus


Connect on Facebook


Links to News Sites


Links to Blog Sites

Catholic Identity Concerns|Faith in Education|From the Bishops and Vatican|Religious Freedom | Terms Of Use | Privacy Statement
Copyright 2016 by Cardinal Newman Society -- 9720 Capital Ct., Ste. 201, Manassas, VA 20110