Leaping and Diving by Faith

Competitive divers are notorious for launching their bodies into the air with reckless abandon, trusting that hours of practice and muscle memory will result in flawless timing, placement, and form, and ease them into the pool with the slightest hint of a splash. For Hope College sophomore Kamaron Wilcox of Grand Rapids (Forest Hills Central), hurling his body off a bouncy composite springboard to contort into twists and backflips evokes no fear because he places his trust not just in his own abilities but rather in something much bigger: his faith.

Just last weekend, Wilcox claimed two MIAA titles; first taking the 1-meter board event with 447.60 points and achieving an NCAA regional cut, and then winning the 3-meter board scoring 474.65 points. He also walked away from the meet with Hope’s first-ever MIAA Most Valuable Diver award.  What makes his accomplishments all the more impressive is that Wilcox stepped foot on a competitive diving board for the first time last year.

How did he go from diving newbie to diving champion in just a year? It’s an ascent as incredible as it is improbable, thanks to Health Dynamics, hard work and providence.

One day during the fall of 2018, Wilcox decided to cool off in the Dow Center pool after his Health Dynamics workout and have a little fun, too. Knowing that doing tricks off the boards wasn’t allowed for students who weren’t on the diving team, Wilcox let the lifeguard know he was a gymnast and had been flipping and training on the trampoline most of his life. 

How did he go from diving newbie to diving champion in just a year? It’s an ascent as incredible as it is improbable, thanks to Health Dynamics, hard work and providence.

When he noticed head swimming and diving coach Jake Taber standing on deck, he says, “I didn’t know what he would say because he was a coach and I didn’t know if he’d be stricter on the rules. I was doing some double backflips off the one meter and I saw Taber looking at me after I did one of those. I thought to myself, ‘Oh no, he’s going to tell me to stop so I should probably do something easier that requires more control.’ I decided to do a backflip with a twist. It’s all so funny now because Taber walked right over to me and rather than yelling, he said ‘I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but who are you?’ I told him my name and we started talking and he asked if I would ever consider joining the diving team… I said sure!”

Now holding two MIAA titles and a major league award, Wilcox believes his success did not happen by chance.  In fact, he feels as though nothing in his life has happened by chance, especially his decision to come to Hope. Considering Hope College was the last school on his mind when applying to larger universities with larger physics programs, Wilcox knows that God was behind it all.

But he took a giant leap of faith and came to Hope because he felt immediately welcomed by a strong faith-based community. He is currently studying physics and mathematics while doing research for Dr. Jennifer Hampton, professor of physics, and considers his lab group his second family. “It’s like Professor Hampton is mom and all of the other people in the lab are each other’s siblings,” describes Wilcox, who is an MIAA Academic Honor Roll honoree (meaning he has a cumulative GPA os higher than 3.5). After the news of Wilcox’s accomplishments at the MIAA Championships broke last weekend, his physics department family were the first to retweet his success. 

Though Wilcox has only been a member of the team for two years, diving coach Rebecca Garza shares that he has already stepped up and taken on a leadership role on the team. And just like he has with the physics department, Kamaron treats his teammates like family. “I think he brings his outside (perspective) onto the pool deck, so it helps the team feel more like a family,” Garza says. “He checks in with people and he asks how he can pray for you. He’s a well-rounded athlete and I never have to worry about his relationship with the team.”

With just two years’ experience, Wilcox has catapulted himself to the top. Yet he doesn’t take his leap, entry and landing at Hope lightly.

“I attribute this to God,” he says. “Bringing me to Hope and then joining the diving team was part of His plan for me.”

When asked how he feels about being a two-time league champion, Wilcox answers graciously. “I think the most profound thing that I felt after (receiving the award) was simply just feeling the same. I still felt human. I was praying a lot for God to just humble me and not let it go to my head. And he did exactly that. He was showing me exactly where I had failed in my life and showing me how much I needed to rely on Him and how little of that was me. I just happened to be the one on the boards at that time.”  

With the fundamentals laid during his years as a gymnast and the foundation of his faith, the potential for Kam Wilcox’s success this weekend at regionals, and next two years at Hope, appears to be boundless.

30 Million Yards and Counting

Senior Paula Nolte in the breaststroke. Photo by Lynne Powe

In any sport, mental strength is just as important as physical prowess. For swimmers, this is especially true considering a substantial amount of time is spent underwater, in individual lanes, allowing for hours of solitary thought to focus on the task at hand. For Hope College senior Paula Nolte of Elmhurst, Illinois (York Community HS), time spent in deep thought has never been an issue: in fact, she thrives on it. 

MIAA Swimming and Diving Championship Website

As a three-time defending MIAA champion in the 200-yard breaststroke, an esteemed student-researcher, a soon-to-be published author, and an impending graduate with a biology major and chemistry minor, Nolte has shown that it’s possible to be extremely successful in both academics and athletics. Just after her sophomore year, during the summer of 2018, she completed an internship through the National Science Foundation working alongside Dr. Frank Smith at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. The project studied gut gene expression during embryonic development in tardigrades (a microscopic organism that’s closely related to arthropods, or insects) as part of Smith’s ongoing research in the evolutionary development field. 

When her research with Dr. Frank Smith came to a close, Nolte immediately took on a new challenge, participating in biology research at Hope throughout her junior year into the summer of 2019. She worked in the lab of Dr. Phillip Rivera, associate professor of biology, investigating ways in which longer space flight could potentially impact astronauts by simulating space radiation using the Pelletron accelerator in the physics lab. The project studied how radiation exposure would impact cognition and behavior in mice. Now due to her research in both Dr. Smith’s and Dr. Rivera’s labs, manuscripts are in the works, making Nolte an undergraduate published author.

Although highly involved and successful student-athlete, it has not been easy for Nolte. Her sophomore and junior years were very difficult, leading her to consider ending her swimming career. With multiple science classes, research, her responsibilities as a teaching assistant (TA), and the rigors of collegiate swimming, the pace of life became overwhelming. Coincidentally, her exercise-induced asthma, diagnosed when she was a child, reappeared. Nolte took two summers off from training to reset and reconsider her life path.

