Valparaiso University drops the Crusader mascot. My daughter approves.

When I was a Lilly Fellow in Humanities and the Arts at Valparaiso University we attended almost every Valparaiso Crusader home basketball game during the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 seasons. As a faculty member, we got free admission and the ARC (Athletics Recreation Center)–the Valpo arena–was a five minute walk from the house we were renting. The games became a community event for the postdocs in the program. We all sat together with our young kids and enjoyed some Division I college basketball. This was a couple years after “The Shot.”

One night as we entered the ARC and navigated the crowded arena to our seats, we lost our daughter. Ally was three years old. I thought Joy was holding her hand and Joy thought I was holding her hand. Needless to say, we panicked. The ARC only holds about 5000-6000 fans, but when you lose your kid in a crowd, 5000-6000 feels like a million.

We couldn’t find Ally anywhere. My fellow postdocs and their spouses joined us in our search.

Finally, I asked the security guard if I could walk on the floor at court level to look around. Sensing my concern, he smiled and asked me if I was the father of a little girl with blond curly hair. He pointed to the floor. The Valpo team was warming up. The music was blaring. And there was Ally, running around the court with the Valpo crusader mascot as the fans cheered them on from their seats.


At some point during my two years at Valparaiso I watched an honors student debate on the subject of whether the university should retire its nickname and mascot. It was either 2000 or 2001. If I remember correctly, the debate was triggered by the fact that evangelical Wheaton College had just changed its name from “Crusaders” to “Thunder.” I can’t remember who won that debate, but the university did not change its nickname or its mascot as a result of the student arguments.

That was almost twenty years ago. Times have changed. Here is the Chicago Tribune:

Valparaiso University’s controversial Crusader mascot is on the way out, with the decision on a new mascot expected to come from the university’s incoming president with input from the campus community.

“This is the right thing to do at the right time and for the right reason,” said Interim President Colette Irwin-Knott, who announced the decision Thursday in a video message to the campus community and alumni along with Kaitlyn Steinhiser, president of the student body.

While the Crusader has been the university’s mascot since a switch from the Germanic calvary soldier the uhlan in 1942 because of the rise of Nazi Germany, those involved with the effort to remove the Crusader said that discussion began decades ago but didn’t gain cohesion until this summer, after protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and growing awareness of racial injustice that followed, as well as the use of Crusader imagery during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Irwin-Knott put together a task force to examine the matter, which sent out a survey to students, alumni, faculty and staff for feedback on the Crusader. In all, 7,700 respondents took part in that survey and more than 80% of them identified “Valpo” as the university’s dominant brand, compared to 2.5%, who selected the Crusader.

Read the rest here.

I think Ally would support Valparaiso’s decision. 🙂

UVA Men’s Basketball Team Declines White House Invitation


UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett.

The defending national champs will not be going to the White House.  Here is a taste of Mike Barber’s reporting at the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — After winning the national championship, the Virginia basketball team won’t be following the tradition of visiting the White House.

“We have received inquiries about a visit to the White House,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said in a statement the school released Friday. “With several players either pursuing pro opportunities or moving on from UVA, it would be difficult, if not impossible to get everyone back together. We would have to respectfully decline an invitation.”

Virginia went 35-3 this season and beat Texas Tech to win the school’s first basketball national championship earlier this month. Since then, junior guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, junior forward Mamadi Diakite and sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter all have declared for the NBA draft. In addition, sophomore reserve guard Marco Anthony has said that he has entered his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal and will be leaving the Cavaliers.

Hunter retweeted the school’s announcement, adding the words “No Thanks Trump,” followed by two laughing emojis.

Read the rest here.

I guess the UVA basketball team doesn’t like fast food.  Or maybe something else is going on.  🙂

By the way, the women’s Division 1 champs, the Baylor Lady Bears, have accepted Trump’s invitation.

Tony Bennett, Evangelicalism, and University of Virginia Basketball


Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, was no evangelical.  But he was a champion of religious liberty and had a lot of support among Virginia evangelicals when he ran for president in 1800. So it is unclear what he would have thought about an evangelical running his school’s national championship basketball program.

