Archive | The Wildcard

The Wildcard: The one with the big game

The Super Bowl is this Sunday. And it’s just less than two hours away from Indiana Wesleyan University. Big deal, right? If history has taught us anything, more than 100 million people will tune in to watch the two best teams in the NFL engage in a battle of epic proportions for football’s highest honor. Sure, some people claim to watch just for the $3 million commercials, but without the game, there are no commercials. From the students I’ve talked to here at IWU, I would guess about two-thirds of our campus will be tuned in along with everyone else.

So apparently, it is a big deal.

Of course, I’ll be on the edge of my seat with everyone else. And you should be too. Because at the very least, what Monday-morning class isn’t going to take at least a couple minutes to discuss the game, the inevitably underwhelming halftime show and yes, the commercials?

I’m as excited as anyone to watch this game. But all of the hype, even just at IWU, made me think about the level of excitement for this Sunday’s Patriots-Giants matchup versus that for Wildcat athletics. If the same number of IWU students who watch the Super Bowl would come to just one basketball game, Luckey Arena would need another addition of bleachers.

Admittedly, I’ve been banging this drum pretty hard this year, but it’s because of the great things the Wildcats have accomplished and will continue to do throughout the rest of each team’s respective schedule. I think that if we can get excited about a sporting event that has little impact on us or the people around us, shouldn’t we be even more enthusiastic about victories that would actually bring something to our own campus?

The Super Bowl will happen, and it will be big just like it always is. IWU students will half-heartedly attempt to do homework while watching the game (or is that just me?) and probably talk about it the next day at the proverbial water cooler (because no one really uses water coolers anymore). By mid-week, we will all have posted our favorite commercials from the night on Facebook, and aside from the stray fan of the winning team (cough, Patriots, cough), that will be the end of our Super Bowl XLVI experience.

But if the Wildcats won a historic championship, our own version of the Super Bowl, there would a party on IWU’s campus that lasted for weeks. At least, that’s how long I would be celebrating.

So yes, watch the Super Bowl this Sunday. It’s an American staple and will be a great game. But you know what you should do then? Go to the IWU men’s basketball game on Tuesday. Go to the women’s basketball game next Saturday. Heck, even go the to the indoor track and field event at IWU this Saturday. If you can find the heart to yell and scream at a TV showing people you’ve never met playing football, you can certainly yell and scream for your own IWU Wildcats.

And that’s a big deal.

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The Wildcard: The one with the faith

As yet another NFL season comes to yet another exciting finish, it would be hard not to look back on the 2011 football year without thinking of one of the most interesting storylines in a long time: Tim Tebow.

Tebow’s story – or maybe more accurately, his message –  is one that you can be interested in whether you’re a football fan or not. Indiana Wesleyan University students from athletes to ministry majors and everything in between can find a good reason to chime in on his faith, which has proven more controversial than his play.

This 6-foot-3 quarterback from Florida has been making headlines ever since the Denver Broncos drafted him in 2010, if for nothing else than the way he starts interviews and press conferences.

“First, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

And the way he ends them.

“God bless.”

Tebow’s outspoken nature regarding his Christian faith has drawn both praise and criticism from all around. While he is far from the first professional athlete who believes there is a higher purpose for his play, Tebow’s spirituality, coupled with his success, has made him the poster boy for the issue of God in sports.

Until Tebow began dropping to one knee and praying in the middle of games (now called “Tebowing”), God and sports didn’t seem to have much more in common than some athletes pointing skyward when they scored. But now, questions of the Almighty in athletics run as rampant as shoe deals.

It’s a good question to bring up, and an interesting one at that, especially in the context of sports at an evangelical Christian university like IWU. It’s fascinating to listen to the differences between the way athletes here talk and those who don’t view sports in that light. But at the same time, in talking with many people on both sides of that fence, those differences aren’t as great as you might think.

One of the greatest debates about this issue isn’t whether or not God has a place in sports, but if He interferes with them. Does one person’s spiritual belief give him or her an advantage over an atheist? Or an agnostic? Does IWU hold an advantage on the field over non-Christian schools?

Not if you ask Tebow, or many other Christian athletes.

While there are bound to be exceptions, the overwhelming concept is not that God helps someone be a better player, but that He gives them something extra to play for. It’s more about the motivation than anything else.

The same goes for most of the people I’ve talked to on the subject. Believing in a higher power merely provides a higher purpose for playing a game, whether that means being a witness or just using one’s talents for God through athletics.

It would be almost crazy to think the Creator of the universe watches “Monday Night Football”and benevolently or vengefully determines which way the ball bounces (depending on which team you cheer for). If that were the case, teams would scout talent based on spirituality rather than, well … talent. Sports just aren’t interesting in a world like that.