Nolte, center, cheers on her Hope teammates. Photo by Steven Herppich

What helped her to find her way? In the summer of 2019, prior to her senior year, she chose to participate in one of Hope’s SEED (Sport Evangelism to Equip Disciples) trips to the Dominican Republic. Hope partners with Sawyer Products, a company that specializes in outdoor protection supplies (water filtration being one of them) to make SEED possible. With funds provided by Sawyer, groups of student-athletes travel to five global locations to spread God’s word through service and play. The trip to the DR changed Nolte’s personal and career trajectory. “There is a new part of me that I definitely did not think I would be discovering at this point in my life,” she says. “This has been a strange year, but a good one.” 

No longer enthralled with lab work, Nolte now has a new interest in the realm of public health. This change in career path means long research hours are no longer required and has decreased her workload significantly. With a lighter schedule, Nolte has been able to refocus on one of the most important things in her life: swimming.

Coach Jake Taber says, “Paula is just incredibly bright and highly capable, and her involvement in the things that she’s done in the research is inspiring. But when you get to know her as an athlete, she’s still so analytical. She always wants to know what her stroke looks like; she talks about how it feels, how it’s setting up, where her timing is, if that’s where it should be. I feel like she is somebody that understands the sport better than most.” 

Understanding the sport on a deeper level has helped to develop her stroke and make her an even greater threat in the pool. In this MIAA Championship week, Nolte is set to defend her title as a three-time champ in the 200-yard breaststroke.

Regarding the future, Nolte hopes “to be working as an epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and monitoring infectious disease both abroad and in the U.S., or working as a public health officer, helping countries who experienced natural disasters and the health issues that go along with those.”  

With her sharp intellect and incredible work ethic, the doors of opportunity for Nolte appear wide open. In the over 30 million yards that Nolte has estimated she has swam in her lifetime, she has silently allowed her mind to explore and analyze the possibilities that lie ahead.

An Impressive, If Occasionally Broken, Body of Work

Dan Clyde in the butterfly. Photo by Steven Herppich

Most athletes train to compete against other athletes. For Hope College senior Daniel Clyde of Ann Arbor, Michigan (Huron HS), who has had collapsed lungs and a subsequent surgery, a concussion, a dislocated elbow and fractured bone, diagnosis of vasovagal syncope and narcolepsy, as well as ongoing back pains, his fiercest opponent has been his own body.

The litany of injury and surgical setbacks he has had to face are as fierce as his determination to overcome them. Despite the adversity, Clyde was still able to set three records leading up to his senior year. He currently holds the MIAA record in the 400-yard individual medley (3:57.14) and also set school records in the 200 IM (1:50.87) and 400 IM (3:57.14). 

MIAA Swimming and Diving Championship Website

Shortly after making the decision to swim competitively for Hope while pursuing a degree in biology, Clyde sustained the fourth concussion of his young life while body surfing in Lake Michigan. While viewing his CT scan, the doctors discovered that part of his C-5 vertebrae was missing. Clyde was immediately confined to a neck brace for four weeks. On top of that, just four weeks later, he experienced his first collapsed lung; and more were to follow.. Obviously, it was not the ideal way to start his collegiate swimming career.

His sophomore year Clyde got through the season free of major injury. But then during his junior year at Hope, after his fourth collapsed lung, he went to see a surgeon in Ann Arbor who determined that he couldn’t afford any more lung failures; he scheduled surgery that week when staples were inserted to ensure his lungs would stay in place. Although the surgery went smoothly, his body sustained a severe allergic reaction to the skin prep that had been applied. The reaction took over the entire left side of his torso, front and back, causing inflammation accompanied by a fluid-filled rash preventing his body from scabbing for three weeks. Scar tissue build up also prevented him from lifting his arm, making swimming very difficult, especially since Clyde swims the individual medley, an event containing every stroke. 

The summer before his senior year, Clyde made a complete recovery and came back to Hope in the best shape of his life, he says. But — you guessed it — not two weeks in, he sustained another injury, a dislocated elbow and a fractured bone caused by a playful wrestling match with one of his fellow teammates. Clyde recalls making the long trek to Coach Taber’s office “and, before opening my mouth, Coach asked, ‘How long are you out?’” he recalls. It took six weeks for Clyde to fully recover. Though he still deals with lower back pain and elbow issues,, this was the last of his injuries. He hopes…and prays. The MIAA Swimming and Diving Championships start on Wednesday and Clyde plans on defending his titles as league champ in the 200 butterfly and the 400 IM.

Although his collegiate swimming career has been wrought with frustration, his difficulties have also ignited a fire and a drive to overcome them. When asked how he has dealt with the adversity, Clyde states, “It’s given me an edge. It’s like you’re never going to feel like ‘Oh, I’m on top of the world and I can’t be beaten’ when your own body is beating you. Every time I come back, it gives me more motivation, like I have something to prove. Not to anybody else but for myself, because I’m not going to let myself get beaten by whatever goes wrong along the way.” 

Clyde and Paula Nolte cheer on their teammates. Photo by Steven Herppich

Coach Jake Taber agrees: “With Dan, it’s not, how do I motivate him to go out and work hard. It’s almost, how do I protect him from himself at times. Dan’s biggest opponent and critic is himself, yet even in his darkest hours, he leads the team selflessly. But, you know, I think Dan has done a nice job of recognizing when he’s had limitations.”

Even though Clyde has spent a significant amount of time out of the pool unable to train along his teammates, his role as captain and leader of the team has not diminished. Through it all, he has committed to be on deck at practices, even when he cannot swim or train, and refuses to miss a meet whether he is able to compete, or not. He explains that he’s always made it a goal of his to be more important to the team outside of the water than in the water; to keep a positive atmosphere going.

Clyde states that he is there for his team because, “I know all too well how quickly a sport can be taken from you and if I put all of my own worth into how much I’m doing athletically for myself instead of what am I doing for the rest of the team, it would be a lot harder every time I got injured.” 