UVA coach Tony Bennett has been outspoken about his evangelical faith.  His faith has been covered by the Billy Graham Evangelistic AssociationThe Daily Progress,  the Baptist Press, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Heavy.  (The Washington Post discussed how he handled racism during 2017 white nationalist invasion of Charlottesville, but says nothing about his Christian faith).

Following his team’s national championship victory on Monday night, Bennett told Jim Nantz that he had played a Christian song titled “Hills and Valleys” to get his team ready for the game.  This song must have had special meaning for Bennett.  Last March, Bennett’s UVA program was definitely in the “valley” after it became the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed (UMBC). (It should be no surprise that Bennett received a text from former NFL coach and motivational speaker Tony Dungy after the loss to UMBC).

The lyrics of “Hills and Valleys” focus on God’s faithfulness during the joy and pain of life:

I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowestplace
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

I’ve watched my dreams get broken

In you I hope again!
No matter what I know
Know I’m safe inside Your hand

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there (to the one who set me there)
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Frankly, it’s refreshing to see Bennett invoke a song that celebrates God’s faithfulness in the wins AND the losses.

The role that Bennett’s faith plays in his coaching is covered well in Jonathan Adams’s piece at Heavy. Here is a taste:

Virginia coach Tony Bennett is outspoken about his Christian faith and how it shapes his work with players. During the 2019 NCAA tournament, Bennett noted his faith helps him through stressful situations in games.

“You certainly feel things – things bother you, but where does peace and perspective come from? And I always tell our guys: It’s got to be something that is unconditional,” Bennett said, per Christian Headlines. “And I know I have that in the love of my family – unconditional acceptance and love. That’s huge. And I know I have that in my faith in Christ. That’s, for me, where I draw my strength from – my peace, my steadiness in the midst of things.”

Bennett committed to being a Christian while he was attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp when he was 14, per Decision magazine. The Virginia coach emphasizes five pillars to his players, and the tenets have become a staple of the Virginia program. Bennett drew upon Biblical principals to create the five pillars: humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. Former Virginia player Joe Harris spoke with Decision magazine about the impact these pillars have had on his life beyond basketball.

“You can apply those pillars to the rest of your life, not just basketball,” Harris noted to Decision. “I always tell people that being at Virginia with coach Bennett helped me in a huge developmental standpoint as a basketball player, but that I developed even more as a person.”

Something tells me Jefferson would still be happy with the UVA win.

Out of the Zoo: “March Madness”

March Madness

I challenged my boyfriend Nolan to a March Madness bracket competition last month, with little success.

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. This week she writes about her the “March Madness” and her history of sports class.  Enjoy! –JF

To be completely honest, I don’t know a whole lot about sports. While I consider myself an athlete–I ran track and cross country in high school–I’m usually pretty clueless when it comes to following organized athletics. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy sports, and I’m usually more than willing to sit down and watch a game, but ask me which college team is ranked highest in the country, or which player is a shoe-in for rookie-of-the-year, there’s no way I would be able to provide you with an accurate answer.

My boyfriend Nolan, on the other hand, knows a lot more about sports than I do. For one, he’s played more than I have–track, football and power lifting now, but basketball, baseball and soccer in the past as well. He follows sports too, and on the couple occasions I’ve watched games with him I’m reminded of how little I truly know about athletics. Nolan knows all about which teams are good and which ones aren’t; he knows which players to keep an eye on and which ones to disregard.

All this being said, I should have known that challenging Nolan to a March Madness bracket competition was a fool’s errand from the start. Nonetheless, I downloaded the ESPN app, joined the group he made for the two of us, and with little informed strategy made my picks. For the fun of it we added a friendly wager into the equation–whoever’s bracket lost, we decided, would plan (and pay for) a fancy date for the other as soon as I came home for the summer. As the NCAA tournament comes to a close and my bracket continues to suffer more hits, my chances of winning the bet are looking slim to none, little to my surprise. Even so, the contest has provided an extra way for Nolan and I to have a little fun, and to keep connected while I’m away at school.

