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Future of Sports in the SCV: First and foremost: Keep the faith

The focus of TMC’s athletic programs has and always will be to uphold Christian values

Posted: July 19, 2010 8:30 p.m.
Updated: July 20, 2010 4:55 a.m.
The focus of The Master’s College’s athletic programs has and always will be to uphold Christian values. The focus of The Master’s College’s athletic programs has and always will be to uphold Christian values.
The focus of The Master’s College’s athletic programs has and always will be to uphold Christian values.

The Master's College's athletic programs have had their share of successes in past seasons, including the last academic year.

But success now and in the future, school officials say, is and will not be measured by wins and losses.

That is because TMC's focus is not purely excellence on the playing field. As a Christian institution, it requires that all students must have unshakable faith.

"Our mission is to provide Christian young people the opportunity to glorify God," says TMC Athletic Director Paul Berry. "Sure, it makes recruiting difficult, because we have to look long and hard at what students we can take in."

The line between athletic achievement and faith, however, is a fine one. Winning is important to TMC, but not at all costs.

"There is the connotation that winning isn't important, but I think the Lord wants us to be successful," says TMC head basketball coach Chuck Martin. "There is a commitment to win, but not at the expense of the values and Christian principles that we believe in. There is not a coach at TMC who will give up integrity for wins."

This institutional dynamic makes projecting the future difficult on Placerita Canyon Road, where year to year the influx of talent not only depends on deft recruiting, but the availability of students who fit the profile of an athlete at TMC.

"It's the greatest challenge I've had as a coach," Martin says. "It takes a different type of kid to come to TMC. For most schools you're just looking for academic and athletic (qualities), but for us there is a spiritual component."

The Mustangs must also battle with other schools who are seeking the same type of player.

"The challenge that we have is if (the recruit) is qualified in those three ways, often, he's not going to come to TMC," Martin says. "He's probably going to go to (NCAA) Division I. That is the perfect profile of an athlete for us, but it's the perfect profile for everybody."

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the Mustangs compete in what many consider to be the elite conference in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the Golden State Athletic Conference.

"We've been in the GSAC since 2001 and we only have two conference championships hanging in that gym," Martin says. "Does that mean we're not committed? I don't think so, but it does reflect our athletic success. We measure success differently. I don't think it makes us better, it's just what we believe in."

Despite the apparent difficulties, TMC has programs that figure to be in the national spotlight into the future, including both soccer teams.

The men's team advanced to the NAIA national championship game last season, while the women's team won the National Christian College Athletic Association championship.

Even with a national championship in his back pocket, albeit what he compared to an "NIT national championship," TMC women's soccer head coach Curtis Lewis is more concerned about building character in his players than winning games.

"Hopefully we can continue to go in the right direction through lifestyle discipleship," Lewis says. "If the championships come, great, but we're more concerned with the relationships we build and the journey. It's just a game. We're not solving world hunger or AIDS."

Lewis acknowledges that running a Christian program isn't easy, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's not for everybody," Lewis says. "Some people feel like they get beaten up by the Bible, but I recruit honestly. I'm not so concerned that you have to be a Christian to be here, but you have to be open to what we're doing here."

Lewis also points out that many of his recruits seek him out.

"After playing very competitive club soccer, a lot of girls are longing to play at a place where it's not win or die," Lewis says. "You're not going to get screamed at here and it's not cutthroat. You can't take a donkey to a horserace; we need to recruit well and we know that, but we're finding that there is a hunger to be part of this community."

The other program that occupied many headlines for TMC last season was distance running, both in cross country and track and field.

Head coach Zach Schroeder, who took over the program in 2007 has benefitted from recruiting in the talent-rich Santa Clarita Valley.

"We're looking to invest our scholarship funds into local athletes," Schroeder says. "It's something we want to be known by. There is no better place to recruit than the Santa Clarita Valley. It's a goldmine for distance athletes."

Schroeder's view of the future starkly contrasts the past of the program. Berry tells a story about cross country's earlier days.

"Ten years ago, we went to the dorms and knocked on doors to see if people wanted to run cross country," Berry says.

Now, with local talents Anthony Pizzo and John Gilbertson, along with NAIA marathon champion Jeff Jackson, Schroeder is reaching for the stars.

"We have the strongest team that we've ever had on the men's side," Schroeder says. "I see the makings of a national title and that's something the school has never done (on the team level)."

Many have decried the ruthless nature that so many amateur athletic programs have grown into, but for a program such as The Master's College, the exact opposite critique is ever-present.

But is winning important enough at TMC?

"We don't worry about what everybody else thinks," Martin says. "There's not anyone in the TMC community who doesn't want to win. Excellence is what the Lord expects. We want to equip Christian men to build the kingdom."



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