With the MIAA Championships this week, Clyde feels his healthiest in a long time. Since he joined the team freshman year, his biggest goal in the pool has been to qualify a relay team to nationals. That may happen. But when all is said and done at Hope outside of the pool, Clyde plans on taking a gap year following graduation with plans of pursuing a PhD in ecology or parasitology. 

From the Athletic Director

Portrait of Tim Schoonveld

Dear Friends and Family of Hope College Athletics,

At our opening athletics coach/staff meeting this fall, new President Matthew A. Scogin ’02 spoke these words from Isaiah over our entire department:

 “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19

Those words, and President Scogin’s subsequent message to us, sparked an excitement for a number of new things. A new athletic year. A new academic year. A new presidency. A new era. And, now this new publication. With this first edition of Orange and Blue Illustrated, we hope you too appreciate the start of the latest way we get to tell the many new and exciting stories that happen every day in Hope College Athletics. 

As an athletic department, we hold strong to our mission of academic success, competitive excellence and transformational experiences for every one of our 541 student-athletes. We expect them to excel in the classroom and graduate. We expect our teams to do their very best to win games, competitions and championships. We expect to transform the lives of our student-athletes and staff because of what we do here day in and day out. I am so honored to be a part of the team that values these expectations. This is an amazing place!

In the following pages, you will witness for yourself the transformation that goes on each and every day at Hope and in Hope Athletics. Two student-athletes who are able to compete on multiple teams because of our commitment to the NCAA Division III philosophy. An entire team that serves at the West Michigan Miracle League, where members strive to give to others but in reality, have their lives profoundly impacted instead. Student-athletes who discover, dedicate and develop excellence in their academic pursuit of nursing. New head coaches who seek to do more than win, they plan to make a difference in their student-athletes’ lives. You’ll read how student-athletes engage in life-altering international sport ministry trips through our SEED program and how internships resulted. And, we catch up with some outstanding athlete-alumni who have put their Hope diplomas to great use and are changing the world one life at a time.

We hope that you are inspired by the things that God is doing here at Hope. Enjoy our first issue of Orange and Blue. We are honored to do the work we do as we seek to transform lives for Jesus Christ through athletics. Thank you for being a part of our team!

Be Strong. Be True.

Go Hope!

Tim Schoonveld 96
Athletic Director

The Bigger Picture

Claire Hallock and Amanda Bandrowski playing doubles tennis
Photograph by Lynne Powe ’86

Masterminds Beyond the Net

Seniors Amanda Bandrowski (right) and Claire Hallock (left) have been a formidable force for the Hope women’s tennis team since they set foot in the Etheridge Tennis Complex as freshmen. Each plays at one of the top-two singles spots and together they play No. 1 doubles. Their Hope résumés speak volumes of athletic and academic achievement: Bandrowski was the MIAA MVP in 2018, Hallock earned that honor in 2019; both are two-time MIAA Academic Honor Roll honorees and three-time MIAA league champs; and, both spent their summer of 2019 working on their futures — Bandrowski interned at the USTA National Center in Orlando, Florida, while Hallock conducted research at Hope on solar-cell technology. When the 2020 season starts for the Flying Dutch tennis team in February, the dynamic duo will look to simultaneously achieve one more thing: They’ll chase the career-best singles record for Hope women’s tennis, currently owned by Audrey Coates ’97 Akland (87-17). At the time of Orange and Blue Illustrated’s publication, Bandrowski’s singles record was 81-13; Hallock’s was 76-12.

Basketball player Preston Granger falls to the sideline
Photograph by Steven Herppich

Help a Guy Out?

Basketball student-athlete Preston Granger was down but not out in a game at Hope’s DeVos Fieldhouse last season. The junior center’s hustle landed him temporarily on the sideline where he received a little help from his friends in the front row, as well as from thousands of cheering Hope fans throughout the arena. That kind of support is a DeVos Fieldhouse norm for Granger and his teammates — and for the Hope College women’s basketball team, too. Since 1998-99, both the Flying Dutchmen and Flying Dutch have led NCAA Division III in average home basketball attendance. The 11-consecutive-seasons feat makes playing at home a verifiable pick-me-up.

Emma Schaefer races in the swimming individual medley
Photograph by Lynne Powe 86

Head and Shoulders Above

In the individual medley, junior Emma Schaefer has to be able do it all — butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle — and fast. Which she
does. Schaefer is the defending MIAA champion in both the 200- and 400-yard individual medley and the school record holder in the former. Yet, she is not only versatile in the pool. An MIAA Academic Honor Roll and dean’s list student-athlete from DeWitt, Michigan, who majors in exercise science and plans to attend medical school, Schaefer spent much of the summer of 2019 abroad, first studying in Austria and then serving on a Hope SEED mission trip in Zambia. 

Cole Sheffler engaged in a face-off in lacrosse
Photograph by Steven Herppich

Leading with the Face-Off

As a face-off specialist, Cole Scheffler got every game started for the 2019 Hope men’s lacrosse team. It’s a job that can be easily overlooked, but face-off specialists play a major role in getting the ball rolling, passing, shooting and scoring. Scheffler, from Rockford, Michigan, won 138-of-207 face-offs overall (66%) while going 58-for-79 (73%) in the league, so he was named to the 2019 All-MIAA First Team as a freshman for good reason. Those starts were as instrumental as goals, assists and defense in the 2019 Flying Dutchmen’s overall record (14-4), second MIAA regular-season championship, and first-ever MIAA tournament title as well as NCAA playoff berth. 

#WeAreOne: Fall Sports Roundup

 “When one wins, we all win,” Athletic Director Tim Schoonveld ’96 likes to say about Hope’s overall team culture. Since that’s the case, there were a whole lot of collective Hope victories this past fall.

Two Hope College teams won Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles, while no team finished below third place in the league during the fall of 2019. On top of that, a total of four Hope squads qualified for NCAA Division III Championships, and Hope hosted two NCAA tournament opening rounds in football and men’s soccer, to boot. 

Individually, five Hope student-athletes earned All-American honors, two more were league MVPs, and 42 total received All-MIAA accolades.