Our March Madness bet reminds me of an overarching theme I’ve been learning in my Sports, Race, and Politics class this semester; namely, that sports bring people together–and they have for a long time. Before people hosted extravagant Superbowl parties, sports brought people together. Before loyal fans could stream their favorite college team’s games on their phones, sports still brought people together. Even before ESPN invented a March Madness app that allowed ambitious girlfriends to challenge their long-distance boyfriends to ill-fated bracket wagers, sports brought people together.

Sports, throughout history, have bridged cultural, racial, and geographic barriers. Back in the 19th century, sports allowed immigrants to participate in American society right after stepping onto United States soil. After all, you don’t have to speak the same language as someone else to play a pickup game with them in the street. Sports brought unity among races in other ways as well–as African American athletes like Jessie Owens, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali emerged in the public eye, blacks and whites alike ventured out to the track, baseball diamond, or boxing ring to witness sporting prowess at its finest. While segregation continued to apply within sports arenas even after teams themselves were integrated, games allowed members of both races to come together in the same space to watch the same game and cheer for the same team.

Ever since their arrival in American life, sports have provided a way for athletes and fans alike from all races, income levels, and geographic regions to share a common interest and pursue a common goal.

Is Lipscomb the First CCCU School to Make the NCAA Basketball Tournament?


I am currently watching Lipscomb University, a Churches of Christ college out of Nashville, trying to hang with the North Carolina Tarheels in a first-round NCAA tournament game.  Lipscomb is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges & University, a network of Christian colleges that includes Messiah College, Wheaton College, Calvin College, Westmont College, Gordon College, Bethel University and many, many others.

As far as I know (I could be wrong), Lipscomb is the first CCCU school to make it to the “Big Dance.”  Am I correct?

NOTE:  Liberty University has played in the tournament, but they are not a member of the CCCU.  The same is true of Baylor and Belmont, both Christian universities.

I also just learned that Pat Boone is a Lipscomb graduate.

The Vada Palmer and Pete Maravich Papers


Vada Palmer was a junior at Needham B. Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. She had a classmate named  Pete Maravich.  Of course he would go on to a stellar basketball career at Louisiana State University and then the NBA.  He also had a mad crush on her.

And the State Archives of North Carolina have eleven of their letters.   Here is a taste of a blog post at “History for All the People.”

I received the Vada Palma and Pete Maravich Papers as Vada’s gift to the State Archives in July of 2013. On the phone she was charming and generous, and referred me to an informative interview piece written by Tim Stevens (now retired), high school sports editor for the News and Observer. See Steven’s “Pistol on the court; shy boy a-courtin’,” dated March 10, 2010, via One of the most telling aspects of the piece was Vada’s comment, reiterated in my conversation with her: “If you were writing a book about my life, Pete Maravich would be one paragraph. I was really happy when I heard he had met someone and gotten married. He was such a sweet boy.”

In Vada’s estimation the letters were simple, and not the stuff of a grand love story. Yet such letters touch on the aspirations and hopes of youth, and symbolize for many the sentiments of one in the throes of a first crush, and represent the tension and complexity of navigating adolescence, school, first love, and the uncertain demands and possibilities of the adult world.  Fortunately, students and researchers now and in the future have as a resource this collection (PC.2071), which preserves for the long term some eleven letters, a period Valentine’s Day card, six photographs, and two newspaper clippings. Related additions are always welcomed.

Read the rest here.

Who Was Gonzaga?


For those of you settling in for the Gonzaga-North Carolina national championship game, allow me to provide some historical context for your viewing experience.

Perhaps some of you know that Gonzaga is a Catholic (Jesuit) university in Spokane, Washington, but how many of you know anything about the man for whom the university is named?

Here is a taste of a 2011 article in America Magazine on St. Aloysius Gonzaga:

Aloysius Gonzaga needs rescuing from the hands of overly pious artists. On holy cards and in countless reproductions, the young Jesuit is usually depicted clad in a jet black cassock and snowy white surplice, gazing beatifically at an elegant crucifix he holds in his slim, delicately manicured hands. For good measure, he is sometimes portrayed gently grasping a lily, the symbol of his religious chastity.

