Title IX at 50: Women’s Lacrosse Coach Keagan Pontious

Editor’s Note: On June 23, 1972, a federal civil rights law was passed that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding. Title IX also gave girls and women the equal opportunity to compete in sports across the country. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passing this summer, Hope College Athletics shares the memories and perspectives from Hope College student-athletes, coaches, and alumnae around the 9th of each month during the school year.

In the sixth installment of our Title IX celebration, head women’s lacrosse coach and equipment manager Keagan Pontious discusses the different ways she has benefitted from Title IX — ranging from her days as an All-American lacrosse student-athlete at NCAA Division II Seton Hill University (Pennsylvania) to working in athletics as a career.

Hope College women’s lacrosse head coach Keagan Pontious

Q: What is one of your favorite memories from playing lacrosse?

A: One of my favorite memories I have is from playing in college when my lacrosse team at made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. I remember sitting in a classroom with my whole team on selection day. We truly had no idea if our strength of schedule was good enough to qualify that year. I remember listening to our name be called and instantly crying because I was so proud of our team. I was a fifth year senior and could not hold back my tears of joy. The underclassmen on the team had no idea how hard the women before them worked to put our name on the map and make an NCAA Tournament.  

Q: How did your time as a lacrosse student-athlete shape you into the person you are today?

A: Being a student-athlete allowed me to realize that life is short (just like my playing career) and that you must enjoy every second of it. My time as an athlete was precious because I got to play the sport I love with my best friends and teammates. Lacrosse taught me how to be humble, stay disciplined and be grateful. These three characteristics helped me define who I am today. 

Q: When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in athletics? What or who inspired you to make that choice?

A: I realized that I wanted to be a coach and continue to have lacrosse be the center of my life when I was a fifth year at Seton Hill. I started to enjoy helping my teammates succeed and reach their goals rather than worry about mine. I developed a new understanding and appreciation that brought me so much joy. Helping my teammates smile while playing the game  they love meant more than anything in the world to me. At that time in my life, I knew that I needed to keep lacrosse in my life and become a coach. 

Q: You work with student-athletes, female and male, across all of Hope’s 22 varsity sports. What do you enjoy most about your work in supporting them?

A: I love to constantly remind them to be grateful and enjoy the little things in life. It goes by so fast. I wish I was a student-athlete again, so I try to remind them daily that every rep matters. Every interaction with their teammates matters. Every tough day makes them stronger and that they have an opportunity to have a great attitude every day they wake up. 

Q: What advice would you have for girls who are just beginning their athletic careers?

A: My advice to a girl just starting out in her athletic career would be to develop a strong work ethic  so that in college it is second nature. It helps to start playing competitive sports at a young age to understand the importance of healthy competition and realize what you can achieve with hard work. My other advice for any young athlete would be to have confidence. Develop your own unique style, and be confident about it. If you hesitate in lacrosse or in life, an opportunity can be quickly taken away, so be confident in your decisions and go for it!  

Read more of Hope’s Title IX stories

Matt Margaron, Shomari Tate: Hope Athletics Podcast

Sport helped Matt Margaron ’03 and Shomari Tate grow their Christian faith as youth. After finding a higher calling, both now are ministering as chaplains to the Hope College community, including our student-athletes and coaches.

Margaron is in his third year as Hope’s Chaplain of Athletics. Tate is in his first year as Hope’s Chaplain of Discipleship.

Matt Margaron and Shomari Tate pose for portraits.
From left, Matt Margaron and Shomari Tate

On the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast, Margaron and Tate talk together with sports information director Alan Babbitt about their rewarding work as chaplains, their paths to Hope, and how sport helped them in a variety of ways, including being good teammates on Hope’s Campus Ministries department.

“It’s such a gift. I often say I have the coolest job in the world because I’m a huge sports fan,” Margaron said. “Any sport I love to watch. I love to analyze. We can talk about stats. Those are things that I’m really passionate about. But I’m these athletes’ biggest and coaches’ biggest fan. I love it. I love talking about it and walking alongside, but then also talking about the deeper issues as well.”

Added Tate, “I’m like a kid in the candy store. Just having fun. In month four of my job, I would say that my biggest job right now is just getting to know Hope, getting to know students, getting to know the collective stories that make up our beautiful campus, our beautiful community.