The 27th-ranked Hope College women’s cross country team won
its fifth MIAA championship in a row and qualified for the NCAA Division III Championships for the 10th consecutive year under coach Mark Northuis ’82. The Flying Dutch were led by a freshman Anna Tucker (pictured) of Midland, Michigan, who was runner-up at the MIAA Championships and finished 24th at nationals with a time of 22:00.01. The former result earned Tucker All-MIAA honors and the latter finish made her an All-American, Hope’s ninth all-time  in women’s cross country.

Anna Tucker

Tucker was joined on the All-MIAA First Team by senior Anna Frazee of Watervliet, Michigan, and senior Chelsea Miskelley and junior Jacinda Cole, both of Holland, Michigan. On the All-MIAA Second Team were: Senior Rebecca Duran of Palatine, Illinois, and senior Kelly Peregrine of Traverse City, Michigan.

The Hope College men’s cross country team ran to a tie for third place in the MIAA. The squad was led by sophomore Nick Hoffman of Holland, Michigan who earned All-MIAA Second Team honors. Hoffman finished 14th at the league meet.

Hope College football won its first MIAA championship since 2007 and first outright title since 2006 by going undefeated in league play (7-0) and claiming only its second nine-win season ever (9-2). Under AFCA Region 4 Coach of the Year Peter Stuursma ‘93, the Flying Dutchmen received an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs by virtue of their MIAA crown and played a first-round NCAA Division III Championship game at home at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium. The Flying Dutchmen lost to Wartburg College (Iowa) in that playoffs opener.

Mason Dekker

Nine Hope players were selected to the All-MIAA First Team, including dual league MVPs: Senior quarterback Mason Opple (offense) of Hudsonville, Michigan, and senior defensive back
Mason Dekker  (defense) of Holland, Michigan (pictured top) who was
also made The Associated Press NCAA Division III All-America Second Team. Joining Dekker and Opple on the MIAA First Team were: Senior defensive tackle Jake Babb of Caledonia, Michigan; senior safety Luke Beckhusen of Coldwater, Michigan; senior receiver Christian Bos of Hudsonville, Michigan; senior punter Austin Heeres of Wyoming, Michigan; sophomore running back Kenyea Houston of Chicago, Illinois; senior left tackle Timothy Ivery of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; and, senior center  Zach Smith  (pictured bottom) of Suttons Bay, Michigan. Smith was also named an AFCA and D3football.com First-Team All-American, and the winner of the Rimington Trophy as the best center in NCAA Division III.

Zach Smith

All-MIAA Second Team honorees were: Senior receiver Cooper Cecchini of Hudsonville, Michigan; senior left tackle Noah DeVelder of Grand Rapids, Michigan; junior right tackle Brady Eding of Hamilton, Michigan; junior running back Connor Mellon of Adrian, Michigan; and, sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Purnell of Wyoming, Michigan.

Both men’s and women’s golf took second place in the league. Each will host an MIAA NCAA qualifying round
in the spring due to those finishes. 

On the men’s side, head coach Scott Lokers’ Flying Dutchmen finished the fall season with a league 301.7 stroke average. Freshman Jack Crawford of Carmel, Indiana, earned All-MIAA First Team honors, while senior Daniel Settecerri of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and freshman Drew Dykens of Holland, Michigan, were awarded second-team All-MIAA honors. 

The Flying Dutch, coached by Greg Stafford, finished with a 335.0 stroke average in the MIAA. Juniors Jordyn Rioux of Livonia, Michigan, and Abby Meder of Lansing, Michigan, as well as sophomore Megan Jenkinson of Traverse City, Michigan, all received second-team All-MIAA accolades.

In men’s and women’s soccer, runner-up finishes were again achieved by two like-sport teams. The Flying Dutchmen finished with a 14-6-1 overall record, 6-1 in the league, while the Flying Dutch had a mark of 6-5-6 overall and 5-1-2 in the MIAA.

Head coach Dave Brandt’s men’s team received an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Championship, and Hope hosted the first two rounds at Van Andel Soccer Stadium for the first time ever. The Flying Dutchmen were defeated by Ohio Wesleyan University in the first round. 

Logan Bylsma

The Hope College men’s soccer trio of senior midfielder Isaac Braak of Hudsonville, Michigan, sophomore midfielder Ryan Flynn of Bloomington, Illinois, and senior defender Jordan Hooker of Grand Rapids, Michigan, claimed All-MIAA First Team honors while sophomore forward Alec Belcastro of Washington, Pennsylvania, was chosen as the MIAA Newcomer of the Year. Belcastro was among four second-team honorees, along with junior midfielder Ty Dalton of Rockford, Michigan, sophomore defender Brett Dyer of Northport, Michigan, and senior forward  Logan Bylsma  (pictured) of Hudsonville, Michigan. Bylsma was also named CoSIDA First Team Academic All-American for Division III.

In women’s soccer, four players earned
All-MIAA honors: senior midfielder Megan Bigelow of Flushing, Michigan,
and junior midfielder Maria Egloff of Kalamazoo, Michigan, on the first team, and junior forward Corinne Cole of St. Paul, Minnesota, and freshman defender Erin Powers of Norton Shores, Michigan on the second team.

Coach Becky Schmidt’s ’99 volleyball team finished runner-up  in the MIAA and received an at-large bid to the 2019 NCAA Division III Championship for the 12th time in 14 years. where the 10th-ranked Flying Dutch advanced to the regional final before bowing to host Calvin University in four sets. Volleyball finished with a 24-8 overall record, 7-1 in the league.

McKenna Otto

Sophomore middle hitter  McKenna Otto  (pictured) of Wheaton, Illinois, not only earned All-MIAA First Team honors, she was also selected as a second-team NCAA Division III All-American by the AVCA. 

Also receiving All-MIAA First Team recognition was sophomore outside hitter Ana Grunewald of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two more Flying Dutch were selected to the All-MIAA Second Team: Senior libero Gabbi Vachon of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and sophomore setter Tracy Westra of Clarendon Hills, Illinois.