There is nothing wrong with any of those images per se, except when they obscure what was anything but a delicate life and prevent young Christians (and older ones, for that matter) from identifying with someone who was, in fact, something of a rebel.

On March 9, 1568, in the castle of Castiglione delle Stivieri, in Lombardy, Luigi Gonzaga was born into a branch of one of the most powerful families in Renaissance Italy. His father, Ferrante, was the marquis of Castiglione. Luigi’s mother was lady-in-waiting to the wife of Philip II of Spain, in whose court the marquis also enjoyed a high position.

As the eldest son, Luigi was the repository of his father’s hopes for the family’s future. As early as age four, Luigi was given a set of miniature guns and accompanied his father on training expeditions so that the boy might learn, as Joseph Tylenda, SJ, writes in his book Jesuit Saints and Martyrs, “the art of arms.” He also learned, to the consternation of his noble family and without realizing their meaning, some salty words from the soldiers. So anxious was Ferrante to prepare his son for the world of political intrigue and military exploit that he dressed the boy in a child-sized suit of armor and brought him along to review the soldiers in his employ. By the age of seven, however, Luigi had other ideas. He decided that he was less interested in his father’s world and more attracted to a very different kind of life.

Read the entire piece here.

A Tale of Two Thornwells

Thornwell Hoops

Sindarius Thornwell

Today’s guest post, written on the eve of the Final Four, comes from Patrick L. Connelly.  Patrick is Chair of the History & Political Science Department at Mississippi College and a University of South Carolina alum (Class of 1994).  Enjoy!  –JF

 I am a Columbia SC native and a graduate of the University of South Carolina, where my late father taught History from 1969 until his death in 1991. Naturally, I’m beyond thrilled at the improbable run of my alma mater through the NCAA tournament. When a Duane Notice dunk put an exclamation point on an Elite Eight victory over Florida, I shared the disbelieving joy seen in crowd shots of Gamecock fans accustomed to the agony of defeat. The tears of Darius Rucker were all our tears (Let him cry, y’all). Then there is Sindarius Thornwell, whose number 0 jersey will soon be hanging in the rafters at Colonial Life Arena. Where would we be without the passion and commitment of this native son?

Several recent profiles have documented the story of Sindarius Thornwell, who was raised by a single mother with help from a devoted uncle in the small upstate community of Lancaster, SC. The town has experienced the fate of many Southern communities whose textile mills have closed or moved, resulting in a declining population. Sindarius was highly recruited and could have pursued more prestigious programs but wanted to help his home state and go where his family could see him play. His recruitment was the crucial cornerstone of Frank Martin’s rebuilding project at the University of South Carolina. Lancaster takes immense pride in what he has accomplished. He often visits home and remembers affectionately the community that molded him.

The journey of Lancaster’s favorite son may seem a long way from a 19th century Southern Presbyterian advocate of slavery who once served as the president of the institution represented by Sindarius in the Final Four. James Henley Thornwell (1812-1862) was known for his talents as an orator, scholar, theologian, and advocate of Old School Presbyterianism. His legacy also includes support for racial hierarchy, a vigorous defense of slavery, harsh critiques of abolitionism, hostility toward Catholicism, and endorsement of the Confederacy (after holding Unionist views prior to the war).

James Henley Thornwell was born the son of a plantation overseer in Marlboro County, SC, two counties over from Lancaster. He attended South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) and accepted a pastorate in Lancaster in 1835 after graduation. It was there that he met his wife Nancy Witherspoon, whose influential family owned a plantation nearby. Soon thereafter, he was drawn back to Columbia to teach at his alma mater, beginning a lifelong trend of alternating between pastoral stints and serving at South Carolina College as a professor, president (from 1851-1855), and trustee. Benjamin Palmer, his hagiographer and fellow Southern Presbyterian, wrote that the Thornwells “acquired, by marriage” a small Lancaster plantation that included slaves to whom Thornwell was “an easy and indulgent master.” The Lancaster plantation was a refuge for the Thornwells from the heat and mosquitoes of Columbia. Enslaved residents of the plantation would travel back and forth from Lancaster to Columbia with the Thornwells.


