Athletics, Academics & Christian Principles: A Winning Combination

The News Magazine of HCU

Athletics, Academics & Christian Principles: A Winning Combination

HBU’s 17 NCAA Division I sports represent the University on a national stage with great effect. They allow HBU to draw exceptional athletes, serve as a main component of student and alumni experience, and elevate the school to a level that meets and surpasses other universities.

Athletics teams have played a formative role in shaping the identity of the University since its early days. The first sports programs were baseball and men’s basketball in 1964 (Looser, 2010). Program offerings continued to grow, and by the 1980s, University athletics had entered what Dr. Don Looser called a “golden era for intercollegiate sports” in his book on the history of HBU, “An Act of Providence: A History of Houston Baptist University, 1960-2010.” At that time, the men’s and women’s gymnastics teams were nationally ranked, and the soccer and golf teams were nationally ranked as well.

The next decade, however, marked a scaling back in University sports. Looser notes, “The HBU Board of Trustees voted in 1991 to move intercollegiate athletics from the NCAA to the NAIA Division I in basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball. The Board further voted to eliminate men’s and women’s gymnastics and riflery, men’s golf and soccer.”

In the years to come, University sports programs prospered, and they enjoyed wide success at the NAIA level.

Turning Point

While HBU has a long history of athletic achievement, 2007 and 2008 marked a huge turning point in the life of the University. The Huskies started the process of transition and began Division I play; HBU was fully admitted back into the NCAA in 2011. The University also announced acceptance into the Southland Conference.

Now, HBU’s thriving, NCAA Division I sports are football, volleyball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, men’s cross country and indoor and outdoor track, women’s cross country and indoor and outdoor track, men’s golf, women’s golf, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, beach volleyball, softball and baseball.

The athletics department has taken huge growth and changes in stride thanks to its shared vision. Much of the success of the programs is due to the direction and support of HBU president, Dr. Robert Sloan.

“Our reasons for wanting to rejoin the NCAA had everything to do with visibility for HBU and the engagement of our students and alumni in the life of the University,” Sloan said. “The benefits for HBU have been huge. It immediately increased our visibility and gave us a platform with which to publicize the University and attract additional student-athletes. One other amazing thing has been that – contrary to what people often assume – athletics has contributed more to the financial strength of HBU than it has demanded.”

HBU director of Athletics, Steve Moniaci, credits Dr. Sloan’s leadership. He also lauds the coaches who have ensured the teams are high-level contenders. “Teams always take after their leaders. They take on the characteristics of their coaches,” he said. “All of them are very fine Christians and very much believe in the development of the individual athlete.”

Associate athletic director and James Sears Bryant Head Men’s Basketball Coach since 1990, Ron Cottrell, said, “This is a cliché, but I don’t think we work. We enjoy what we do. It is a commitment level unlike most jobs, but it’s rewarding and satisfying. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

A Benefit to Athletes

While the teams have amassed numerous wins, accolades and even championships, Moniaci looks at winning in multiple ways. “It’s important that we win, but it’s not the most important. The most important thing is the number of lives I feel like we’ve changed,” he said. “We have 85 percent of athletes who graduate. The transformation from the children they came in as, to the young men and women they become, is rewarding.”

HBU is able to teach and train student-athletes uniquely due to the campus environment, Moniaci said. “If you go out and walk across the campus, you’re going to know who many people are and you’re going to know something about them. That’s just not the case at the larger institutions. And when you know folks, you care about them,” he said.

Athletes are among the most involved students on campus. Many of them participate in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Student Athlete Advisory Committee. Each year, teams participate in service projects through Southland Gives Back.

“There’s a lot of volunteerism they do that doesn’t get publicized,” said Russ Reneau, HBU assistant athletic director for media relations and broadcasting. “They want to give back to the community.”

Another less-known fact is that HBU athletes carry a higher average GPA than the student body as a whole; athletes’ graduation rate is also higher. “We have won the academic award the last four years in the Southland Conference,” Reneau said. “We pride ourselves in being the top academic institution in the league.”

School Spirit

Athletics competition provides an important outlet for school spirit and connection to the campus. “We always want as many fans as we can to be reached on as many platforms as possible,” Reneau said. “I want students to know that it’s free to come out and watch a game.”

HBU’s unique standing as a caring, Christian school with high-level competition draws recruits from around the United States and the world.

Cottrell said HBU appeals to athletes due to a number of factors. “Every kid is an individual. They look at it from their perspective – what is important to them,” he said. “For some, it’s the education and degree programs. For some, it’s the Christian values. For some, it’s the Division I. For some, it’s the bigger city. Everybody has their own reasons why they feel HBU is the place for them. We check off the boxes for a lot of different people.”

When they compete for HBU, student-athletes get more benefits than many imagined. Scores of athletes have become Christians as a result of their time at HBU, and each has grown in character. Combined with HBU’s instruction, HBU athletes are set up for success.

Mary-Ellen Hall ’88, softball head coach and senior woman administrator, joined the coaching staff in 1988. She said, “We are fortunate to be able to coach at a University that imparts Christian values. We demonstrate the importance of a solid moral and ethical foundation. We teach life skills. We believe in the importance of family and a profession and personal spirituality. We want them to be the best they can be on the field, in the classroom, and in their daily lives.”

Looser, Don. (2010). An Act of Providence: A History of Houston Baptist University, 1960-2010. Halcyon Press.

HBU Athletics Recent Academic Prowess

HBU athletes have taken the top spot in academics for the last four years in the Southland Conference. They carry a higher average GPA than the student body as a whole; athletes’ graduation rate is also higher.

Four-straight Southland Conference APR Awards (Academic Performance Rate)

Women’s Basketball WBCA (Women’s Basketball Coaches Association)

Academic Top 25 Team Honor Roll (14th-Highest GPA in nation)

Men’s Basketball: 5 Named to NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) Honors Court (Third-most nationally)

Both Indoor and Beach Volleyball Earned AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association)

Team Academic Honors

Women’s Golf: 5 WGCA (Women’s Golf Coaches Association) All-America Scholars

Men’s Golf: GCAA (Golf Coaches Association of America) Outstanding Team Academic Award; Nicko Martinez Named Srixon/Cleveland Golf All-America Scholar


2018-19 Google Cloud CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) Academic All-Americans:

Kayla Davenport, Volleyball
Amanda Johnson, Women’s Basketball
Demi Janak, Softball
Ana Kriletic, Track & Field

*Four is the most HBU has had in a single year