“In terms of my formal duties, I just get the distinct honor and privilege to walk alongside of students and make sure that they are being formed well in Christ as they go out into the real world. Also, I have an expansive history doing diversity, equity and inclusion work, so I’m excited to bring that level of expertise to the team as well.”

Chaplains See Sport’s Potential as a Positive Influence

Both chaplains believe sport can be a positive influence on a person’s life. Both see how the difference sport made in their own lives.

Margaron’s athletic career culminated as a Hope soccer standout. While majoring in psychology and religion, he was a three-time All-MIAA honoree and two-time all-region selection. 

After Hope, Margaron earned his master’s degree in community counseling from Regent University. He returned to work on campus after working for Young Life for 10 years.

Tate was on a walk-on to the Michigan State University football team after a standout three-sport career at Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School. He played for the Spartans for one year before hanging up the cleats. He then worked for the Spartans as a recruiting operations assistant.

Tate majored in political science and government at Michigan State. He went to earn a master’s degree in public policy from Michigan State as well as a master’s degree in ministry leadership from Cornerstone University.

Before joining Hope’s staff, Tate worked as Catholic Central’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for two years. He also was an assistant coach on Catholic Central’s highly-regarded football team.

Read a written transcript of the podcast interview

Title IX at 50: From One Former AD to Another, Thank You for Your Legacy

Editor’s Note: On June 23, 1972, a federal civil rights law was passed that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding. Title IX also gave girls and women the equal opportunity to compete in sports across the country. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passing this summer, Hope College Athletics shares the memories and perspectives from Hope College student-athletes, coaches, and alumnae on the 9th of each month during the school year.

Author Eva Dean Folkert

In this fifth installation, Eva Dean Folkert, former co-director of athletics at Hope and now the interim director of public affairs and marketing at the college, reflects on her early playing days just after Title IX was passed — starting in recreational leagues and high school in New York in the 1970s and then at Hope in the early 1980s. Her experiences in the world of collegiate athletics were life-changing because of mentor, Dr. Anne Irwin.

When I was a baseball-loving 12-year-old growing up in central New York in 1973, I had no idea that 600 miles away, a woman with the tenacity and determination of a second-wave feminist was about to pave the way for girls and women like me to one day be taken seriously as female athletes. 

All I knew and felt back then was this: Girls’ sports were at best an afterthought and at worst an annoyance. 

Why did I feel that way even at that young age? Because in the mid-1970s, all I wanted was a “real” uniform when I played softball for my summer league team. Like the big boys in MLB and the younger boys in Little League, I too wanted a jersey, stirrup “socks” and knee-length pants. Instead the girls who played softball on my team in Cayuga County only got cotton t-shirts and plain truck caps which, by the way, were not that cool then.

The trend somewhat continued in high school. The girls of Union Spring Central School (and at many other high schools around the country) wore the same uniforms for three seasons when we played field hockey, volleyball and basketball. The boys had different uniforms for each of their seasons in soccer, football, basketball and baseball. At least, we got knee-length pants when softball season rolled around, but our jerseys remained the same.

Anne Irwin and team in 1978

I matriculated to Hope College in 1979 and never expected that I’d see and experience a uniform change by season for women. But then again, I didn’t know Dr. Anne Irwin, Hope’s first director of women’s athletics, was here and had already begun to make women’s sports a prioritized presence, and not the afterthought that I had experienced. 

From the moment she stepped on Hope’s campus in 1976, Anne went to work to ensure Hope female student-athletes received equitable treatment, not just in the uniforms they wore, but also with the transportation they were provided, the practice space and times they were awarded, and even the “shoe money” they were allotted. When I received reimbursement for the purchase of my Adidas All-Stars, even as a Hope basketball benchwarmer extraordinaire in 1980, I felt like I had won the lottery. For 27 years, Anne helped hundreds of other student-athletes feel like they were some of the luckiest people in the world too, even if they may not have realized it.

Anne Irwin, 2001

When Anne retired in 2003 and I became the next director of women’s athletics, I was the beneficiary of her wisdom both tangible and intangible. Her spirit of fairness (and detail orientation) permeated the Excel spreadsheet I opened regularly which laid out a 15-year plan for rotating uniform purchases for both genders. The policies she helped create and oversee addressed multiple levels and areas of equity for all. Today’s Hope student-athletes, both male and female, owe a debt of gratitude to Anne for her trailblazing ways and mindset. Her unfailing advocacy proved that gender equity is right and necessary and good, no matter your sport, no matter your gender.

