Ave Maria University’s academics are gaining national and international recognition. Our professors enjoy excellent reputations and hail from the finest colleges and universities in America, Canada and abroad. Our graduates are going on to very fine graduate programs in medicine, law, and elsewhere, as well as jobs in all sectors of life.
Our founder Tom Monaghan wanted AMU to also have stellar athletic programs. No surprise there since he formerly owned the Detroit Tigers. In his first year as owner the Tigers won the World Series!
But building an athletic program that combines mission with mettle, ability with character, and competitiveness with sportsmanship doesn’t happen overnight. Being a very small school in a conference with large schools – some ten times our size – means that AMU will have to work very hard to build truly Catholic football, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, cross country, lacrosse, volleyball, soccer, and softball teams.
I am thrilled to report that under Vice President Kim King’s leadership, interim A.D. John Lamanna’s direction, and the guidance of some wonderful lay men and women who infuse their programs with Christian ethics and time-honored values, we are making great progress. It hasn’t come easily. Nothing worthwhile ever does.
I just left the soccer field where our women’s team won a breathtaking 2-1 match. They were down 1-0 at the half and fought back to lead, and then faced a barrage of shots at the end, and yet prevailed. The AMU ladies came off the field soaked from the two rain showers and sweat. Some were limping, several bandaged, all proud. The trainer’s table at halftime looked like a M.A.S.H. unit. But they went back out and won the match, and in the process, learned about discipline, teamwork, sharing, encouragement, sacrifice, overcoming adversity, and valor.
Some of our teams leave their contests without that big W. On Saturday our football team, which is rebuilding beautifully under the direction of Coach Joe Patterson and his fine cohort of assistants, were badly outmatched in a contest against a team with an established program. Making things worse, the game included two weather delays, and get this, an attack of killer bees! I am not making this up! There actually was a bee swarm that came near our sideline and halted play (an official was stung, and the bee was penalized for targeting and unnecessary roughness!). During the game, we fell behind 27-0 in the first quarter and you might have thought the game was going to get way worse. But before the half was over, our fellows had scored three touchdowns. AMU athletes don’t quit. While we ended up losing the game, our football program gained momentum, and those men learned a number of lessons that will last a lifetime. The guys are getting better and better each and every Saturday.
I watched this same phenomenon with our women’s volleyball team. For years we have faced an uphill battle on the hardcourt. Now we have a group of seniors who have paid the price for past losses and in the process, have pioneered a program. Even when they don’t win, they play deep into the matches and prolong many points. (The new AMU magazine features our senior volleyball players.)
AMU Lady Gyrene volleyball seniors
Lessons on the field, court, trail, pitch, course or diamond teach AMU student-athletes a great deal about the Christian life, and about picking up the cross and following Jesus in the face of adversity. They teach our athletes not to quit, to give their best, to be the best teammate to others that they can be, and to strive for victory without compromising the boundaries of good sportsmanship. They learn that life, just as in sports, isn’t about the individual. It’s about the team.
AMU has nearly 400 student-athletes. They amaze me with their dedication. Their coaches are true shepherds who guide the men or women entrusted to them toward a fuller maturity and a greater appreciation of life.
We won’t be winning national championships any time soon (neither will Notre Dame, for that matter) but we are building a foundation that will last.
And hopefully, our student-athletes will learn along the way about the one crown that matters most: the one St. Paul received after he fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.