category: President's Blog

September 2019: Celebrating Our Student-Athletes

September 2019 President's Blog Image

The start of a new fall semester brings with it the excitement of college sports; and I’ll be honest with you, I love college sports. I admire the grit, determination, and discipline that college athletes pour into their sport. I respect all of our young men and women who balance the rigors of their academic studies with the heat and sweat of grueling practice regimens. I am grateful to the coaches who forge teams out of raw individual talent, and who mold leaders for life. As Gardner-Webb’s fall sports get into full swing, I want to reflect a bit on what successful athletic programs can do for student-athletes, for their university, and for a college town like ours.

GWU is blessed to have a strong athletics program, with an impressive array of Division I sports for a school our size. While our academic year has only just begun, the seasons for football, soccer (men’s and women’s), volleyball, and cross-country are already underway. I have had a chance to observe some team practices, and when my schedule has allowed I have attended as many early-season games and matches as possible. I also joined the men of our football team for worship at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church one Sunday in August. I really like the fight in our Runnin’ Bulldogs, and I sense the foundation of faith that supports them each day.

Pushed physically and mentally to reach their peak performance, our student-athletes grow in strength, stature, and confidence over the course of their years with us. They learn to win with class and humility, and when the winning proves elusive they learn to give thanks in the same manner for the opportunity to compete. We know that student-athletes develop a work ethic and time-management skills that will prove valuable to employers after graduation. We know that winning teams are those with effective leaders who help build mutually supportive relationships; our communities need precisely these qualities to flourish, and former college athletes are naturally well positioned to lead once they leave our campus.

basketball players

Successful athletic programs help reinforce a culture of competition as well as a culture of winning at any university. At Gardner-Webb, we want our student-athletes to be champions in the classroom, champions on the fields of competition, and champions of our faith. We want to support our student-athletes in such a way that each and every time one of them steps onto a field, onto a court, or into a pool they believe they can compete at the highest level and win.

Winning is contagious. Winning, if done right, can also showcase what is great and good about our university. It is often said that athletics are the “front porch” of the university…people from all around come to visit because they want to sit and watch a team or a star athlete. If they sit a spell and like what they see, they are then inclined to venture through the university’s front door and to explore all the other things (e.g., academic programs) the school has to offer. There are so many examples—across our state and across the country—of universities that have grown their enrollments by combining world-class degree programs with winning sports teams. We can, should, and will be one of those universities.

Winning programs can also lift up and transform a community. Small college towns come alive in support of their hometown heroes. We certainly got a taste of that earlier this year when Boiling Springs rallied around GWU’s men’s basketball team during its historic March Madness run. We should leverage that moment and work to build greater community visibility at our athletic events. We want Cleveland County to come to our campus and to embrace the teams of its only four-year university. Gardner-Webb’s student-athletes can do much to reinforce our pride in this place we call home.

Gardner-Webb logo

Winning programs can reinvigorate a university’s alumni base. Gardner-Webb is actively seeking to reconnect with its many alumni in North Carolina and beyond. We invite all proud Bulldog alumni to make plans to return to campus and cheer on our impressive student-athletes. We need your volume and we welcome your investment in our teams through the Bulldog Club. Gardner-Webb’s new 2020 Priority Fund provides friends of the University another means of investing in scholarships for our deserving student-athletes.

At our university, we will win and we will win the right way. That means recruiting skilled athletes who are also good people. That means hiring coaches who are fiercely competitive but also persons of faith. That means running our operations in full compliance of all NCAA rules and regulations. That means giving our programs the tools and facilities they need to be successful. And that means celebrating and saying thank you to everyone—athletes, coaches, trainers, graduate assistants, cheerleaders, pep band, donors, and fans—who make winning possible.

For God. For Glory. For Gardner-Webb.

Thank you to all of our Runnin’ Bulldogs!

Pro Deo et Humanitate,

Dr. William M. Downs

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