Michigan State has several student groups for athletes who wish to be connected by faith. That outlet became more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a lifeline of connection when sports were shut down.
A Christian organization for student-athletes on Michigan State’s campus, called Athletes In Action, provided a haven for its members.
“With athletics, everyone is so similar so everyone can relate to each other,” said Michigan State men’s lacrosse player Devin Dickerson. “Getting to talk about school, faith and sports, everyone’s in similar boats. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of cool people and form some cool relationships through AIA.”
Dickerson and other Christian student-athletes at Michigan State have turned to the East Lansing chapter of Athletes In Action, a non-profit, on-campus organization run through Cru Ministries. Athletes In Action has been helping student-athletes all over the country get closer to God since its foundation in 1966. Participants gather virtually or safely in small groups each week to discuss their faith and growth as a Christian as it relates to their athletic career.
Though lacrosse is a club sport at Michigan State, the team is just as involved in a day-to-day routine as the varsity team. The players pride themselves on striking a balance between sports and academics. When one is stripped away, as sports have been for athletes like Dickerson, there’s a dramatic shift in their schedules.
Athletes In Action has provided some much-needed relief in coping with the pandemic and missed opportunities.
“It was just hard for everyone, at first not having practice, and then not having a season, which is kind of what you dedicate your life to,” Dickerson said. “AIA brings in that routine schedule that everyone’s used to.”
MSU cheerleader Kayley Schuitema felt that same emptiness when such a pivotal part of her routine was eliminated.
“I’ve been so used to cheering and even just having practices for the past 10 years,” Schuitema said. “It was just kind of lonely, honestly.”
Athletes such as Dickerson and Schuitema haven’t been able to compete on the field, on the floor, etc. But Athletes In Action has helped them keep that team-first mentality as a part of something bigger.
“You get to work as a team with other athletes,” Dickerson said. “It’s just like a team aspect. You’re all approaching faith together, so I think everyone’s really enjoyed that, no matter if their sport is going or not.”
The fans are starting to be part of the game experience again, as NBA, NHL and MLB areare allowing limited numbers. MSU football team held its annual spring game on April 24 with limited fans, and the cheerleaders were back in Spartan Stadium for the first time since 2019.
That’s a great sign for the 2021-22 college sports seasons, and the athletes are feeling more confident about a return to some sense of reality as a result.
“The spring game was kind of the light at the end of the tunnel,” Schuitema said. “Even though it was socially-distanced and it wasn’t a full stadium and we had to wear masks, it’s at least something. I think by the fall we’ll be at least a little bit back to normal.”
Athletes In Action helped these MSU students get to that happy place, and for those like Dickerson and Schuitema, the importance of a strong faith cannot be overstated. Athletes In Action will continue to help these athletes keep that strong faith, not just during long pauses, but while the sports are happening normally.
As Watson pointed out, a strong faith can remain constant no matter how chaotic life gets.
“Faith keeps us grounded when life is crazy,” Watson said. “I think faith has been the stability in the storm this past year.”
The organization also wants to help athletes find grounding for life after sports, regardless of how long the athletic career lasts.
“Only so many of the athletes will turn pro in their sport, a very small handful,” Dickerson said. “So, we talk about how your sport is definite, but your faith is indefinite…Your time at MSU will be over before you know it. A lot of alumni always come back and talk about going all-out during the time you have, because it’s over before you know it.”