On Saturday, November 12, 2016, friends and fellow travelers of The History Center gathered at the Underground for the program “Honoring God Through Sports and Athletics.” Three coaches—Gene Glader, Tricia Brownlee, and Steve Johnson—presented the history of athletics at Bethel University.
In the 195os and 60s, Dr. Gene Glader was coach or assistant coach for four men’s athletic teams (football, basketball, track and cross country), intramural director, instructor in physical education, athletic director, and chair of the physical education department. Glader’s presentation highlighted the challenges of athletics at Bethel in the two decades before the campus moved from the Snelling Avenue location to Bethel’s current home in Arden Hills. Only basketball had “home” turf with a campus gym; all other sports had to scrounge around the area for practice and game fields. Glader described the men’s football team practicing on the quadrangle lawn of the Snelling Avenue campus. This was also the era before Bethel had a conference affiliation, so coaches were on their own to organize a “season” of athletic competition for their teams.
Nine of Dr. Tricia Brownlee’s 33 years at Bethel were in the physical education department. Brownlee started the volleyball program in 1968 at the urging of female students, and the softball program in 1969. The remainder of Brownlee’s years at Bethel were in the academic dean’s office, retiring in 2001 from her role as Dean of Academic Programs. In addition to narrating Bethel’s athletic history from the 1970s to the present, Brownlee’s presentation highlighted the impact Title IX (1972) had on women’s athletics at Bethel and the stunning successes of women’s teams beginning in the mid-1980s.
Steve Johnson, now in his 28th year as Bethel’s head football coach, shared through a prerecorded video interview. For those familiar with Coach Johnson, he stayed true to form with an emotional testimony about the interaction of faith and sports in the lives of athletes and coaches.