By Tommy Smith, President
The apostle Paul often used sports analogies to communicate great truths about Christian discipleship. It is from the well-trained athlete that we learn lessons about self-discipline, determination, and intentionality (1 Corinthians 9:24-26), fairness, integrity, and honesty (2 Timothy 2:5), and perseverance, dedication, and victory through struggle (Hebrews 12:1, 2 Timothy 4:7). I have learned so many life lessons from athletic competition: how to work as a team; how to deal with loss and disappointment (or success); how to fight through pain, suffering, and discouragement; how to listen to instruction; how to sacrifice one’s own rights for the good of the team; and how to lead others by example. I often tell our athletes I learned most of my lessons about leadership through sports, and I encourage them to see that athletics is more about life than about the game.
Johnson has included athletics as a co-curricular activity since its early days. There were men’s basketball, baseball, and football clubs in the 1910s-1940s that competed informally with mostly local opponents. Women in the Academy (a co-educational preparatory school affiliated with the college) competed in basketball and tennis.
Athletics continued as club sports until the 1960s, when a more formal men’s basketball program was formed. Johnson has been a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) since 1976. As a result of this affiliation, intercollegiate athletic programs were established in the 1970s (men’s and women’s basketball), 1980s (men’s and women’s soccer, men’s baseball, women’s volleyball), 2000s (men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf), and 2010s (women’s softball). Through the 2020-21 season Johnson University and Johnson University Florida competed as NCCAA Division II schools in men’s basketball, soccer, baseball, and tennis, and women’s volleyball, soccer, basketball, softball, and tennis.
College athletics, when done the right way, can be a great blessing to our campuses, which means the athletics program will be conducted in a way that demonstrates commitment to our mission and core values.
Our Johnson culture of excellence in athletics is built on “The Johnson Athletics Triad” which emphasizes that all of our athletes are mission-aligned (dedicated to the Great Commission), academically prepared (athletes are students first), and competitive in their specific sport. The goals for athletics reflect the expectations for the overall level of excellence of the entire institution.
This Johnson athletics culture is established by the athletic director, staff, and coaches through intentional and consistent practices based on these values. Coaches are held accountable for understanding, promoting, and modeling the appropriate athletics culture and serve as mentors and disciplers of our students. Athletes receive clear explanation of the expectations associated with intercollegiate sports at Johnson.
Intercollegiate athletics hold great potential for the personal growth of our students and the building of community on our campuses. With the construction of the Athletic and Recreation Complex on the Tennessee campus, we have the opportunity to take the athletic programs to a higher level.
Athletics strongly contributes to our enrollment growth–it is a predictable and sustainable source of students, it encourages campus participation, it supports good morale in the student body, and it gives opportunity to represent Christ and Johnson University to diverse audiences. Whether competing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA, on the Tennessee campus) or the NCCAA (Florida campus), our student athletes continue to excel in the classroom and in Christian service to others as well as on the field and court.