Anne passed away on April 3, 2021 at 79-years-young. I was hiking a trail in northern Michigan when I received a phone call from my longtime friend and colleague Tim Schoonveld who let me know she had died. Regrettably, Anne and I had not seen each other in over a year because of the pandemic. I finished my walk filled with sorrow but also with a profound appreciation that my playing and professional life was deeply impacted by a woman who forged a way for me, and thousands more, to experience excellence in athletics at Hope.

Shameless plug: To learn more about Dr. Anne Irwin’s impact on and legacy in Hope College Athletics, order a copy of In Pursuit of Excellence by Tom Renner ‘67, the newest Hope sports history book that covers stories from 1970 to 2020. In it, you will find a chapter about Anne’s arrival and tenure at Hope that details how she helped lay the foundation for the first-rate program that Hope Athletics is today. Full disclosure: I wrote a chapter about Anne in that book, too.

Eva Dean Folkert (center) and the 1981 Hope softball team coached by Anne Irwin (in the gray sweatshirt, right) after they won the state of Michigan AIAW Championship.

(Historical aside: The AIAW was the only national collegiate women’s sports governing body until 1983. When the NCAA began offering women’s championships in 1981-82, it proved to be the end of the AIAW.)

Title IX at 50: Sisters Ana and Heleyna Tucker, Women’s Cross Country

Editor’s Note: On June 23, 1972, a federal civil rights law was passed that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding. Title IX also gave girls and women the equal opportunity to compete in sports across the country. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passing next summer, Hope College Athletics will share the memories and perspectives from Hope College student-athletes, coaches, and alumnae on the 9th of each month during the school year.

In our fourth installment, we spotlight sisters Heleyna and Ana Tucker, who also are teammates on the Hope College women’s cross country team that finished eighth at the 2021 NCAA Division III Championships. It was the Flying Dutch’s second-highest finish at nationals. This fall, with a boost from the Tucker sisters, the Flying Dutch also ran their way to NCAA Great Lakes Region and Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association team titles this fall. Ana, an exercise science major, earned All-America honors at nationals with an 11th-place finish. Heleyna, a mathematics major, ran in Hope’s top seven at nationals and finished 199th. 

Ana and Heleyna, who attended H.H. Dow High School in Midland, Michigan, are part of a set of triplets along with their brother, Charles, who is studying computer science at the University of Michigan.

1. What does it mean to you to have the opportunity to be student-athletes and teammates at Hope College after this past fall?

Sisters Ana and Heleyna Tucker, from left, hold the NCAA Division III Great Lakes Regional trophy won by the Hope College women’s cross country team.

Heleyna Tucker: Being at Hope together both in athletics and academics is so much fun. Having that support system always by my side if I need a pick-me-up is so special to me. This was my first year on the varsity team and my first nationals race, so Ana really helped me stay calm and ready. It’s interesting to see how similar and different we are, especially in academics. With Ana being an exercise science major and me a math major, it’s fun to learn from each other’s interests.  

Ana Tucker: I am very grateful to have the privilege of being on the Hope Cross Country team with Heleyna. Heleyna and the entire team are always there to encourage each other — whether it be in school or on the race course. I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends! Heleyna always reminds me to keep having fun in the sport and she serves as a great example for the rest of the team. We both have different strengths and weaknesses, so it’s always good to be able to work together as a team to support each other. 

2. What makes your sister such an exceptional student-athlete? 

Heleyna Tucker: Ana has raced her way to many school records and awards throughout her career. It’s been a joy to both cheer her on and get a chance to compete with her at such high levels. As her sister, I’ve gotten to see her grow as a person, athlete, and student. Ana shows dedication and determination in everything she does and lets her love of running shine through her classes and research. 

Ana Tucker: Heleyna has developed a lot over the years, and her perspective on running has grown throughout her experience at Hope. Heleyna is a natural leader. She shows a lot of love for the sport and compassion for her teammates. She sets strong goals for herself and is not afraid to pursue them with everything she’s got. Heleyna definitely inspires me to value every opportunity I get to run!

3. Who inspired each of you to take up competitive running? Did you start at the same time?

Heleyna Tucker: I started to compete in figure skating when I was about eight years old. When I was 12 years old, I started to run more and became fully committed to the sport. Ana started to run a few years before me, so I would say she inspired me to lace up my shoes and join my middle school’s track team nine years ago. 