Hope College is in first place in the MIAA Commissioner’s Cup all-sports standings after the fall season with a total of 64.5 points in four men’s and four women’s sports. Calvin University is second (49), while Trine University is third (48.5). The Commissioner’s Cup award is based on the cumulative performance of each member school in the league’s 23 sports — 11 in women’s sports and 12 in men’s sports, with each school counting its top eight finishes by gender. The fall update includes each school’s MIAA finish in all sports.

In the first update of the NCAA Division III Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup, Hope stands in 22nd place after the fall. Points are awarded based on each institution’s finish in NCAA Championships. Hope totaled 186 points by reaching the regional final in women’s volleyball, finishing 27th in women’s cross country and earning first round points in football and men’s soccer.

There are 446 schools in NCAA Division III.

We Do the Math

Every sport, every single one, has one thing in common — doing math. The simple act of keeping score is simple math, and in every sporting event, there is a score. Of course, many other mathematical equations make up sports calculations beyond scoring. Percentages. Averages. Totals. Comparisons. Statistical collection is the very backbone of all athletic contests and fodder for all sporty pundits to make their cases for the reasons behind winning and losing.

In “We Do the Math,” we’ll look at some unique numbers beyond scores and common statistics that give you new numeric ways to look at Hope sports. You just may find that, as American mathematician and Field Medal winner William Paul Thurston said, “mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations or algorithms; it’s about understanding.”

Up first, Hope College men’s and women’s golf, both runners up in the MIAA in 2019. Here are some idiosyncratic ways that the teams’ six-week fall season (they also play for another five weeks in the spring) added up.

Photograph of Daniel Settecerri by Lynne Powe ’86
Men’s Golf Women’s Golf
11 – Number of contests 11 – Number of contests
198 – Total holes played/golfer 198 – Total holes played/golfer
1,188 – Total holes played as a team 1,188 – Total holes played as a team
73,443 – Total yards played/golfer 63,925 – Total yards played/golfer
41.73 – Miles walked/golfer 36.32 – Miles walked/golfer
250.38 – Total miles walked as a team 217.92 – Total miles walked as a team
1,798.9 – Total van miles driven by Coach Scott Lokers ’81 1,564.4 – Total van miles driven by Coach Greg Stafford
Photograph of Abigail Meder by Lynne Powe ’86

Lessons from the Leveling Field

Claire Bates looks on as a Miracle League player gets ready to bat.
Claire Bates looks on as a Miracle League player gets ready to bat.

 “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play — clap clapclapclap — today. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today.”

John Fogerty’s rock-and-roll anthem about America’s national pastime blared from the sound system one quintessential fall day at a unique field last September. Without a second thought to the background music, children with physical and cognitive challenges — youngsters with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism, hearing or sight loss, limb differences and cancer diagnoses — put the peppy lyrics into jaunty motion. They tugged caps on heads, slipped hands to gloves, heaved neon-yellow softballs, swung aluminum bats, connected barrel to ball, and aimed their way for first base, then second, then third, onward to home. With Hope College softball student-athletes by their sides, unstoppable smiles lit their way.

At the West Michigan Miracle League (WMML), a place where “every
child deserves a chance to play,” the tune that pays rowdy tribute to baseball also does another important thing: It highlights the liberating and rejuvenating power of play, no matter one’s abilities or life circumstance. There may not be a better place in America to shout its catchy chorus.

 “Look at me … I can be … centerfield.”

Bre Nolan watches her WMML buddy throw a softball.
Bre Nolan and her WMML buddy.

Since the WMML started in 2013 in Rockford at Nate Hurwitz Field, head coach Mary VandeHoef has scheduled a fall-ball Saturday to take her Flying Dutch softball team on the 40-mile trek away from campus to give back via a sport that is as organic to them as outfield grass. Each Hope student-athlete is paired with a Miracle League child playing in one of three one-hour games. With their families in tow, the children, ages five to 18, travel in from throughout the region to band together and play a beloved game that strengthens their social bonds, self-esteem and physical coordination. It is an inclusive experience for them to feel valued and seen.

Everything at WMML is ADA-compliant, from field to dugout accessibility. Bases are sewn into the artificial turf so wheelchairs or walkers have no hindrances on the base paths. The rest of the field has true Little League dimensions and aura, though, right down to the advertisers in the outfield and an enthusiastic PA announcer.

Waves of applause and appreciation fall over them, and they are covered in a uniform of delight. And while they are, though they don’t know it, the WMML kids are imparting life lessons to college students. It’s a profound paradox that plays out quite regularly on this field of miracles.

Hands over hearts, players and volunteers begin every game in proper seriousness with the national anthem, and then with the next diamond- related tradition. “Let’s play ball” jump-starts unbridled exuberance. Every WMML child — with varying degrees of help from their Hope buddies — bats, gets on base, scores and plays a position in the field. The positive energy they emit lets off enough wattage to light up the scoreboard.

And that scoreboard, at the end of each of the two innings shows a tie ballgame between teams that take on the names of colleges favored by WMML coaches in the fall — MSU Spartans, CMU Chippewas, Ole Miss Rebels, Hope Flying Dutch, for example — and Major League Baseball teams in the spring. For posterity, the stretch between the first and second inning includes a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” 

Through it all, WMML children are taught, encouraged and cheered again and again by their coaches, their families, their buddies. They soak in that affirmation every time a ball is hit, fielded and thrown; every time a base is reached and a run is scored. Waves of applause and appreciation fall over them, and they are covered in a uniform of delight. And while they are, though they don’t know it, the WMML kids are imparting life lessons to college students. It’s a profound paradox that plays out quite regularly on this field of miracles.

All players lined up for the national anthem.
Before “Let’s play ball,” the national anthem.

The same glove junior centerfielder Jo Cook uses to snag towering fly balls or screaming line drives at Hope’s Wolters Stadium is the same glove that she uses to patiently help her Miracle League buddies scoop up grounders that may slowly roll their way. Its leathery power is in its versatility to be used whenever and wherever it’s needed, whether on a college field or on a smaller one, just like Cook herself.

