Champions of Character

NAIA Champions of Character

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ (NAIA) Champions of Character program provides training to ensure student-athletes know, do and value the right things in all areas of life. The five core values: integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership are put into play, accounted for and tracked at all NAIA schools.

As an NAIA institution, Morningside College has developed a Champions of Character program that includes:

The NAIA Champions of Character program is designed to instill an understanding of character values in sport, and provide student-athletes, coaches and parents the training to help them know and do the right things, inside and outside the sports setting. The program is dedicated to the principle that character is a choice and that being a champion is about reaching potential and making good decisions consistently in daily life.

The mission of Champions of Character is to restore character values and raise a generation of students who understand and demonstrate in everyday decisions the five core values of respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership and sportsmanship.

Success In The Classroom

Monte Larsen

Participation in athletics and success in the classroom go hand-in-hand at Morningside.

In fact, Morningside’s student athletes achieved an impressive 3.25 combined grade point average (GPA) in the 2018 winter/spring semester.

Eighteen of Morningside's athletic teams were awarded the distinction of Scholar-Team from the NAIA for the 2016-17 academic year. The award is presented to teams that have a minimum 3.00 GPA, which includes all eligible varsity student-athletes. Morningside's total of 18 NAIA Scholar-Teams was the seventh highest total in the nation.

Numerous Mustang student-athletes have achieved the distinction of Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete, presented to junior, senior and graduate student-athletes who maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.50 or higher. A total of 73 Morningside student-athletes were recognized as Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athletes during the 2017-18 academic year.

Breanna Mathes

The College Sports Information Directors Association of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-America program began in 1952. Morningside has produced 84 Academic All-Americans since the program's inception, including 77 Academic All-Americans since it made the transition to NAIA athletics in the 2002-03 academic year. The Mustangs produced 69 Academic All-Americans between 2010 and 2017 for the fifth highest total in the nation including all divisions of intercollegiate athletics and the Mustangs' all-time total of 86 Academic All-Americans is the highest figure for any school in the NAIA. 

Jason Kenny

The Mustangs’ Monte Larsen was named the Capital One College Division Men’s Track & Field/Cross Country Academic All-American of the Year in both 2012 and 2013. Morningside’s Breanna Mathes was also named the Capital One College Division Women’s Track & Field/Cross Country Academic All-American of the Year in 2013, making Morningside the first school to ever sweep the award for both genders in the same year. Jason Kenny was named the Google Cloud College Division Men's Track & Field/Cross Country Academic All-American of the Year in 2018.

Morningside’s Beau Kildow was named the ESPN the Magazine College Division Football Academic All-American of the Year in 2009.

That same year Kildow was one of 16 college football players named to the 2009 National Football Foundation (NFF) National Scholar-Athlete class announced by the NFF and College Hall of Fame. Kildow and the other recipients were the finalists for the 20th anniversary William V. Campbell Trophy, presented to the best football scholar-athlete in the nation. The finalists were honored at the NFF Annual Awards Dinner at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York City, where Tim Tebow of the University of Florida was announced as the winner of the 2009 Campbell Trophy. Each finalist received an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship.

Beau Kildow (left) and Tim Tebow were among the 16 national finalists for the 2009 William V. Campbell Trophy, presented to the top football scholar-athlete in the nation.

Hongsermeier receives Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award

Natasha Hongsermeier

Natasha Hongsermeier, a senior from Phillips, Neb., was named the recipient of the 2016 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award.

The Walker Award is one of the most prestigious awards in the NAIA and was created in association with National Sports Foundation, a group of sports organizations that promote and recognize sportsmanship. Dr. Walker was a former president of the NAIA and president emeritus of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The award recognizes a current student-athlete with at least junior academic status who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, campus and community leadership embracing the five core character values of the NAIA Champions of Character initiative, athletic achievement, and future ambition.

Hongsermeier is a member of Morningside’s women’s tennis team. She was named a 2016 College Division At-Large First-Team Academic All-American by College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) and is majoring in biology, chemistry and music. Hongsermeier has a perfect 4.00 cumulative grade point average (GPA) and is a two-time Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete. Hongsermeier has been active in a number of community service projects and founded the “Musicians for Healing” program which coordinates the time and talent of local musicians with music therapy needs of the Siouxland healthcare facilities. Since the program’s inception, over 350 hours of service has been donated by musicians. She also serves on the national board of Alpha Lambda Delta, a nonprofit freshman women’s honor society.

Hongsermeier earned first-team All-Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) honors in singles and honorable mention All-GPAC recognition in doubles during the 2015-16 season. She had a 16-2 record in singles while playing the majority of the season in the sixth flight. She had a 12-7 record in doubles competition. Hongsermeier helped lead the Mustangs to a 13-3 dual record and to GPAC regular season and post-season tournament championships en route to a berth in the NAIA Women’s Tennis National Championship tournament.