Ana Tucker: I was inspired to take up competitive running when I was in the fifth grade. I started out in a couple programs called Girls on the Run and Fleet Feet. I really enjoyed being in the family-like atmosphere of the track/cross country team. Heleyna started running a few years after me, but her motivation and encouragement inspired me to continue running as the years went on.

4. What do you plan to do with your Hope College education?

Heleyna Tucker: As a current mathematics major, I plan to graduate and look toward earning a masters degree. As far as jobs go, there are many to choose from. I hope to use my mathematical background to collaborate and help others with whatever job I choose. 

Ana Tucker: I plan to become a physical therapist. I would love to help others live life to their fullest by helping them overcome injury. I am not sure which specialty I would like to go in, but I look forward to exploring the career further in PT-school. 

Hope Student-Athletes Team Up to Prevent Child Hunger

Hope College student-athletes worked together this semester to help prevent child hunger in West Michigan.

Led by the Athletes Coming Together/Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (ACT/SAAC), Hope’s 22 varsity teams combined to raise more than $2,000 in donations. The money Hope student-athletes raised provided the opportunity to pack more than 2,000 snack packs at DeVos Fieldhouse for the Hand2Hand organization.

Based in Hudsonville, Michigan, Hand2Hand provides food for youth and children facing weekend hunger in West Michigan. Many of Hand2Hand’s recipients get free or reduced-price lunches during the school week.

Three Hope student-athletes pose for a group photo holding food for children in West Michigan.
From left, Hope College student-athletes Kealeigh Usiak, Evan Thomas, and Keaton Hamilton

“It’s super special and says a lot about our student-athletes and athletics program as a whole when we were all able to get together to work with Hand2Hand,” said Evan Thomas, a junior on the men’s basketball team and a biology major. “Everyone there has a genuine interest in giving back to something bigger than ourselves, and doing anything we can to help.”

Added junior Kealeigh Usiak of the women’s soccer team, “It was really cool to see so many Hope student-athletes coming together to support something bigger than our individual teams, and bigger than Hope College.”

Inspired to Help

Usiak, who is majoring in communication and computer science, said she was shocked to see how much money was raised and how many snack bags were packed.

“It was cool to see all of the teams work together to get enough funds to really make a difference,” Usiak said. “I’d say the Holland community inspired me to take part in this effort with Hand2Hand. The Holland community supports Hope Athletics so much and does so many things for us, so I felt driven to give back to the community in this way.”

Participating in ACT-SAAC for the first time last year inspired Thomas to join the organization’s community service team this year.

The mission ACT/SAAC at Hope College is:

  • Serve student-athletes as a liaison between the student-athletes and the Hope College Athletic Department Administration regarding the needs and concerns that impact their academic performance, athletic performance, and personal well-being.
  • Promote unity, camaraderie, communication and common purpose among all Hope College student-athletes.
  • Actively encourage a strong commitment to service, and uphold positive athletic, academic and social experience for all student-athletes.
  • Represent, endorse, and support athletics at institutional, conference, and national levels including the review of policies and proposed legislation at these various tiers.

“I knew I wanted to be more involved if I could, so that I could help put together events like this,” Thomas said. “Last year’s Hand2Hand event was such a great experience that was so fun that we knew we wanted to try and do this again this year and raise even more money.” 

Title IX at 50: Miranda DeKuiper ’11 and Jess Moorman ’21: Engineers and Women’s Basketball Alumnae

Editor’s Note: On June 23, 1972, a federal civil rights law was passed that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding. Title IX also gave girls and women the equal opportunity to compete in sports across the country.

Hope College women’s basketball alumnae: from left, Miranda DeKuiper ’11 and Jess Moorman ’21.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passing next summer, Hope College Athletics will share the memories and perspectives from Hope College student-athletes, coaches, and alumnae on the 9th of each month during the school year. 

In our third installment, we hear from two Hope College women’s basketball alumnae who both graduated with degrees in mechanical engineering and now work together for Gentex Corp. in Zeeland, Michigan: Miranda DeKuiper ’11 and Jess Moorman ’21. Gentex develops and manufactures custom high-tech electronic products for the automotive, aerospace, and commercial fire protection industries.

What is your job title and role at Gentex?

