I have to admit that I am often frustrated when people describe NCAA Division III athletic programs as the ones that “do not provide scholarships – you know, where they do not take athletics seriously.” As most of you may know, we take sports and competition very seriously, but always in the service of students and the pursuit of the development of the whole person. All of our athletes do “go professional in something else,” as the NCAA ad suggests.
At George Fox University, we care deeply about the development of character. The great coach John Wooden once said that you should “be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Recently at a conference track and field competition, Alyssa Turner and her teammates made a choice that I believe showed their character and certainly made me and the broader university very proud. Here is her story, as told through the words of Coach John Smith.
“Alyssa Turner is a junior and in the third year of training for the heptathlon. At the first heptathlon of the year at Point Loma Nazarene, Alyssa scored 4,150 points in the heptathlon – one of the best marks in the nation. Coming into the conference championship for the heptathlon on April 9-10, we set a team goal of trying to achieve a 1-2-3-4 finish. We believed that GFU sophomore and No. 1 nationally ranked heptathlete Alexis Arnold would win the meet without much challenge from the nearest competitor. The remaining places, though, were a question mark. In order to win the conference championship, it would be essential that we carried most of the top places.
The conference competition went well, and Alyssa put together an incredible two days. She was on pace to score 200 points more than her mark from three weeks earlier at Point Loma. If she continued at her current pace in the meet she would break her own personal best, move into the top five all time in school history, gain a spot on the NCAA national list (and have a great shot of getting into the national meet). She might even win athlete of the year in the Northwest Conference. When the team sat down and analyzed the results of the first six events, though, we realized that we could achieve our team goal of placing first through fourth, moving us closer to our second conference championship in a row. We knew that Alex and Alyssa would do well, but Charity Arn and Katie Dyk (our two outstanding freshmen) would need some help in defeating the Willamette competitor who stood in third place. Katie needed to run a personal best to beat the Willamette athlete.
Together, we made the decision for Alyssa to pace Katie for the first lap instead of trying to win the race herself. Without hesitation, Alyssa agreed to the strategy. The race started and Alyssa clicked off a 68-second first lap, which kept Katie running easily and relaxed. With 300 meters to go, Alyssa stepped outside and let Katie take the lead. The only problem was the Willamette competitor didn’t cooperate and she stuck right with her. Alyssa began to yell encouragement to Katie, telling right where her Willamette competitor was. Charity remained a little behind, holding a steady pace and giving herself a shot at a national qualifying mark.
With only 200 meters to go, Katie made her move and began to sprint with the Willamette competitor, matching her stride for stride. Alyssa was pushing on both Charity and Katie. As I stood at the finish line and counted when Katie came across, it was exactly three seconds before the Willamette competitor reached the finish line.
Our goal of finishing 1-2-3-4 happened! Alyssa had sacrificed a score that had been three years in the making and a near-perfect meet. Only those close to her know the hard work, determination, tears and trials that went into those three years … it hasn’t been easy. Looking at her then, though, you wouldn’t have known it. Alyssa was more joyful than everyone else wearing the Bruin blue and gold that day.”
– John Smith, George Fox University Track Coach
I am proud of all of our athletes, but on this day, particularly proud of Alyssa Turner and the entire group of heptathletes.