This story originally appeared in the March 2019 edition of The GēDUNK, Grove City College’s alumni magazine. Read it and other exclusive content from the magazine online.
If you wonder how seriously Grove City College takes sports, spend a couple of hours in the Physical Learning Center (PLC), the labyrinthine home of the College’s Department of Athletics.
There you’ll find student-athletes, coaches, strength and conditioning staff, athletic trainers and the rest of the Athletic Department staff working – and playing – hard, building on a legacy of greatness that goes back more than a century.
That proud history is inescapable in the PLC, where the Crimson Line of Women’s Athletics tells one story and the photos, clippings and other memorabilia in Heritage Hall and the College’s Hall of Fame tell dozens more. The hallways are lined with display case after display case, holding trophies and plaques attesting to the greatness of Wolverine champions past and present.
Over the entrance to the College Arena, a large mural adorns the wall, featuring student-athletes in action and a catchphrase that is both inspirational and aspirational: Wolverines Together.
It’s a rallying cry for the student-athletes who compete in the College’s 22 NCAA Division III varsity sports and the community they represent. It’s a reminder that they are part of a team, an athletic program, and a campus that has a distinct culture and values. And it’s a motto for the ongoing College-wide effort to ensure that athletics are a central part of a Christ-centered learning and living environment.
It was coined by Athletic Director Todd Gibson ’02 and Head Swimming and Diving Coach Dave Fritz ’94 as they searched for an appropriate phrase to attach to social media messages about upcoming events and on-the-field achievements. They wanted something that would capture the essence of what the Athletic Department and the College are trying to accomplish and inspire students to support each other. Wolverines Together signifies school spirit and invites everyone in the campus community to be a part of the team.
That’s a priority under Grove City College’s strategic plan Building for a Strong and Faithful Future. Adopted in 2017, the plan looks at every facet of the institutional experience and lays out goals that reflect the College’s values: Faithfulness, excellence, community, stewardship, and independence. The plan specifically calls for strengthening and expanding the College’s Christian formation programs and aligns all campus programs with the College’s vision, mission, and values.
The Athletic Department embraces that vision and focuses on what sets Grove City College athletics apart from most other D-III schools: A shared faith that’s nearly universal among the student-athletes who wear the crimson and white.
“We’re trying to be very intentional and to tell people our story. We are a Christian athletic program, but we’re a Christian athletic program that wants to win and we do have a lot of success. The culture hasn’t changed, but it’s outwardly apparent. We’re open about what that culture means to us and it resonates on the campus and in the community,” Gibson said.
On the College’s teams, that culture calls for encouraging a sense of unity among all student-athletes, no matter what sport they play. Gibson said that starts with getting them to respect one another, to understand that they’re all working hard to excel in their respective sports, and to recognize others’ success. They are also challenged to model excellence outside of their sports, to be the kind of people that others on campus would want be around – in class, on the Quad, at the dining hall, and, critically, in the stands. There’s a “natural division” between students who are athletes and students who aren’t, Gibson noted, and getting those who aren’t out to support their peers at games is one of the goals of the Wolverines Together campaign.
“We want all of our campus, from the grounds crew member to the best player on the basketball team, to understand that it is our athletic program. We want everyone in the community to be a part of what we’re doing here. It can be a lot of fun, and the support means a lot to us and it helps us win,” Gibson said.
It’s working. Longtime Sports Information Director Ryan Briggs ’01, says there’s been a notable increase in the level of student support and school spirit surrounding athletics in the last few years. The bleachers aren’t packed for every game, but attendance is up and the student section’s enthusiasm, sometimes driven by a pickup pep band, is apparent. Senior Karen Postupac ’19 didn’t expect to spend a lot of time cheering on the Wolverines when she started at Grove City College, but it’s become an important part of her time on campus.
“Some of my best memories are rushing the field and watching the fireworks following the first win in years for the football team during fall of 2017, sitting high in the stands of the Arena, watching the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and standing in the student section of the women’s soccer PAC championships last fall, bouncing up and down on the bleachers covered in the afternoon rain,” she said.
Along with the intentional efforts to build a community around a Christian athletic culture come concrete steps to build a stronger athletics program. One of the biggest moves was to invest in people. That meant lightening the coaching load on individuals and hiring more support staff.
For decades, Grove City College coaches routinely did double duty, coaching more than one sport while they fulfilled other responsibilities as faculty or staff members. That began to change when the College made a series of hires and personnel moves to relieve coaches of their divided responsibilities. Soon every one of the College’s 22 varsity sports will have a dedicated leader, focused on a singular team’s development and success. The move allows coaches to have more time to recruit student-athletes who will thrive in the Wolverines Together culture. The effort to seek out and attract these students through text, talk, and tours is a huge part of a coach’s job.
The College beefed up its training and strength and conditioning staffs. As knowledge in the field of exercise science expands, it’s clear that student-athletes need more than just time in the weight room and an ice pack to reach their potential and stay healthy. Under the care and direction of three full-time trainers and two certified and highly trained strength and conditioning coaches, Wolverine athletes are “bigger and stronger than they’ve ever been,” Gibson acknowledged.
The College has also invested in the Wolverines Together philosophy. Last year, a makeover to the PLC’s main entrance put the Wolverines name “up in lights” on the marquee and dedicated gifts supported a locker room addition to Philips Field House, rebuilt Walters-Zbell Tennis Courts and created a professional practice room for the golf teams. Other major athletics projects in recent years include installing new turf and a track at Robert E. Thorn Field and upgrades that have made James E. Longnecker Competition Pool one of the best in the nation. A deal with apparel maker Under Armour has resulted in a nearly complete, branded refresh of all team uniforms.
The building and the branding is an intentional institutional move to express confidence in the student-athletes and coaches who steward the Wolverine legacy, create enthusiasm in the community, and burnish the College’s reputation as a school that is serious about being a competitor and a positive force in college sports.
In the PLC, you can see the evidence of Grove City College’s storied sports history hanging from the walls, behind glass, and bronzed for posterity. There you can hear the sounds – basketball-against backboard, sneakers on wood, a splash of water, whirring treadmills, clanking weights, and banter between coaches and students – of today’s Wolverines. They are the sounds of a culture under construction, being built – brick by brick – by athletes, coaches, and students who share a faith, a competitive spirit, and a commitment to Wolverines Together.