“Miracle League brings into perspective several important things in my life,” says the nursing major. “These kids teach me to be joyful for all that I have, even the little things, even the trials. They teach me to not take a day for granted. And they remind me that God gave me these athletic abilities to use at Hope but also to use to help others.”

Jo Cook and her WMML buddy talk strategy.
Jo Cook and her WMML buddy talk strategy.

Cook then pauses just a bit, collects up another insight as if loading up that helpful glove and adds, “Honestly, when I think about it, the Miracle League kids are using their abilities to help me, too. They show me that this sport that I love to play might have frustrating practices or games at times, but that shouldn’t matter. I do this because I love it, just like they do.”

Like little Louie, one Miracle League child, does. Though non-verbal, Louie expresses his joy to Cook through physical communication. His movements display a transparent happiness to be right where he is. He lightly touches the ball, touches Cook’s hand, touches her hair. Then he smiles, returns his focus to the game, and Cook understands his gladness in that moment. And she is happy, too. Joy sometimes needs no words, just a game to play and a person to share it with.

For junior Claire Bates, Miracle League day is one she looks forward to every fall because it connects with her Christian calling, personally and academically. A social work major, Bates sees much of her volunteering time through the lens of her faith — “We’re called to be the hands and feet of the Lord and this is one clear way that we can do that” — and her soon-to-be profession — “one that focuses on building strengths to help clients create solutions.” 

Halle Carpenter and a WMML player rounding for home
Rounding for home

“I think Miracle League is a beautiful example of that [vocational
philosophy] because they’re looking at what kids can do and celebrating that and never really looking at their limitations,” Bates says.

“I think it really just comes down to appreciating and recognizing our able-bodied privilege. Miracle League makes me think how we can play this sport in a way that honors it and appreciates it in a much deeper fashion. — Claire Bates

Then, like Cook did earlier, Bates stops to think more intently
about how much the Miracle League children make a difference
in her life, now and into a future that she will spend in service
to others. What she articulates is a profundity beyond most 20-year-olds’ years.

 “I think it really just comes down to appreciating and recognizing
our able-bodied privilege,” she says. “Miracle League makes me think how we can play this sport in a way that honors it and appreciates it in a much deeper fashion. Like Jo said, when we do have bad days at practice or when there’s just rough plays in a game, at the end of the day, we still get to play a sport that we love completely. It just brings a whole new gratefulness.”

A WMML player gives a happy high five to a Hope player
Happy high five

From Hope teammate to Hope teammate, Miracle League player to Miracle League player, evidence and expressions of gratitude abound. As they are, Acts 20:35 — “It is more blessed to give than receive” — gets pitched a curveball. Who are actually the ones giving? Who is doing the receiving? Coach VandeHoef knows the answers to those questions full well.

 “We always leave feeling we received more than we gave, and that’s a pretty special feeling,” she confirms.

Cayley Ebeling and Avery Slancik run the bases with their buddy

Cayley Ebeling (left) and Avery Slancik (right) run the bases with their buddy

Other Hope teams, organizations and alumni volunteer at WMML — the women’s basketball team, the baseball team, the men’s basketball team, the SIB sorority, and grads Don Kent ’19 and Bob Dame ’83 — and each are as enthusiastic about their service there as the softball squad. WMML co-founder and commissioner Tony Comden of Zeeland, Michigan, values the league’s partnership with Hope, an
association that started with the league’s beginning. “We love how Hope students love on our kids,” says Comden.  “They are amazing representatives of the college.” 

Hope’s participation has influenced other MIAA teams to take part at Miracle League, too. Word has spread; volunteering there is a contagious exercise. “Too many volunteers and not enough parking — those are nice problems for a non-profit to have,” Comden adds.

“We love how Hope students love on our kids,” says Tony Comden.  “They are amazing representatives of the college.” 

After the end of day of service, the Flying Dutch walk to that full parking lot after packing up their gear at the field. Animated still, they share stories and laughter, piling slowly into their cars for the hour drive back to Hope. It is clear that it will take a long time for their Miracle League cheer to fade. Maybe it never will. Sophomore Whitney Wegener, for one, knows she’s made memories and learned lessons at WMML that will last her lifetime.

“Here, there might be challenges connecting verbally or physically, but it’s just about being in the moment,” Wegener says. “Then, the disability disappears, and we are all just kids at play. It’s a leveling field here. We’re all really the same deep down.” 

With those last seven words, Wegener rips the cover off the essence of Miracle League play. They are words as sweet and true as a homerun lifted straight toward the heart of centerfield.

Photographs by Steven Herppich

Water for Learning and Life

Joey Dawson and Megan Bigelow pose for a portrait with Sawyer filters by a drinking fountain

In 2018, Hope student-athletes Megan Bigelow and
Joey Dawson were demonstrating to communities in Ghana how a simple filter could turn filthy mop water into crystal-clear, drinkable water. One year later, they were assembling the filters themselves — just a small part of their internships at Sawyer Products, a company that makes water filtration systems and other outdoor products

Whether in Sawyer’s air-conditioned headquarters in Florida or in a hot village in Ghana, whether on a dust-patch soccer field or in an executive boardroom, both experiences taught the Hope student-athletes that being on mission for Christ can happen anywhere.

Bigelow and Dawson, both seniors, went to Ghana as part of the college’s SEED (Sport Evangelism to Equip Disciples) program, which uses sport as a means to connect with others, tell them about Jesus, show them his love, and help the student-athletes grow and deepen in their faith. 

 “Sport brings people together,” Dawson said. “It’s like music, it’s a common language.” 

Dawson is majoring in economics and business and part of the Baker Scholars program. The two-time captain has run on the men’s cross country team for four years.

SEED has been bringing Hope student-athletes on international service and evangelism trips for three summers, in locations that have included Ghana, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, India, Uganda and Zambia.

Critically, SEED trips also provide clean water for communities that so desperately need it. During each trip, Hope students train communities on how to use Sawyer water filters. In addition to donating the filters, Sawyer also makes trips for SEED participants affordable. (Full disclosure: Sawyer Products also funds a Hope research program that tests the sediments in its filters used in developing nations.)

