The 2012 NAIA Convention officially opened Friday April 13 with the Convention Kick-Off, the first general session for the membership. NAIA President Jim Carr moderated a student-athlete panel focused on what the NAIA experience means to student-athletes.
To begin the session, student-athletes from Concordia (Calif.) and Vanguard University (Calif.) fired up the crowd and celebrated the 60,000 student-athletes of the NAIA. Then Carr and the five panelists took the stage to welcome attendees.
"Welcome to the 2012 NAIA National Convention. We are certainly ready to celebrate the NAIA, to celebrate our student-athletes and to celebrate "Our Time, Our Way," which is our Convention theme this year," Carr said. "First I'd like to offer a big thank you to student-athletes from Concordia University and Vanguard University. We appreciate you extending us a warm welcome to Southern California."
"Today we're kicking off our Convention with a conversation with these five student-athlete panelists. We're going to chat a bit about their student-athlete experience and ask them for some thoughts on "Our Time, Our Way,'" Carr said.
Carr went on to explain that the Convention theme was selected to reflect the fact that the NAIA is unique in what it offers student-athletes, from character-based initiatives to the ability to build a more meaningful relationship with coaches and their community.
"We're talking this week about "Our Time, Our Way," as our Convention theme, and we're talking a lot about how the NAIA experience is different," Carr said, noting that those differences included straightforward rules that allowed student-athletes to get to know their coaches and to be a part of the student-body. Several of the student-athletes mentioned the ability to get to know their coaches in the recruiting process and to pursue a major they loved.
"I was able to build a relationship with my coach before I came to the university," said Paige Halberg, a recent former student-athlete from Vanguard. "The relationships I would have at college-with my coach and with my team-were an important part of my decision as to where to go."
Brook Marino, a junior volleyball student-athlete from Concordia, talked about her ability to major in athletic training, a career that's nearly impossible to have at institutions in other athletics associations due to athletes' obligations and coaches' demands. "I was able to study athletic training and pursue a career I love," she said. "It's not easy to juggle everything sometimes, but my coach and my school were supportive."
Austin Simon, a senior basketball student-athlete from Concordia, emphasized the benefits of character education and being a part of a close-knit community. "When I came to college, I was a young teen. Participating in all the different character activities, I had the chance to grow and develop into a leader-into a man. That's something that I wasn't really expecting, but that has been an important part of my experience."
Austin also talked about his experiences at the recent 2012 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship, where his team won the title.
"It was the trip of a lifetime. It was a dream," he said. "It also represented years of hard work. And people don't realize the level of competition there is. It's intense."
Caleb McLean, a former student-athlete in track and field at Wayland Baptist University and a vocal performance major, summed up the comments of the panelists at the conclusion of the session.
"The NAIA is special. It is a special place to be--to compete, to do what you love and to have character at the heart of it all."
The student-athlete panelists were: Austin Simon, a senior basketball student-athlete from Concordia University, majoring in exercise and sport science and a member of the Concordia team that just won the 2012 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship; Brooke Marino, a junior volleyball student-athlete from Concordia, majoring in athletic training and a member of the Concordia women's volleyball team that took second at the NAIA Women's National Volleyball Championship this fall; Billy Thompson, a senior basketball student-athlete from Vanguard University, and an NAIA Scholar-Athlete All-American; Paige Halberg, a graduate student in psychology at Vanguard, where she was a three-time captain on the women's basketball team and competed in the 2008 NAIA Division I Women's National Basketball Championship; and Caleb McLean, a graduate assistant for track and field at Wayland Baptist University, where he was a track and field student-athlete and a vocal performance major. Caleb is the 2010-2011 NAIA recipient of the Dr. Leroy Walker Champions of Character Award, the highest NAIA character award a student-athlete can receive.
To see pictures of the NAIA Convention, see the NAIA Facebook page at PlayNAIA.