CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- The Mount Mercy men's and women's cross country squads were honored with the 2016 Buffalo Funds Five-Star Champions of Character Team Awards, the NAIA announced at the annual cross country awards banquet in Elsah, Ill.
Only one institution from each of the NAIA's 25 championship sports receives the Buffalo Funds Five-Star Champions of Character Team Award. Mount Mercy received both the men's and women's awards. Teams that receive the award demonstrate integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership. These institutions and athletic programs strive for excellence in and out of competition and are part of communities dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics.
On many occassions this fall, Mustang cross country delivered on the five core values of the NAIA's Champions of Character initiative. Respect was never more evident than when members of both teams supported a teammate who was severely affected by heat exhaustion. Servant leadership was paramount during severe flooding of the Cedar River in late September.
"Members of our community, including myself, were moved and motivated by the respect and servant leadership of our teams," said Head Coach Ryan Scheckel. "I personally benefitted from their compassion, and numerous times you could find members of these teams working hard to help with flood prevention and recovery. They served others for eight straight days."
Cross country student-athletes also played an important role during Good Sports Day, an annual event where local school children visit the Mount Mercy campus to learn about sportsmanship through role playing and short competitions. The teams also volunteered at local high school cross country meets, participated in America Reads Day at elementary schools and executed a beautification project at a Cedar Rapids city park.
"It's important to incorporate character into the team dynamic because it encourages respect between teammates and toward other teams," said junior Molly Pruett. "Character allows a team to be supportive of one another, determines the success of a team and helps a team withstand every challenge."
This is the third time a Mount Mercy athletic program has been honored as a Buffalo Funds Five-Star Champions of Character Award recipient. It's also the second such honor for the cross country programs, which earned the 2009 team awards after spearheading restoration efforts following record flooding of the Cedar River in 2008. The Mustang women's volleyball program garnered the award in 2008.
"This is a tremendous honor for Coach Scheckel, his coaching staff and the incredibly talented student-athletes competing in our men's and women's cross country programs," said Paul Gavin, director of athletics. "Their dedication to fellowship, service and character embodies the NAIA and Mount Mercy mission to lead life as champions of character."