Hongsermeier is the third straight Morningside student-athlete chosen by the GPAC as its nominee for the annual Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award. Mustang football player Ethan Stofferan was the GPAC’s nominee in 2015 and Garret Ehlers from the Mustangs’ cross country and track & field teams was the conference’s nominee in 2014.

Tom Maxon, head coach of Morningside’s men’s and women’s soccer teams, was the GPAC's 2016 nominee for the NAIA Coach of Character Award and Mustang head wrestling coach Jake Stevenson was the league’s nominee in 2015.

Morningside GPAC nominees for NAIA National Awards
Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award

2016- Natasha Hongsermeier (Women's Tennis)
2015- Ethan Stofferan (Football)
2014- Garret Ehlers (Cross Country/Track & Field)

Coach of Character
2016- Tom Maxon (Men's & Women's Soccer)
2015- Jake Stevenson (Wrestling)

Emil S. Liston Scholarship Award
2015- Allison Bachman (Women's Basketball)

Morningside Achieves Champions of Character Five-Star Gold Desigation

aMorningside College achieved Champions of Character Five-Star designation from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) for the 2015-16 academic year.

Morningside was one of 171 NAIA schools in the nation to be named a Champions of Character Five-Star institution and one of only 19 NAIA schools to achieve gold status.

Institutions are measured on a demonstrated commitment to Champions of Character and earned points in character training, conduct in competition, academic focus, character recognition, and character promotion. Institutions earned points based on exceptional student-athlete grade point averages and by having minimal to no ejections during competition throughout the course of the academic year.

Morningside also achieved gold status in the 2013-14 academic year.

Click here for a list of the 2015-16 NAIA Champions of Character Five-Star gold, silver, and bronze institutions.

Mustangs Leave Lasting Impression On Seven-Year Old

On the eve of their 2013 NAIA Football Championship Series (FCS) Quarterfinal Round game at Baker University, the fifth ranked Morningside College football team went out for dinner at a local Applebee's, business as usual for a college team of any kind on the road. However, on Nov. 30 what happened in Olathe, Kan., shows what small-college athletics is all about and why the NAIA, the GPAC, and in this case Morningside College, has some pretty special student-athletes who embody being Champions of Character.

Often student-athletes can make more of an impact off the field than on the field. This story shows why what you do on a Friday night in a restaurant may mean more than any touchdown pass thrown or caught in a college football game on a Saturday afternoon.

The following e-mail (and picture) was sent to Morningside Athletic Director Tim Jager and Head Football Coach Steve Ryan on Monday and is being shared with permission of the sender and Morningside College.

Mr. Jager and Mr. Ryan,

My name is Amber Miller and I am a 1999 Ottawa University graduate. I take pride in small liberal (arts) schools and felt compelled to share with you what my family experienced this past Friday night.

My husband and I, along with our two children (Holden age 7 and Kinsley age 5), and neighbors went to the Olathe Applebee's as we live down the street in Spring Hill, Kansas.

While dining, the entire Morningside football team walked in. I immediately recognized them as I knew they were playing Baker on Saturday. My son was in "AH" and begged me to ask for their autographs. I told him he could. The waitress and my son Holden approached a young man - I believe it was Darius Hicks and Holden asked for his autograph. Mr. Hicks was touched and responded with "Little Man.....I could do better than that!" He proceeded to get everyone on the team's autograph, along with the coaches. I can't tell you how happy my son was. Holden was glowing and couldn't stop talking about it all weekend long.

He asked on Sunday if "his team" won against Baker and I confirmed they did. Congrats!!!

Your team's compassion needs to be shared with others as this is what makes the NAIA what it is!

I wish you much success and Coach Ryan I remember you from Ottawa - congrats on your head coaching and raising a great team.

Amber Miller
Spring Hill, Kansas

NAIA Buffalo Funds Five Star Champions of Character Award Winners

2013-14 Women's Basketball Team

Six Morningside athletic teams have received the NAIA Buffalo Funds Five Star Champions of Character Award since 2006.

The NAIA Buffalo Funds Five Star Champions of Character Awards are presented annually to one team in each of the NAIA’s 23 championship sports. The awards are presented to institutions and athletic programs that strive for excellence in and out of competition and are part of communities throughout the country dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics.

The Mustangs’ most recent Buffalo Funds Five Star Champions of Character Team Award recipient was the 2013-14 women’s basketball team. The team, coached by Jamie Sale, participated in Morningside’s “Into the Streets” campus wide community service project in fall 2013 by assisting teachers in their classrooms at Sergeant Bluff-Luton Elementary School. The team also filled and distributed grocery bags throughout the community in partnership with the faith-based organization Convoy of Hope, participated in the Hy-Vee Iron Kids Triathlon and the March of Dimes sponsored March for Babies Walk, and supported Irving Elementary School’s Walking School Bus program.

