By Greg Johnson ’05, M’09
One of my favorite restaurants serves food “family style,” which usually entails everyone in the party sharing dishes and pitching in for the cost. The staff and coaches at Northwestern—who make the athletics department function and teach our student-athletes—are a family. We approach our respective sports with pieces from our department’s nucleus, and yet we all contribute to the growth of our team at the same time.
It’s not a coincidence that on any given week, several members of our staff could be making meals together at Let’s Dish! Or watching a Vikings game in someone’s home. Many of our coaches or their spouses participate in a book club one night a month. We laugh together, we cry together, we grow together. While it doesn’t hurt that the 18 people who comprise our full-time staff and head coaches have contributed a total of 184 years to Eagle Athletics, we’re not about creating dynasties. Our unwavering commitment to our mission binds us together.
In fact, winning games is not our first priority at Northwestern. We’re competitive, but achieving victories on the court or field of competition is not our first goal. It’s not our second goal, either. We want to see Christ glorified through our teams; our purpose is to bring glory to God by shaping and molding our student-athletes to live Christ-centered lives.
If you’re in the Ericksen Center early enough on Wednesday morning, you’ll see a group of female student-athletes from multiple sports teams, along with women’s athletic trainer Sara Mortensen ’00 and athletics office manager Sharon Kleven meeting together for a Bible study.
“Our goal is to provide an opportunity for the women from all of our teams to support one another and to do life together,” said Mortensen, who started the voluntary group in the fall of 2009. She enjoys that it’s a way for them to reach out and be a part of one team in the morning before they branch out and join their respective sports teams in the afternoon.
This is the spirit of Northwestern athletics. Living out our mission goes well beyond daily team devotions, although that is a staple for all of our 18 squads. We are anything but “me” driven. When our staff went through the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment from the Gallup organization together, we weren’t surprised that our most common Strengths themes were Responsibility, Harmony, Belief and Positivity. None of us had Competition, Command or Significance as one of our top five.
Too often, people define life through their work. At Northwestern, family is more important to us than our work itself, so it’s no wonder we approach our job family style.
Greg Johnson has been assistant director of athletics for sports information at University of Northwestern since 2007.