Archive for Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Athletic association brings sports, character development to De Soto area

July 4, 2001

High school kids going straight to the pros, trash talking on the basketball court and taunting on the football field: these may have become commonplace in the America sports arena, but some of De Soto's new neighbors would like to change all that.

The five NAIA "Champions of Character" qualities are respect, integrity, responsibility, servant leadership and sportmanship.

With The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, coming back to its Kansas City roots from an eight-year stint in Tulsa, Okla., student-athletes, coaches, administrators and spectators in Olathe, De Soto and other surrounding areas will become part of the NAIA's "Champions of Character" iniatitive.

Members of the NAIA were introduced to the De Soto community by Duke Neeland, president of the De Soto Economic Development Committee. The three men said the organization is more concerned with community and character than what they said was the revenue-driven NCAA.

The NAIA is temporarily based in another Olathe location and plans on moving into a new 30,000 square feet facility in Cedar Creek.

Steve Baker, president and CEO of the NAIA, spoke to the Economic Development Council about the history of the organization in Kansas City from 1956-1993 and its commitment to the community.

"The Olathe community has organized our move," Baker said. "The effort is for the whole area, and in a short time, De Soto will be involved. We are so close to De Soto that you'll see a lot of it flow into your area."

Baker is a firm believer in the Kansas City area, its ability to reach out to the community and the chance to recapture 37 years of NAIA tradition.

"When you talk about the character in sports, a lot of that is being missed," Baker said. "We picked Olathe (as our headquarters) because of its status and character program in the high schools."

Baker and the NAIA wants to see core values return to the playing fields on the collegiate level. To do that, it must start reaching children at younger ages than before.

So far, the NAIA has worked with and implemented the program into the city, the Olathe Unified School District and NAIA member Mid America Nazarene University.

The NAIA oversees 23 championships and 330 schools, most of which are private, throughout the United States. The organization's philosophy has promoted integrity, sportsmanship, academics and citizenship. It has also been a pioneer in holding the first women's sports championships and the first championships for historically black universities.

In addition to its community-based "Champions of Character" program, the NAIA will host championship games in most of its sports in the Olathe area.

Rob Miller, director of development for the NAIA, said that the organization was more community- and value-based then the NCAA, which has essentially become a professional organization.

"We want to change the culture of sport and that's kind of scary because it's such a big thing," Miller said. "But, something needs to be done."

Miller explained that the program will use both internal and external elements for reaching the universities and the community.

The NAIA will ask each member university to offer two to three objectives on how it can improve its graduation rates. He said the external portion of the project is where people from the community come into the picture. The NAIA plans to build a high-tech research center for character education, an interactive sports museum and a NAIA Hall of Fame. The organization will have its student-athletes apply for a scholarship by writing about the five values of the "Champions of Character" iniatitive.

Under the program, NAIA student athletes will become involved in mentoring programs and coaches will be trained in the program's expectations. According to Miller, the mentoring program would pair a high school volleyball player studying engineering with a college volleyball player with the same major. Spectators will also be trained in awareness of the code of conduct in the NAIA.

David Spillman, a campaign consultant for the NAIA, is helping the organization raise $18 million. Currently, the NAIA is a $3 million operation. Spillman noted that several prominent Kansas City residents attended and played athletics at NAIA institutions.

De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson said the NAIA's move to Olathe would help De Soto, but the city would need more amentities for the organization to have a major impact.

"It is pretty nice that they are moving to Olathe," Anderson said. "It will help us economically, but we need a little more hotel space, variety in eating establishments and housing. They are quality people to have around."

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