For its outstanding efforts embracing the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ core values, the Georgia Gwinnett softball program has been named the 2014 Buffalo Funds NAIA Champions of Character Softball Team award winner.
Head coach Kat Ihlenburg’s Grizzlies earned the prestigious award for their dedication to the initiative’s core principles of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership.
They were selected as the lone winner among 200 softball-playing NAIA institutions.
“The Georgia Gwinnett College softball team has been selected based upon their display of exemplary character and sportsmanship on the field, campus, and in the community,” said Mac Stephenson, NAIA Softball Championship Administrator.
One team winner is selected for each of the NAIA’s 23 championship sports each year.
“It is awesome to be recognized with this award,” said Ihlenburg. “This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by our players and we are extremely proud. This validates their enthusiasm to live out these core principles all year long.”
The Grizzlies have taken part in numerous community efforts, working with Special Olympics Georgia, Relay for Life and Dream House Atlanta- an organization that assists families with medically fragile children. The team has helped staff multiple events, doing everything from setup and coordinating to cheering on participants and lending valuable time as mentors.
The team also has gone into local parks to offer youth clinics and partnered with nearby high school athletic associations. The Grizzlies’ support has earned them many new fans who have returned the favor, cheering on GGC on the diamond.
The squad has developed bonds with many different groups, including those who face significant challenges.
“Our seniors made it a point to ask that we always keep these efforts going as a foundation of our program,” Ihlenburg added. “We always walk away as a better team for our involvement. We gain valuable perspective on the opportunities that we have in our role at GGC.”
The Grizzlies also have built a reputation as a squad that stays involved on campus. The team often participates in and helps organize College efforts, looking to strengthen its relationship with the fellow student body, GGC faculty and staff. The players also have volunteered as staff at other Grizzly Athletics contests, helping provide visitors a first-class experience.
On the diamond, the Grizzlies’ sportsmanship has been recognized by opposing coaches, officials and fans. Many have reached out after competition or in the following days to commend the Grizzlies on the way they handle themselves.
Ihlenburg’s team lives by its motto, “TRI”- Trust, Respect, Integrity- which lines up with not only the Champions of Character Initiative, but with the Grizzly Athletics core values.
“The softball program has done an outstanding job representing Grizzly Athletics and Georgia Gwinnett College,” said Dr. Darin S. Wilson, GGC’s Director of Athletics. “From the very beginning, coach Ihlenburg has built her program based on high-character individuals who echo our values of service, leadership, responsibility, respect and pursuing excellence. We are very proud of their accomplishments.”
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ efforts have translated to on-field performance.
Georgia Gwinnett went 39-10-1 this spring. The team hosted the 2014 Association of Independent Institutions championship tournament, received votes in the NAIA Softball Coaches’ Top 25 Poll and had the program’s first-ever First Team All-American.
“This team has more character and heart than any other team I have played on,” said senior infielder Heaven Hinton. “We are humble and hungry Grizzlies and being a team of character is what Grizzly Softball is all about.”
Learn more about the Champions of Character initiative here.