Morningside’s other past NAIA Buffalo Funds Five Star Champions of Character Award winners included:

  • 2013 Wrestling Team, Jake Stevenson, Head Coach
  • 2012 Women’s Cross Country Team, David Nash, Head Coach
  • 2010 Wrestling Team, Tim Jager, Head Coach
  • 2008 Wrestling Team, Tim Jager, Head Coach
  • 2006 Wrestling Team, Tim Jager, Head Coach

Mission trip to Tanzania

A group of seven Morningside football players demonstrated the NAIA Champions of Character program's core value of servant leadership during a 2018 mission trip to Tanzania in eastern Africa.

The players traveled to Tanzania to lend their support to Project Rehema Ministries, a non-profit organization whose founder and CEO is Kelli Solsma, the mother of Mustang senior quarterback Trent Solsma.

Solsma and Mustang teammates Conner Niles, Chase Reis, Seth Maitlen, Seth Roberg and twin brothers Jacob and Joel Katzer traveled to Tanzania in May to assist Project Rehema Ministries.

Project Rehema’s primary goal is to minister to some of the 2.5 million orphans in Tanzania and provide small, modest homes where a “mama” cares for a small number of orphaned children per home by providing a home-like setting where the children’s physical needs are met while experiencing the love of a family.

Project Rehema serves close to 80 orphans in Tanzania. In addition to providing housing, the organization also helps pay for schooling and assists the orphans in meeting their basic daily needs.

While in Tanzania, the Mustang football players completed the construction of a new home in the Massai village of Monduli Juu, located on the outskirts of Arusha, a city in northeastern Tanzania.

The home they constructed will house eight to 10 orphans and a “mama” or foster parent. The players made the cement and layed the brick for the house and dug a 13-foot hole for a bathroom. They also hauled water from a nearby stream used to mix mud to help secure the rocks that formed the base of the house.

Aside from the hard work, there was also time for fun. The group held an activity day with many of the local children, where they taught them about football. They played a game of football with the children and were challenged by the children to a game of soccer.

Solsma said the time in Tanzania was a life changing experience for he and his teammates.

“Seeing the progress we were able to make on the house and the smiles we were able to bring to the people there is something I will never forget,” Solsma said. “The experience gave me a greater appreciation for what life in America is like and opened my eyes to the little things that we take for granted.”

“The look of surprise and joy on the face of the ‘mama’ when we turned on a light bulb in her new home is something I will have ingrained in my mind forever,” he said. “That was just one example of the times we helped the people meet a basic need and we were overwhelmed with their gratitude.”

Servant Leadership Through Community Service

Members of the Mustang women's golf team helped out at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center during Morningside's 2016 "Into the Streets" community service day.

Morningside wrestlers cleaned windows at the Sioux City Public Museum's Pearce Mansion.

By Madison Hoff
Morningside College Student

Each year Morningside College’s student-athletes dive “Into the Streets” and the Sioux City community by participating in a school-wide event that calls them to serve their city. On October 5, approximately 450 of Morningside’s student-athletes stepped outside of the classroom, donned their work jeans, and joined their fellow classmates in a day of community service.

Morningside’s chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) organized the 10th annual “Into the Streets” event, which gives various athletic teams the chance to perform hands-on work in the community, including assisting teachers and senior citizens, cleaning, landscaping, and packing food as they serve schools, retirement homes, nonprofits, and many more organizations in the Sioux City area.

Tracy Gates, a senior from Escondido, Calif., and a member of the Morningside swimming team, was one of the major organizers for this year’s event.

Instead of kicking their legs through the water, the Mustang swimming team laced up their tennis shoes and logged 23,100 minutes of walking with Liberty Elementary School’s students as a part of the Healthiest State Initiative. The wrestling team put their stamina to good use by cleaning and doing maintenance work at various sites, including Whitfield United Methodist Church, the Sioux City Public Museum, and the Peirce Mansion.

Some of the members of the cheer and dance squad stuffed envelopes for the Children’s Miracle Network, while others rode the city busses conducting surveys for the Sioux City Transit Center. The remaining members spent the day cleaning at Unity Point Health.

“Community service is important because you get to experience things you might not on a regular basis, and it makes you appreciate things in life that you have,” said Alexis Wise, a senior from Council Bluffs, Iowa, and a member of the Mustangs’ cheer team.

The Mustang men’s and women’s soccer teams served the young and the old. The men spent their time at the Floyd House-Assisted Living Concepts, Inc., Holy Spirit Retirement Home, and Riverside Elementary School, while the women served the Friendship House, Mary Elizabeth Child Care, and the Sioux City Gospel Mission.