Miranda DeKuiper: Production Manager — Electrical Assembly, Microelectronics, Aerospace. I lead a team of 250 of multiple engineering support disciplines and manufacturing teams. I’ve been with Gentex essentially since 2010 during my internship. My favorite thing about the company is that you cannot get bored – there are always other opportunities to continue to challenge yourself with. There’s a heavy emphasis on people development and innovation that makes it an extremely compelling place to work.

Jess Moorman: As a Production Group Leader for Gentex, it is my job to motivate and develop my production team so that we can achieve Gentex’s standards of quality and efficiency in our final products. I have been in the Group Leader role for one month and have been at Gentex for four months total. What I love most about Gentex is that it’s a world-class company with high standards and I’m surrounded by people who are willing to help you reach those high standards.​​

How did being a Hope student-athlete prepare you to work in your field? What did playing a college sport teach you about life? 

Jess Moorman: One of the most important things that I learned from being a student-athlete at Hope is that on every team you are a part of, there is always a role for you. Everybody is different. Everyone has things that they are good at and things that need improvement. The key is to know your strengths and play those to your team’s advantage. While playing basketball at Hope, I quickly realized that a little bit of energy can go a long way. You can’t always control if the ball goes in the basket, but you can always control how much energy you bring. That was my role. I have directly used this mindset while leading my own team at Gentex. I can’t always control if a machine goes down, or if life outside of work is not going well for someone on my team, but I can control how I approach those interactions with them. I can bring energy and enthusiasm to the floor and use this particular strength to benefit our team culture.

Miranda DeKuiper: Engineering and manufacturing are fields that require a large amount of grit, tenacity, and attention to detail. Problems may require you to have many attempts to perfect your technique or design. The tenacity to keep after it until you’ve achieved your max potential is something that translates both in basketball and in life. Those who are willing to get in extra shots or ask for feedback or study the scouting reports are the same ones who are particularly resourceful and creative in the workplace. Other than that I would say learning how to find the role that you need to play to help the team to be successful is critically important. When someone new joins your work team, the whole dynamic shifts and you adjust to whatever is required to help the team be successful. I’m sure every student-athlete can relate to that at the beginning of every season or when an unfortunate injury occurs and someone must step up and adjust. 

How has your competitive drive in basketball translated to your career? 

​Miranda DeKuiper: Competitiveness is an inherent quality for most college athletes I would imagine! It actually took me a bit to make sure that I redefined what “winning” was post-Hope, however. The goal was not to beat other people any longer, it became beating the manufacturing scoreboard or beating team goals. At times, my competitive nature could be misdirected — essentially my own stat line was more important than the team ‘W’ — so, once I got my priorities straightened out, the competitive drive became one of my greatest assets. 

Jess Moorman: Hope WBB has a Win Everything (WE) mentality. It means that in everything you do, you should strive to win. While playing at Hope, we were told to compete every day. Whether you were competing against yourself, your teammates, or your components, we were expected to leave everything we had on the floor. In my career today, I do my best to uphold the WE attitude. I compete with myself to grow and learn a little bit more every day. My team and I compete to hit our goals and be the best we can be. The WE mentality showed me that if you compete in every situation and strive to win, good things will follow.

How has being a leader at Hope translated to your leadership role at Gentex? 

Jess Moorman: While at Hope, I was able to learn of the many different qualities that make a successful leader. Qualities like empathy, communication, and gratitude are just some of the attributes that make a leader great. I consider myself very fortunate to have been a leader for our basketball team. Although the goals of my Hope team were different from the goals of my Gentex team, it is important to know that I can lead in the same way. I can still show empathy to the ones around me. I can still give thanks and credit where it is due. I can do my best to communicate effectively. Leading at Hope has taught me lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Miranda DeKuiper: I was fortunate to have great captains throughout my time at Hope, and you get exposed to different types of leaders each year on the team. Then you begin to develop your own style as a leader, and it prepared me for the less glamorous side of leadership. It’s the genuine care for your teammates on and off the court, the tough conversations, and taking responsibility for outcomes that translate most easily. So often at work, just as on a team, it’s not about the skill set that a team has, but the chemistry. Knowing how to assemble that in such a way that provides the best results is such a fun endeavor. 

What inspired you to pursue your career in the first place? Is there somebody in your life who has been an inspiration to you? 

