George Leary ’85 came to Bethel College to play football, and it changed his life.
“It wasn’t that I was in such bad shape that playing football at Bethel ‘saved my soul,’” Leary told the groups who gathered for his seminar at the Mennonite Church USA biennial convention in Phoenix, July 1-5. “I had a good life before I came to Bethel to play football.”
Nevertheless, he’d never have picked a Mennonite college in south-central Kansas were it not for the game. A cradle Catholic who grew up in Florida, Leary had never heard of Bethel.
As a high school senior in 1981, Leary said, “I knew nothing about Mennonites, Kansas or Threshers.” He learned about Bethel by attending a football showcase for Florida high school players, where he met the Bethel coach and liked him, and decided on Bethel sight unseen.
“My advice is not to pick a college without a campus visit,” he told his audience of mostly teenagers. “I arrived to culture shock for me and, I suspect, for many of the people meeting me.
“However, the next four years shaped the person I am today.” ...
Joining Leary in the Phoenix seminar were current and recent Bethel football players Leland Brown and Michael Unruh ’09.
Brown’s path to Bethel resembled Leary’s in many ways.
The current junior from Galveston, Texas, came from a town, school and general culture where “football was king,” he said. The self-described “Baptist Catholic” also attended a football showcase as a high school senior.
“I chose Bethel because I went for a visit,” he told the seminar audience. “When I visited, something told me: Leland, this is where you need to be. Even though I doubted it some after my first semester, I have no doubt now it’s true.” ...
“Today I’m a football player, a Concert Choir member, a forensics team member, a student ambassador and a student chaplain.”
Unlike Leary and Brown, Unruh is a Kansas native who grew up Mennonite and graduated from a small, rural high school, Peabody-Burns in Peabody.
However, like the other two, his only reason for coming to Bethel was because he wanted to play football.
And like them, he emphasized that Bethel football changed his life not in the sense of helping him escape something bad but in terms of its profound impact on the person he’s become.
One way that happened, he said, is because being on the football team forced him to “encounter a lot of other cultures -- black, Hispanic, East Coast, West Coast, urban,” not found in his small-town, mostly white high school.
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” he told the seminar audience. “I wasn’t resistant -- I just didn’t know, so it was a big learning curve.
“Probably the most important thing I learned was not to judge someone based only on my first impression of them,” he said. Some teammates whom he initially thought “weren’t good fits and would be gone after the semester or the first year” went on to prove him wrong. ...
For the complete news story, visit the Bethel website.