The men’s basketball team worked hard landscaping and cleaning gravestones at Woodbury Township Cemetery. Players from the four-time NAIA Division II National Championship women’s basketball team went to Morningside Elementary, where they assisted lessons and classroom activities, made copies, assembled and stapled papers, and worked with students in STEM projects.

“Community service is very important not only for teams to be a part of, but everybody in society,” said Lauren Lehmkuhl, a junior women’s basketball player from Wakefield, Neb. “It not only leaves a lasting impact on us, but with the people that we helped.”

Clearly, this beloved annual event holds intrinsic and extrinsic value for all involved.

As the bowling team did cleanup work for Camp High Hopes, the men’s and women’s tennis teams traded their rackets for cleaning rags and washed Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation’s windows and gift shop area.

A few miles away, the women’s volleyball team was busy packing food for the Food Bank of Siouxland, working with students at North Sioux Elementary School, and sorting through donated clothing for children at the Boys and Girls home.

“Community service brings my teammates and I closer together by being outside of the school realm and court setting to see how we are off the court and how we interact with others,” said Braden Hall, a senior men’s volleyball player from Fairbanks, Alaska.

Hall worked side-by-side with his teammates as they spent their time with the students at Sergeant Bluff-Luton Primary school.

The men and women on the golf team left the links and hit the trails, cleaning them and arranging pumpkins for a children’s event at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, while the softball team cleaned up at Casa de Paz, Bridges West Center for Siouxland, and Brookdale Senior Living Community. Meanwhile, the track and cross country teams distributed flyers around Sioux City for City Hall, landscaped at Morningside Lutheran Church, cleaned toys at the Sioux City Art Center, and restored beauty to the Mary Treglia Community House.

Members from Morningside’s baseball team served the community by assisting the teachers at Loess Hill Elementary School and interacting with the students.

“Ultimately, God calls us to serve those around us,” said Nolan Hoff, a senior baseball player from Walnut, Calif. “Sports are about turning us into better people, and events like ‘Into the Streets’ allows us to prove our character off the field.”

Morningside’s student-athletes have displayed their excellence on the playing field. However, they contribute much more than trophies and awards. “Into the Streets” affords a platform for Mustang athletes to display their character and their love for the city and school they represent so proudly.

Members of the Morningside volleyball team packed food for the Food Bank of Siouxland.

Allstate AFCA Good Works Team Honorees

Jordan Sitzmann made a mission trip to Haiti in the summer leading up to his junior year.

Morningside football players Luke Grooters, Jordan Sitzmann and Colby Rohde received national recognition for their community service efforts off the playing field when they were named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Teams presented by Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA). Grooters was named to the 2016 team, while Sitzmann was named to the 2013 team and Rohde was selected in 2011.

As members of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, Sitzmann and Rohde traveled to New Orleans to take part in special volunteer projects and attended the Allstate Sugar Bowl games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where they were introduced at halftime.

For more than two decades the award has recognized college football players at all levels committed to making a difference in their communities and the lives of others. The honorees are selected by a voting panel comprised of former Allstate AFCA Good Works Team members and college football media. 

Luke Grooters

Grooters was selected to the Good Works Team for his volunteer service and mission work. Grooters has taken part in close to 20 mission trips to Haiti through his family’s non-profit organization Touch of Hope Haiti, including several trips where he has organized groups of fellow football players where their projects have included paving a road to a local school, rebuilding homes in a local village, and delivering food to the elderly. 

Sitzmann twice took part in two-week mission trips to Honduras to help construct water systems for villages in El Junco and La Florida, and in the summer of 2012 he spent 10 days in Haiti to construct window screens for an orphanage near Cap Haitien. Sitzmann also participated in volunteer work for various organizations, including the Siouxland Food Bank and Countryside Retirement Home in Sioux City, Then Feed Just One, Kids Against Hunger, and the Alzheimer’s Association in his home town of Le Mars, Iowa, and the American Heart Association.

Rohde was also selected to the Good Works Team for his mission work. Following the major earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, Rohde spearheaded the fundraising and organized and led a group of Morningside students that went to Bois De Lance, Haiti, that summer to assist with building an orphanage to house over 50 homeless children. Rohde organized another group that returned to Bois De Lance in June 2011 to assist with building homes for widows and single mothers.

The Allstate AFCA Good Works Teams were established in 1992 by the College Football Association, recognizing the extra efforts made by college football players and student support staff off the field. AFCA became the governing body of the award in 1997 and continues to honor college football players who go the extra mile for those in need. Allstate partnered to present the award starting with the 2008 season.

Colby Rohde led a group of children from the YMCA of Greater New Orleans in some football drills as a member of the 2011 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team
Champions of Character
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