Miranda DeKuiper: Perhaps not necessarily a career in engineer, but a career in leadership in a male-dominated field — Coach Hackert (Dina Disney). I had the fortune to play for Coach Hackert in high school, and she had a confidence and swagger to her that I hadn’t seen in other women who coached at the time. She reveled in beating the guys and didn’t hold back. She always had tough conversations and held high expectations while having a huge heart for her players. I’ve always admired her ability to connect with her players and put together a foolproof strategy. Those skills apply to any field and planted a seed with me to want to be able to have the same impact on others one day that she had on me. Additionally, it definitely helps to channel a little bit of Coach Hackert swagger some days in a male-dominated field like engineering!

Jess Moorman: My dad is a big reason why I am in the position I am today. Growing up, he was always fixing things around the house, and I loved to help. I loved watching him take things apart and put them back together. I learned how to solve problems from him. That is one of the main reasons that I decided to pursue engineering. My dad has always worked hard, both at work and in life. Watching his hard work turn into success has been a great inspiration for me. I am incredibly grateful to have him as my dad and I hope to leave an influence on others the same way he has influenced me.

What is it like working full-time with or for the same company as another Hope women’s basketball alum?

Jess Moorman: Playing basketball for four years at Hope was such an important time in my life. I learned so much about myself and also grew tremendously as an individual. With this different stage of my life, I am really lucky to work with someone who has gone through the same experiences I have. Miranda has not only been a great mentor to me but being able to relate to her on a Hope Women’s Basketball level has been very special. Not many people know and understand what it’s like to be a part of the Hope WBB program and it is comforting knowing that someone who does, is close by. Miranda was a great player at Hope and is a great leader at Gentex. I am very fortunate to have that connection in my career. 

Miranda DeKuiper: It’s great! There’s a common language and set of experiences we can both relate to, which is even cooler considering we were not at Hope at the same time so the tradition transcends classes. Jess and I have different styles and will no doubt take our own unique career paths, but I’ll certainly always be there in her corner championing her! Hope plays, Hope wins! 

Community and Inclusion Through Sport

This week marks the fourth annual NCAA Diversity & Inclusion social media campaign, and NCAA schools across the nation are using sports as a platform to create dialogue surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

At Hope College, we believe that sport offers powerful experiences for education and personal development. As individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, the communities of which we are a part of can be our biggest strengths and sources of support. The communities that are formed through sport offer our student-athletes and coaches a space to learn and grow together. 

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion offers additional support and resources for the Hope College community. Follow the Hope College Center for Diversity and Inclusion on Instagram for the latest updates: instagram.com/hopecollegecdi

Members of the Hope College Athletics coaching staff share how experiences and perspectives are shaped by the community and inclusion developed through sport.

Hope College track and field coach Kevin Cole talks with his team during the 2019 MIAA Outdoor Championships.

Kevin Cole, Head Track & Field Coach 

Track and field is a sport that is uniquely positioned to prepare student-athletes for their future endeavors because of its dual nature as both a team sport and an individual sport. Athletes can experience the exhilaration of standing on the top of the podium alone and also of taking a victory lap with 60 other people who have shared their dreams and goals and helped each other achieve heights (metaphorically and literally) that they could not have achieved alone.  

Seldom in life outside of athletics are we rewarded for mindless dedication to a team or conversely for an ego-driven drive for personal glory. Rather, we are most successful when we strike a balance between these two dichotomies and sacrifice some of ourselves for the good of the team, while also maintaining the special qualities that make us unique and contribute to the huge advances of which we are capable as humans. 

While these thoughts are not likely in the forefront of most track athletes’ minds as they are training and competing, they do contribute to the wide diversity in thoughts, attitudes, backgrounds, talents and even physical features of a championship track and field team. The Hope College student-athletes that I have worked with have been exceptional at utilizing this diversity to achieve more than they ever could alone and I am confident that it will serve them well in all their future triumphs outside of the sporting arena.”

Hope College volleyball coach Becky Schmidt shouts instructions from the bench during a 2019 NCAA Tournament game.

Becky Schmidt, Head Volleyball Coach 

“For me, we spend so much time trying to build cohesion in team sports that sometimes it washes out the value of difference on our teams.  If a team has 6 people on it and all of them have the exact same skill set, then 5 of those people are redundant. We need to appreciate that much like skill sets, a diversity of perspectives and experience can bring about so much greater potential of a group of people. But, respecting and honoring diversity within athletics should not happen just because it leads to more productive or industrious groups, it should be honored because it is the right thing to do when living into the community with others. It may make the process more challenging and the process for growth might have a steeper curve, but we shouldn’t shy away from those challenges in educational, co-curricular sport.  It may, indeed, be where its greatest value is found.

