magazine-category: Featured Story

Campus of Champions

collage of students on campus

This year, Gardner-Webb University’s campus community and supporters celebrated milestone after milestone. Athletics posted Big South Conference wins in football, women’s basketball, men’s tennis and track and field. Wrestling took individual titles in the Southern Conference. Gardner-Webb students and faculty achieved excellence in scholarship, and alumni made notable accomplishments.

The New York Times recognized GWU as the safest campus in North Carolina. Education, nursing and public administration had significant increases in enrollment. The Office of Christian Life and Service led 47 students, faculty and staff on national and international mission trips, where individuals received the gospel of Jesus Christ. Donors eclipsed all previous one-day giving records by contributing over $1 million on Double Dawg Day.

These achievements didn’t happen overnight. Becoming a champion in any field requires hours of work from individuals who seek only the reward of doing their best and inspiring their team.

This attitude also marks a “champion of faith,” commented Vice President and University Chaplain for Christian Life and Service Dr. Josh Parrott. Paraphrasing Mark 12:30-31—the verse posted by the doors of every building on campus—he noted, “Champions direct our hearts toward God by encouraging us to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength (and) direct our hands toward humanity by encouraging us to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

To define the character of a champion, Mike Griffith, head coach of the men’s tennis team and Big South Coach of the Year, singled out Johan Van Wijk and John Spring. When he took them off the starting list, they continued to train with enthusiasm and grit. “They pushed our starters and beat them a lot of times in practice,” Griffith explained. “I believe they are the reason we won the conference championship.”

The wins for the University’s Office of Advancement are no different. Over the last few years, the number of people giving to Gardner-Webb has increased along with total giving. This year’s record-breaking Double Dawg Day total would not have happened without teamwork. “Championship teams win because the team is working together,” declared Vice President for Advancement Nate Evans. “We’re winning because our donors are active members of the team. They might give $10, $100 or $100,000, but everyone is putting forth effort that helps us become perennial champions.”

Alumna Sherika Montgomery, new commissioner of the Big South Conference, affirmed that champions put team above self. She was a member of the 2010 women’s basketball team that won a Big South Regular Season Championship. Those years at Gardner-Webb taught Montgomery that a championship is earned with hard work, perseverance, resilience and a commitment to practice in the off season. She asserted, “Those are the things that I still, to this day, apply to any effort—whether it’s a championship, a new initiative, a new community engagement opportunity, or something we are grappling with on the national level.”

When it comes to the GWU faculty, Dr. Robert Prickett, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, noted these champions of learning constantly seek new methods to inspire students. “They are out there, trying, learning from every failure,” he described. “Whether that’s a performance in theater or an experiment in the lab or an authentic assessment in a class, they try, they learn, they adjust, they adapt, they grow—and then, do it one more time.”

Allyson Butts, 2019 Ignite Excellence Scholarship winner and current graduate student, agreed with Prickett’s assessment. She observed, “Being a champion is about how you live, not about what you achieve. A champion consistently pursues excellence, is willing to make personal sacrifices to love and support others, and lives for something greater than themselves. Maybe no one knows their names, but they touch the lives of people for the better. In my mind, that is the ultimate calling that we have as Christians.”

Within the pages of this magazine, you’ll find stories of students, student-athletes, faculty, alumni and donors who are champions living out the GWU motto in their communities: “Pro Deo et Humanitate – For God and Humanity.” They strive for excellence—not for trophies and titles—but for the people they’ve inspired to achieve their own greatness.

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