By all accounts, the inaugural Bruins’ Gala was a smashing success. Guest speaker Bobby Bowden, the second winningest coach in NCAA football history, was the keynote speaker for the fundraising banquet, and over $75,000 was donated to the Bob Jones University’s athletic department.
President Steve Pettit addressed over 200 Bruin supporters, giving the “President’s Vision” for the future of BJU’s athletics.
Pettit gave a brief history of BJU athletics, mentioning the original Swamp Angels (BJU’s football team from 1928 to 1932), the success of intramural sports and then the launch of the Bruins in 2012.
He then explained the importance of athletics in players’ lives: athletics takes sacrifice to perform well, it teaches students to be leaders on and off the field and it teaches athletes humility.
“Success is measured 20 years down the road,” Pettit said. “Are they serving Christ? How are they living?”
Intercollegiate athletics is especially meaningful for the president. A teammate in college led Pettit to Christ, later helping to disciple him. It was through intercollegiate athletics that he developed and grew in his sanctification as a believer in Christ.
Bruins’ athletic director Neal Ring spoke next. He explained the athletic department’s mission of using athletics as a “platform for ministry.”
Ring pointed out that not only does sports help athletes to pursue an education, but they also develop future leaders while taking the message of Christ to the community and around the world.
The department’s goal is to gain respect through competitive success, allowing for that platform of ministry opportunities.
Ring also highlighted success of the young department. Women’s soccer earned two NCCAA DII championships. The NCCAA also named 20 different Bruin athletes to the Scholar-Athlete Team in this academic year alone.
Before introducing the keynote speaker, Ring asked the audience to make donations for three specific improvements for the department. The stated goal of $75,000 would finance school-sponsored missions trips for BJU athletes, pay for transportation costs and fund needed software upgrades and new technologies for team use. Donations would also fund the Bruins Foundation—a nonprofit organization that supports BJU athletics.
After a short video, Ring introduced the keynote speaker, Bobby Bowden.
Bowden is the second winningest college football coach with 346 wins at West Virginia University (six years) and Florida State University (34 years). At FSU, his teams finished as a top five team an astounding 14 years in a row, including two NCAA National Championships, according to an Associated Press poll.
Bowden spoke glowingly of his coaching journey. But he primarily spoke about God’s obvious orchestration of his career. According to Bowden, he never had to apply for a coaching job—God always provided in His time. Bowden never ceased to praise God for his accomplishments.
“I am a sinner, but I am a forgiven sinner,” Bowden said. “Just look at how He took care of my family.”
The effectiveness of Bowden’s speech became immediately apparent, as committed donations of well over the targeted $75,000 came in from the gala attendees.
By all accounts, the gala was a success. The venue was full of Bruin supporters, funds for the athletic department poured in and BJU athletics is trending in the right direction.
Ring’s “platform for ministry” is quickly developing from a partially-achieved dream into a full-fledged reality. With such a successful kickoff, the annual gala should grow each year. And, in theory, the BJU athletic department will grow with it.