We support diversity on our teams when we seek out the opinions and perspectives of those whose voices are not the loudest. We support diversity by empathizing with the experiences of those on our teams who have had different lived experiences and by proactively respecting their differences. We support diversity by doing a lot of listening but by also creating an environment where everyone is empowered to speak. We support diversity by appreciating that the differences in our perspectives and experiences bring value to our team as a whole.”

Hope College women's basketball coach Brian Morehouse exchanges high-fives on the bench at DeVos Fieldhouse during a 2020 MIAA Tournament game.

Brian Morehouse, Head Women’s Basketball Coach 

“A team requires a group to both bend to what is best for the team and celebrate the differences we all have. This is what makes us more powerful. Diversity on a team is the inclusion of all with no strings attached. When we take the time to learn from our different backgrounds and experiences, it helps us work towards the common goal of being a highly functioning team. I believe that you should be able to maintain your unique identity and feel valued in it. Understanding the identities represented on a team helps to maximize the ability of the group.”

Winter and Spring Student-Athletes Take Part in Leadership Development Retreat

Earlier this fall, 40 Hope College student-athletes headed off campus to Camp Geneva on the shores of Lake Michigan to participate in a Leadership Development Retreat.

Winter and spring sport athletes engaged in conversations surrounding the attributes of servant leaders and had the opportunity to hear from a variety of coaches and staff members. During the 24 hours, the group was together, athletes were inspired and equipped to grow in their leadership with their teams.

This retreat was the fifth conducted in partnership between Hope Athletics and the Hope College Center for Leadership (CFL). Click here to learn more about the Leadership Development Program at Hope College.  Hope Athletics will continue to partner with CFL in February 2022 when fall sport athletes will have the opportunity to attend a Leadership Development Retreat.

Four student-athletes share what they gained from the experience.

Haley Bennett, Softball

Haley Bennett poses for a portrait.
Haley Bennett

“This retreat gave me a special opportunity to not only learn about servant leadership but to be surrounded by other athletes whose coaches believe they have strong potential to be a good leader on their team. I get the chance to take back what I learned to my team and hopefully watch it change Hope Softball for the better and maybe even inspire others to lead well too.”

Clayton Dykhouse, Men’s Basketball

Clayton Dykhouse dribbles up the court at DeVos Fieldhouse.
Clayton Dykhouse

“The most valuable part of the retreat for me was connecting with other student-athletes on different teams. The different perspectives and goals shared were awesome to hear. I was inspired to lead through the different speakers, coaches, and being surrounded by other like-minded athletes. This was a really really powerful opportunity and something that I am very blessed to have experienced! 

Libby Strotman, Women’s Track & Field

Libby Strotman throws the javelin.
Libby Strotman

“The most valuable part of the retreat for me was getting to talk to and meet student-athletes from different sports that are sophomores like me. I joined track and field partway into second semester of my freshman year and, having never been on an individualized team sport, it was a lot different than what I knew. During the retreat, I was in a group with two swimmers and it was nice to talk to them about how to support teammates. 

This retreat inspired me to lead by example and to be there for my teammates. In one of the talks, we heard about being a ‘5-minute friend’ and this really spoke to me. I will use this as a leader by being there and showing my teammates that they can depend on me to be there when they need me, in 5 minutes or less.”

Ben Catton, Men’s Swimming

Ben Catton poses for a portrait.
Ben Catton

“The most valuable part of this trip for me was getting to hear from all of these coaches who have a crazy amount of intelligence and experience when it comes to leadership. I’m a person who loves to learn from those around me and will use those resources to the fullest capabilities.

What I am most excited to bring back to my team is the new understanding of the different kinds of leaders. Every single person has a specific strength and weakness when it comes to leadership, I’m very excited to take that new understanding and apply it to my team.”

Hope College student-athletes work on an activity together during their Leadership Development Retreat.

Title IX at 50: Women’s Soccer Coach Leigh Sears

Editor’s Note: On June 23, 1972, a federal civil rights law was passed that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding. Title IX also gave girls and women the equal opportunity to compete in sports across the country.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passing next summer, Hope College Athletics will share the memories and perspectives from Hope College student-athletes, coaches, and alumnae on the 9th of each month during the school year. In our second installment, Hope College women’s soccer student-athletes pay tribute to head coach Leigh Sears, a cancer survivor.

