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“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
So says Proverbs 27:17, a Biblical verse from the Old Testament that a few Ohio University softball players adhere to. Those players are also members of the Athletes in Action community on campus.
It is nothing out of the ordinary to identify as a Christian in a team sport on a college campus. What makes the Ohio Softball team interesting, in terms of faith, are the relationships that a few players have through Christ, and how it translates to the field.
Take to Twitter, and you will see many players with crosses in their bios. Look at the wrists of players like Amanda Dalton and Savannah Jo Dorsey and you will find the student-athletes sporting “I’m Second” bracelets, signifying the idea that they are second to God.
Three Ohio softball players currently live in the Athletes in Action (AIA) house: Dalton, a sophomore shortstop, Dorsey, a sophomore pitcher, and junior outfielder Dakota Pyles. The three are members of a small faith-based community within the confines of the team, and they have led others to more rigorously pursue the Christian faith. 25 individuals resided in the house for the spring semester of the 2013-2014 school year.
AIA is a part of the more largely know Cru, formerly known as “Campus Crusade for Christ.” AIA’s own website describes their mission as such: “We believe that sports has the power to open doors and create connections in a way that few other things can, and that’s why we are constantly working to create new ways of reaching out to athletes and sports fans alike. Ultimately, our goal is to see peoples’ lives changed as they discover God’s purpose for their life.”
AIA provides a tremendously positive environment for many Bobcat athletes.
“It’s a unique situation that they live in a unique setting,” said Ohio softball head coach Jodi Hermanek. “It’s what is best for them, and I think that that’s an awesome opportunity to live in a place where they feel positive.”
Mark and Mindy Heflin are the landlords, and help to direct the Athletes In Action community in Athens. The house, located on University Terrace, has been under their direction for the last three years.
The positive influences of Mindy and Mark are evident in all who encounter them, especially the softball players who are a part of the AIA community.
“Mindy has been my second mom. Definitely, second mom,” Dorsey said. “She always does her best to make herself available. And she tries to disciple us and minister with us. She is amazing. And Mark, we look up to, because he runs all this craziness with the house.”
Mindy Heflin came to know Dorsey and Dalton in their freshman year. Dalton tagged along on an AIA trip to Mexico. Heflin has further come to know the softball team as she has been asked to lead prayers for the squad. The relationship has been one of mutual growth and admiration.
“The two of them are really good for each other as far as spurring each other on in the faith,” Heflin said.
Specifically, the relationship between Dalton and Dorsey is strong because of their living situation with AIA and how that has helped direct their respective faiths.
“They have created a dynamic where they just thrive on positivity,” Hermanek said. “And I think that that’s one of the things that really bonds them, just being positive people in the game and in life.”
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But Dalton, Dorsey and Pyles are not the only Bobcats whose faith has grown. Utility player Taylor Saxton, pitcher Leanna Bachman and catcher Madison Claytor — all freshmen — have agreed to live in the house come the 2014-2015 school year. They, along with additional athletes will help boost the living number next year to 31 within the house.
Players like Saxton feel that faith on the team from some of the older players and those within the AIA house has influenced her and others positively.
“I kind of just lean on them and know that if I’m struggling with anything, they’re going to know where I’m coming from spiritually and physically,” said Saxton.
Athletes In Action, which has a strong tradition in missionary work and traveling, has provided many of the athletes with many opportunities and opened the eyes of teammates to the characters of one another.
“Amanda is a huge leader. [We] actually went on a mission trip together to Puerto Rico with AIA this past summer,” Pyles said. “She’s definitely a huge leader when it comes to faith here on the field. And with her rooming with Savvy, I can definitely see … her being filled more this year with Christ and bringing it out on the field.”
There are many influences in the lives of the athletes within the faith community at AIA and surrounding the softball team. Ian Klein, who acts as the house manager, or “House Dad” as he put it, talked highly of what the house and the Christian community at-large mean in the lives of women like Dorsey and Dalton.
He was boisterous about the possibility of players like Bachman, Saxton and Claytor coming for the 2014-2015 school year.
“I think it’s great … to have a large majority of your team all living in the same place is beneficial for the team because you’re going to be supporting and encouraging each other,” Klein said. “To get up early for those morning practices and, you know, you’re there outside practice when you can really talk about, you know, how practice went or, ‘Hey I know you had a bad game, but let’s talk about it.’ So to be in that environment and be able to communicate in that way is beneficial.”
Illuminating the growth in spirituality is of a particular intriguing for this team. Dorsey, who says she once had softball at the highest of her priorities, now takes a different approach.
“Now, my foundation is not softball anymore. It’s God. So if I fail at softball then I can lean on him like a friend.”
Dalton sees it another, not-too-different way.
“Now I think it has helped me understand why we were blessed with the talents that we have, it’s to give him (God) the glory.”
One overarching theme in the everyday of the AIA athletes is the positivity that runs through their lives. Be it the substance free nature of the residency, or the pick-me-up attitude displayed by the athletes, there is a reoccurrence of this positivity that runs through their very veins. Some of these Christian players even see this as such, as they believe that this overwhelming positivity is a preferable trait to have on the field.
“A lot of us … think that it actually helps them (teammates) not tense up as much, because they know we are relaxed and we’re not going to be negative about things,” Pyles said.
This lack of negativity shows. The Ohio softball team hardly ever gets down on one another. Go to any game, and you will sense the positivity. It exudes from the smiles on their faces. From the shrieks of joy and camaraderie shared in the dugouts. It sure seems that part of this stems from faith; individuals are affected, and so is the team as a whole. And if it does, faith has shown itself to be a prevalent influence for positivity in relationships and performance for Ohio Softball.