Some athletes use family to motivate them to perform well, some do it for the money, the fame, a sense of accomplishment, or simply because it’s what they’re good at. Some do it because they believe it’s for a higher calling. I believe it doesn’t matter what you use to motivate yourself for a game, as long as it works for you. Whether God is a part of that or not shouldn’t bother anyone. In other words, Tebow will continue Tebowing, but he’ll just call it prayer.

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IWU basketball: A tale of two seasons

When students at Indiana Wesleyan University left for Christmas break, both of the Wildcat basketball teams were nearly on top of the world.

The men were 9-2, coming off two straight weeks of being atop the NAIA coaches’ poll. The women were 11-0 with a firm grasp on the top spot in NAIA D-II.

But since Dec. 14, the two programs have been going in completely different directions.

The Wildcat men’s team has struggled at the free throw line and in the win column, losing six of its last 10 games, falling out of glory to a 13-8 record. In this streak the team has shot 60 percent from the charity stripe.

“Thank God for free throws,” an opposing player said after one of IWU’s recent close losses.

That’s just the nature of the game, according to men’s coach Greg Tonagel; the tide can turn quickly either way.

“Momentum is a tricky thing,” Tonagel said. “It swung the other way on us. It happens throughout any player’s career that they lose confidence and we lost it across the board for a while.”

Tonagel highlighted fundamentals and defense as necessary points of improvement. While the Wildcats are scoring six fewer points per game since being 9-2, he said he still has hope for the season because the team remains unified.

“The most encouraging thing is that our guys continue to stick together through adversity,” Tonagel said. “There hasn’t been any fighting from within.”

Opponents of the IWU women’s basketball team have been fighting just to dent the scoreboard. An electrifying offensive attack led by center Krystal Stoneking (sr) on the inside and a suffocating defense has resulted in an 20-1 start, with the Wildcats’ wins coming by an average of 22 points.

But don’t speak too highly of these Wildcats to coach Steve Brooks, who said the team still has a lot of room to grow.

“When you want to win a conference championship, the bar gets raised,” Brooks said. “And then you throw in the thing that we’re supposedly the No. 1 team in the country, and so everybody comes in here and wants to beat the No. 1 team in the country. We’ve got to have a different mindset, that’s what it amounts to.”

That mindset has crossed over to the players as well, including Claire Freeman (jr), who has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Wildcats’ roster since she transferred from Butler in the summer.

“There’s a lot of stuff we need to work on no matter what our record is,” Freeman said. “There’s always something that we can improve on.”

Both teams admit there is room for improvement, and with just a month left before the MCC Tournament, those adjustments must come soon.

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The Wildcard: the one with the pronouns

One of my favorite things about being away from school is that I get to watch sports without studying for a test or typing away on my laptop.

There’s just something nice about being able to enjoy the game without worrying about what I have to do the next day. But there’s one big difference between watching Indiana Wesleyan University athletics and national events.

It’s all about the pronouns.

I’m a big critic of people who say “we” when talking about their favorite sports team. When people say things like, “We won the game,” when in reality, it was the Yankees that won the game.

“What position do you play?” is my usual reply.

But that’s the great thing about college sports, especially at smaller schools. They play by a different set of rules. Students at IWU can rightfully cheer on the Wildcats as “we” because the players on the courts and fields are our friends and classmates.

It’s one thing to claim affiliation with a group of athletes you’ve never met. Even in most extreme cases, there is still no real emotional investment. On Saturdays or Sundays or whenever your favorite team plays its games, you have no right to say “we.”

It’s entirely different when you actually know the players you are cheering.

When I covered the IWU volleyball team’s historic 2011 season, I went into the season a big fan of those Wildcats. But it was only through going to matches and getting to know some of the players that I actually began to invest myself in the team. Once I personally got to know the fine people who helped produce all those wins (from the players to the coaches and even the athletic trainers), I was hooked.

With that, and by sheer nature of going to the matches that I could and checking scores online religiously when I couldn’t, I began to feel like a part of the team. When the Wildcats won, I felt like I was right there with them. When they lost, I couldn’t wait for the next game to come so the Wildcats could get back on track. And at the end of the season, it was great to talk with team members and reminisce on what was a fantastic year, one I was proud to be a part of.

More IWU students should take advantage of the opportunity to be part of the “we” sports community this school has. It is so much more meaningful than the alternative, especially when we have such an incredible athletic program that annually wins championships. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?

There aren’t many feelings like when your favorite sports team wins a big game. The excitement that goes with that game-ending spike, shot, or strike is like none other. That feeling only gets better when you can honestly say, “We won.”

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