“I’d never been on a mission trip, so I had no idea what to expect,” Bigelow said. “When we went over there I thought it would be fun to play sports with kids, but the water aspect was a lot larger than I thought.”

Megan Bigelow directs the soccer ball during a game.
Bigelow was an All-MIAA First Team honoree and captain in women’s soccer.

Bigelow is a scrappy midfielder on the Hope women’s soccer team and a business and economics double major from Flushing, Michigan. A 2019 All-MIAA First Team honoree, Bigelow has played in 80 games and tallied 37 shots on goal during her tenure at Hope, racking up seven goals and six assists for 20 points. She was a three-year starter and captained the team for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Like Bigelow, it was Dawson’s first time on an international mission trip.

“I had never been out of the country before, but I had a hunger to go somewhere new and to learn about a side of the world that I’ve never been to and people that I knew next to nothing about,” Dawson said. “This trip was an amazing opportunity to do that through an avenue I’m really passionate about: sport.”

At each stop in Ghana, the SEED team played games with children, conducting clinics in frisbee, soccer, baseball, volleyball and American football. They also taught Bible lessons and memory verses, and they shared the Gospel.

Joey Dawson during a cross country race nears the finish line.
Dawson captained the men’s cross country team and competes here in the 2018 MIAA Championship at Eastern Hills Golf Course, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“To be able to do a trip that had the potential to talk about Christ with people, or to have cool conversations and form friendships around Christ as the center, that was amazing,” Dawson said.

He fell in love with the Ghanaian children (his tripmates said Dawson gave endless piggyback rides to the eagerly relentless kids), and he realized that, whatever he does after Hope, connecting with children is something that God is calling him to do.

Bigelow was struck by the faith of so many people she met in Ghana. “Their love for God was the greatest love I’ve ever seen, and they don’t even have clean water,” she said. 

After the trip, “we all talked about how we have this global family that we didn’t know about: one, through Christianity, and, two, through sport,” Bigelow said.

The following year, in the summer of 2019, both Bigelow and Dawson landed internships at Sawyer.

 “I was interested in working for Sawyer after our trip because it’s an outdoor company with a great mission. I was passionate about their products and the work they were doing,” Dawson said.

Hope alumnus Kurt Avery ’74 is the founder and CEO of Sawyer Products. His experience at Hope and as a Baker Scholar paved the way for his business success, and he’s intentional about providing similar opportunities to others.

“Kurt started this internship program as another way to give back,” Bigelow said. 

Bigelow’s and Dawson’s internships were wide-ranging. Some days they’d be on the factory floor assembling Sawyer’s water filters or other products; other days they’d critique and create Sawyer’s displays and packaging. 

“Kurt wanted us to get a taste of factory work to instill a humble work ethic, realizing that your decisions as a white-collar desk worker impact other people and their lives,” Dawson said. 

Avery also served as a mentor for the interns. “Every day we would meet with him, and he would teach what he called Grasshopper U — a lesson he got from his MBA classes in graduate school,” Bigelow said. “We would bring a pad of paper to his office and he would just teach us different things.”

“He would carve out time to sit down with us and teach us various lessons that he had learned through the years — sometimes through the hard way —  that could make us better leaders,” Dawson said.

“After watching Kurt, it’s so cool to be able to witness how he doesn’t work just for this life, he works for the life after this one. It’s great to see how he’s intentional about incorporating that into his work,” Bigelow said.

Their big project at Sawyer was to help the company better communicate to Generation Z.  “For several weeks we did market research,” Dawson said. “We compiled a presentation, and we flew out to the planning conference in Colorado, where we presented to the executive committee.”

 “Sport brings people together,” Joey Dawson said. “It’s like music, it’s a common language.” 

The ability to plug into so many elements of a successful company was a valuable experience that they hope will impact their work as they build their own careers after graduation. They also saw first-hand how a for-profit organization can find success in the marketplace while pursuing charitable causes. Sawyer donates filters and funds SEED trips because its leadership believes in doing good for the world — not only by meeting the physical needs of people who need water, but by meeting the spiritual needs of people who need the living water of the Gospel.

In 2019, Avery received the Hope for Humanity Award, presented to Hope College alumni athletes who have demonstrated Christian commitment and service to others in their careers after Hope. “We’re a company with a mission,” Avery said at the annual HOPEYs Awards ceremony. “I’m not going to take anything with me.” 

 “There are a lot of different ways to be a witness to Christ,” Dawson said. “Not all people are called to preach on the street corner, but we’re all called to full-time ministry.”

Feature photograph by Steven Herppich; Action photographs by Lynne Powe ’86; Ghana photographs by Megan Bigelow and James Ellis

Full-Time, Year-Round, Hyphened-Identity Balancing Acts

Mitchel Achien'g and Mason Opple sit side by side

Student-athletes Mitchel Achien’g (pronounced Me-Shell Aah-Ching) and Mason Opple embarked on much different paths to Hope College four years ago, but they’ve shared a lot in common since they arrived. 

Both are great students, award-winning athletes, and even better people who have excelled on multiple teams over multiple seasons during their Hope careers. They perform at elite levels despite a myriad of expectations and demands on their schedules.

Achien’g is a multiple-event performer in indoor and outdoor track and field. The senior from Nairobi, Kenya, is pursuing an economics major and a business minor and has landed on the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Honor Roll (which takes a 3.5 GPA or higher) and Hope dean’s list multiple times. Achien’g was the 2019 MIAA Most Valuable Field Athlete in indoor track and field last winter, and then helped the Flying Dutch outdoor team repeat as league champions last spring.

Opple plays football, baseball and, for the first time this winter at Hope, basketball. The senior from Hudsonville, Michigan, is majoring in business and holds a B+ average. He was chosen as the league Most Valuable Offensive Player this past fall in football and was an all-MIAA rightfielder for a baseball team that won a school-record 31 games in the spring of 2019. This winter, he has been a role player on the basketball court for the Flying Dutchmen. 

Recently, Achien’g and Opple met for the second time ever and sat down in DeVos Fieldhouse to talk about their experiences as busy student-athletes. Their insights reveal how their dual identities are kept in balance.