James H. Thornwell

I’m struck by the juxtaposition of these journeys. Sindarius Thornwell, with his deep attachment to family, friends, and hometown, frequently travels back and forth from Lancaster to the University of South Carolina. Over 160 years earlier, James Henley Thornwell completed a journey to the same place—albeit one whose social, political, and technological context made it a profoundly different experience. But is there more of a connection between these Thornwells?

One can’t help but wonder. Perhaps there is a direct historical link, forged in the crucible of slavery, between the ancestors of Sindarius Thornwell and the family of James Henley Thornwell. Is it simply a coincidence of geography and the sharing of a distinct last name? Maybe. Maybe not. The question is impossible to answer without knowing the genealogy and family history of Sindarius Thornwell.

But here is what I do know: Sindarius Thornwell has put my home state in the national spotlight for reasons more than its tragic history of slavery, the horrific murder of innocents at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, or the specter of the Confederate flag. It’s not just his vital role in orchestrating a magical run through the NCAA Tournament. Sindarius Thornwell is an African-American and South Carolinian leading a racially diverse team comprised of local, regional, national, and international players coached by Frank Martin—a son of Cuban immigrants who happens to be married to the daughter of Jamaican immigrants.

The irony of Southern history indeed.

Enjoy the Game Tonight

I hope you all saw CBS’s piece celebrating the 3oth anniversary of “One Shining Moment.”  (It is not up on-line yet).

Since it first premiered in the 1987 national championship game I have been staying up late to listen to this song.  After eight years of blogging here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home I now feel comfortable telling everyone that my wife surprised me at our wedding reception by having the band play this song.  It was great!

Here is the 2015 version:

Go Nova!  If they win I win the Messiah College pool.

New York Times Article on Gonzaga Basketball

March Madness is on the horizon and that means the Gonazaga Bulldogs basketball team will once again be in the national spotlight.  If you are college basketball fan, and especially a fan of the so-called “mid-major” conferences, you should definitely read Greg Bishop’s profile of the Bulldogs and their coach Mark Few.  With Indiana’s loss to Minnesota last week, Gonzaga is now the #1 team in the nation.

Here is a taste of Bishop’s article about this small Catholic college’s success story on the hardwood:

Those who looked at Gonzaga before 1998-99 did so mostly by accident. When forward Casey Calvary, the backbone of that team, arrived on campus, he scoured the bookstore and two local malls and found not one piece of basketball-related Gonzaga merchandise. After practice, Calvary said, the players often sprinted across campus, lest the student center close before they could eat.
The year before, Coach Dan Monson and the Zags built a résumé worthy of the N.C.A.A. tournament but landed in the National Invitation Tournament instead. The Zags entered the next season, Calvary said, “like Rodney Dangerfield, like, we don’t get no respect.”
The Gonzaga roster consisted of players overlooked and undersize but talented nonetheless. The Zags entered the postseason as a No. 10 seed. They toppled Minnesota and Stanford and flew for the first time on a charter plane, albeit one with an armrest that came off in midflight. Calvary marveled at how lucky the freshmen were to not have to transport the three large VCRs commercially, as he did; then he tipped in the winning basket to beat Florida, a score as famous as any in Bulldogs history, and advance to the regional final.
“I look back and I think about just how naïve we were,” said Monson, who is now the coach at Long Beach State. “I had to end every press conference by reminding people how to pronounce Gonzaga. We had police escorts. Someone asked if we would go on Letterman or Leno. Matt Santangelo said we were more of a Jerry Springer-type team.”
That off-season, Monson left for Minnesota despite a slew of starters slated to return. He cried when he called Calvary, but the dollars were so different, the gulf in resources so wide, that Monson thought he had no choice.
“That forced the administration to take a long look at why he’d leave,” Calvary said. “I know they had some closed-door meetings.”