The sportsmanship award celebrates Azusa Pacific University, the Cougar athletics department and the men’s soccer program. This past November, less than 48 hours prior to the Golden State Athletic Conference men’s soccer postseason tournament championship game, Azusa Pacific was preparing for a home match that had an automatic bid to the 2008 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship on the line. Cougar head coach Phil Wolf and his team were preparing for conference rival Westmont College, which is coached by his brother Dave Wolf.
With less than 2 days to kickoff Azusa Pacific learned of the devastating impact of the “Tea Fire” that took the homes of the Westmont coach and other faculty members on campus. The fire left student-athletes, including members of the men’s soccer team, displaced and with only the clothes on their backs. As the Westmont community joined together to assess the widespread devastation the team’s priorities shifted with the conference title game in the distance.
Azusa Pacific quickly made a decision to put athletics competition and possible victory secondary in order to aid in the needs of the pending opponent. On hearing of the fire damage, Phil Wolf immediately asked for a postponement of the championship game and drove to Santa Barbara to help his brother and family who lost everything in the fire. Meanwhile, Azusa Pacific Director of Athletics Bill Odell worked with the NAIA national office to delay the title game, allowing Westmont personnel to collect what little belongings they had left. Azusa Pacific could have won the game by forfeit, yet the defending national champion insisted on postponing the game and rallying the Westmont community.
Azusa Pacific didn’t stop with just delaying the game. Odell worked with athletic department staff including Associate Athletics Director Gary Pine and as a gracious host offered the entire Westmont men’s soccer personnel dorm rooms at Azusa Pacific for the team as long as it needed. Azusa Pacific also paid for team meals.
On game day, Monday, Nov. 17, Azusa Pacific provided free admission for all Westmont students. In addition, the Azusa Pacific student life office hosted a pizza lunch for the hundreds of Westmont students who traveled to the championship title match. Azusa Pacific students gave each Westmont student a gift bag that included toiletries.
“The actions of Azusa Pacific and Westmont illustrate how intercollegiate athletics can bring people together. In this extremely competitive situation with a national championship berth on the line, the generosity exhibited by Azusa Pacific clearly sends a message to society. True sportsmen understand that there is a standard higher then victory,” said Jim Carr, NAIA President and CEO. “The willingness of the Azusa Pacific family to embrace a rival in a time of need sets a standard of which we can all be proud. The actions of all involved certainly make the NAIA proud to have Westmont and Azusa Pacific as members of our association.”
Bill Plaschke, a nationally-syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, covered the championship game and the heroic actions of both teams (click here to read complete article). Plaschke stated, “Rarely in Southern California sports has there been a better show of sportsmanship than this, Azusa Pacific sacrificing its chance at a title defense to give Westmont a fair shot at taking it.”
The game ended with Westmont clinching a spot in the 2008 NAIA Men’s Soccer Championship with a 2-0 victory over Azusa Pacific. Perhaps, Azusa Pacific felt it had a larger victory in the game of life in a true showcase of all that’s right in sport.
“What we did in that situation was a natural response from our convictions,” said Azusa Pacific Director of Athletics Bill Odell. “I am sure that anyone else in our conference would have reacted in a similar manner to assist the people of Westmont. We felt terrible at what happened to them, but we were honored to be in a unique place to come to their aid at that moment.”
Azusa Pacific University, selected from a field of many qualified candidates, will be recognized at the 11th Annual National Sportsmanship Awards hosted by the St. Louis Sports Commission and the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance in fall of 2009. The National Sportsmanship Awards celebrates athletes, programs and personalities from around the nation that exemplify outstanding sportsmanship, citizenship, ethical conduct and community service. It is one of the most prestigious sports awards events in the country. The awards program features major league superstars and local favorites, as well as individuals who may not necessarily be household names, but bring with them the most heartwarming stories.
This event is the signature event of the St. Louis Sports Commission’s Sportsmanship Initiative. By recognizing the outstanding individuals who set the standard with their approach on and off the field, the St. Louis Sports Commission hopes to set the tone for all parents, coaches and fans to be “good sports” and pass those values on to children in the community. To learn more about the National Sportsmanship Awards contact the St. Louis Sports Commission at 314-992-0687.