What is it about your sports that you most enjoy?

Achien’g:I think the competitiveness through the years is what I enjoy most. In sports, you’re never the same every year. Your sophomore year, you’re better than your freshman year. Your junior year, you’re better than your sophomore year. You grow and develop. Being able to see that improvement through competition is very important to me.

Opple:It is the aspect of hanging out with teammates to accomplish the same kind of goal. You get to compete every day when you practice with your teammates or play against other teams. Competition makes people work together.

Mason Opple runs the football during a home game
This past fall, Opple was a dual-threat quarterback, passing for 1,598 yard and 16 touchdowns and rushing for 858 yard and 16 touchdowns. He finished with 45 career rushing touchdowns, third most in Flying Dutchmen team history.

How has playing in multiple seasons helped you both on the field and in the classroom?

Opple: It is how it has always been. You grow up obviously playing these sports, so you get in a rhythm. We’re always in the whole class-practice-homework mode. You don’t really ever break that, which is nice because then you have a structure that you stay with all the time. Getting away from a sport has power to it, too, which I think some people don’t realize when they try to specialize in one sport. In the spring, I’m playing baseball, not even thinking about football. In the fall, it’s the opposite. I think that really does have a lot of positives. For me, the change of scenery, the change of sports, gives me a fresh perspective as I move from one sport to the next.

Achien’g: For me, it’s different because in the fall, I’m not really competing. My competition season begins in december or January. Just having that discipline of working hard in the off-season, knowing that even though you’re not competing, it counts. I think that matters. Even if I’m not in my official season, it’s healthy for me to be disciplined and know whatever I put in will affect my performance. That’s the same thing in class. You may not be studying for an exam, but just going through your schoolwork and making sure you understand what’s being taught really helps.

Mitchel Achien'g clear a hurdle in a race.
Mitchel Achien’g is a versatile competitor as a heptathlete. She holds the school record in the 60-meter hurdles in indoor track with a time of 9.22 seconds.

What’s the biggest challenge of being a multi-season athlete?

Achien’g: For me, it’s missing that aspect of having a social life. I’m training in the off-season and, of course, practicing in-season. I don’t get to hang out with my friends whenever I want. So, I’m really in-season the whole year. I have to make time to have a social life.

Opple: The biggest challenge is probably being away from the team [I’m not currently on]. In the fall, I rarely see the baseball guys as much as I would like to. The same way in the spring. I don’t see the football guys as much as I would like to. Obviously, I’m not complaining about not having to get up at 5 in the morning all year long, but they’re grinding together. They’re creating those bonds at those 5 a.m. lifts, and I’m not there. So, I miss out on that whole full-year, camaraderie aspect of one sport.

What’s your favorite part about playing in multiple seasons?

Opple: You get to compete year-round. Then there’s the aspect that you get these two completely different sets of friends that is just awesome in its own way. I can go hang out with the baseball team on a Friday night and the football team on a Saturday night. It’s two completely different worlds, and I really enjoy that.

Achien’g: Keeping my physical fitness all year is my favorite part. It’s usually very hard to continue your fitness in the off-season. Having to practice all year helps me keep my fitness going.

Mason Opple up to bat, in mid-swing, about to hit a baseball
Opple is an All-MIAA rightfielder who will soon break the school record for career RBIs once the baseball season starts in March. He is currently tied with Mike Van Beek ’03 with 119 runs batted in.

What’s been your favorite class at Hope College?

Achien’g: My English 113 class. It helped me develop my writing skills. Coming into Hope College, my writing skills were not that good. The class showed me a different way of writing, a different way
of expressing myself.

Opple: My labor economics class. It gave me a different perspective on the typical econ like Micro, Macro. It was a challenging class yet rewarding because I felt like I learned a lot and it was taught by a great professor.

How do you find time to get enough sleep and what do you do to eat well?

Opple: When you have a full day, class at 8 in the morning, practices, film, homework, you’ve got to get to bed. You’ve got to get at least seven, eight hours of sleep. You’ve got to keep to that schedule because our bodies are creatures of habit. Nutrition-wise, I’m not a super health freak, but I just control what I can control or not eat those things that are blatantly bad for me.

Achien’g: I have to make sure that I’m sleeping enough to make my body recover, replenish and get ready for the next day. Same for nutrition. I have to make sure I’m eating the right foods that will help my tissues and muscles. Good sleep and nutrition are the key to being ready even for practice for the next day.

Mitchel Achien'g leaps to compete in the triple jump
Achien’g is the defending MIAA champion in the women’s indoor triple jump.

Where does your energy come from? 

Achien’g: For me, it’s more like I don’t want to not have energy. I want to get better every time, every day. When I have those types of days, I remember: “This will make you better. If you give up right now, you’re not going to become good.”

Opple: I would say sports actually give me energy. Maybe you didn’t do as well on test as you wanted, you’re having a rough day for whatever reason. That two, two-and-a-half hours you get to go out on the field and compete, play the game you love, is that getaway and gives you the energy back.

If you were given some time to relax, no studying, no competing, what would you do?

Opple: I live in a house of five other guys. Four are football players, one is a baseball player. We play video games on the TV in the living room, a lot of Madden. We hang out, make it a competition. Winner plays this guy or that guy and so on. We keep track on the whiteboard.

Achien’g: I like to travel. I like exploring new places and stuff. When I have the time and am able to travel, I do that. It’s kind of relaxing. I get excited to see new things.

How have you felt supported at Hope College?

Achien’g: There have been times when I’ve gone to a professor and asked to be in a certain section for class because of my athletic schedule. They have been understanding and accommodating. I get a lot of support from the Hope faculty and staff.

Opple: To be honest, the coaches couldn’t have made it any easier. They’ve been super supportive of me missing things — whether it’s missing spring football or missing fall baseball. They support me. They go to the games. Professors hear you play these sports and they support you. Everybody at Hope College supports and loves to see you playing more than one sport. It couldn’t have been made any easier for me.

Top feature photography by Steven Herppich; Action photographs by Lynne Powe ’86