Cancer Survivor

“When I think of Leigh, I see a strong, resilient, and beautiful woman who overcame one of the toughest things anyone could go through. Through her battle with cancer, she continued to put others before herself and pour into our team. She is a continuous inspiration to me, as she fought tirelessly and came out the other side healthy!” — Senior Hannah Mitroff


“I can sincerely say that Leigh is one of the best coaches that I have ever had. She not only pushes you to be the best player on the field but also pushes you to be best that you can be in life. Her compassion and kindness extends to every single person on the team regardless of their role and her dedication and love for Hope women’s soccer is truly one of the main reasons our program is strong as it is.” — Sophomore Jenna Mustapha


“Leigh is a lot of things, an educator being one of them. Education and learning are really important to her. I’ve taken a class with her and it’s fun to see her in that setting and see how she cares for students as well as her athletes. She always tells us school comes first. If we have a class conflict we go to class before going to practice. I think that she prepares us well on the emphasis of how important education is and I am beyond thankful for that.” — Junior Cassidy Broekhuizen  

Role Model

“Leigh is an incredible role model because she has this innate ability to empower everyone around her. She is everything you want in a role model – she’s kind but stern when she needs to be, incredibly strong and courageous throughout every struggle she encounters, and she’s intentional in making the people around her feel loved, cared for, and seen. I am so lucky to have had these last four years to look up to her.” — Senior Sarah Mikesell

Title IX at 50: Hope Volleyball Coach Becky Schmidt ’99

Editor’s Note: On June 23, 1972, a federal civil rights law was passed that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding. Title IX also gave girls and women the equal opportunity to compete in sports across the country.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passing next summer, Hope College Athletics will share the memories and perspectives from Hope College student-athletes, coaches, and alumnae on the 9th of each month during the school year. In our first installment, we hear from Hope College Volleyball head coach Becky Schmidt ’99. The Flying Dutch’s first volleyball All-American also received an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship as a student-athlete. In 2014, Schmidt guided her alma mater to its first national title in NCAA Division III volleyball.

Becky Schmidt poses for a portrait.
Becky Schmidt

In 1988, I was in the eighth grade and saw a sign posted in the school hallway announcing tryouts for the school’s soccer team.  At the time, I loved soccer and eagerly awaited the tryout opportunity.  As I arrived in the gym after school for tryouts, I waited in line with all of the other kids trying out for the team. 

I was the only girl in the line.  Apparently, it hadn’t occurred to the administration to designate the tryouts as being for the boys team.  I hung around for a little while but after dealing with some taunting and mocking from the boys in line I decided it wasn’t worth it.  I walked the hallways of the school and cried.  A principal at the school saw me and asked what was wrong. I managed to muster an explanation through my tears of disappointment.

What does Title IX mean to me?  It means opportunity — the chance to compete in a sport that has given me some of my best friends and taught me countless lessons about perseverance, toughness, teamwork, and leadership.  It means knowing that my teammates and I matter — that our passion and interests were as worthy as anyone else’s.  It means appreciating the courage and drive that so many women before Title IX showed as they pursued their dreams despite inequitable challenges.  It means helping to make sure that today’s female student-athletes never take for granted the amazing opportunities they have in front of them. 

Head coach Becky Schmidt talks to her team during a timeout.
Head coach Becky Schmidt talks to her team during a timeout.

I like to think that if I’d been born 20 years earlier, I would have been one of those pioneering women who fought against the inequities experienced by so many female student-athletes (or women who wanted to join science clubs as Title IX protects access to all educational opportunities). 

The year after I ran away from that soccer tryout our school started a girls soccer team.  It wasn’t because I started a campaign or led any protests.  It wasn’t because my parents complained until more opportunities for girls were available at the school.  That middle school added a girls soccer team the next year because the process of developing Title IX and enforcing it had changed the lens through which our school administrators saw educational opportunities for girls — and when there was an unmet need they felt compelled to act.  It didn’t take the threat of a lawsuit, but there is not a doubt in my mind that it was the law that helped change the way women’s sports were valued.  

In 2014, we took the Hope Volleyball team to compete in a tournament in Washington DC.  We were able to spend a morning touring the National Archives and one of the documents we came across was the original draft of Title IX. 

When I saw it, my mind took me right back to that hallway in middle school and my eyes filled with tears.  But this time it was also accompanied by a smile reflecting how thankful I am for how far we have come.