Athletics is an integral part of campus life at Bethel College, with 17 intercollegiate sports for men and women and an estimated 360 athletes (almost 22 percent of students). But it wasn’t always this way.

In Bethel’s first year (1947-48), freshman Al Beutler ’51 rounded up Bethel participants for a basketball game against his home church in Wakarusa, Ind. Several students went along to watch. When they returned to campus, Beutler was called into President Goodman’s office and notified that such off-campus games would not be scheduled in the future. Only on-campus intramural games would be allowed at Bethel.

Within a month, the board of directors took action confirming President Goodman’s proclamation: athletic competition for Bethel students was to be confined to campus. This essentially meant that intercollegiate athletic competition was banned at Bethel College.

Ten years later, a surge of student interest prompted Beutler, who had become dean of men, to advocate for an intercollegiate basketball team. This idea was not without its detractors. There were student debates and much dialogue among faculty and trustees. Eventually the board of trustees gave in to the student request with two stipulations:

1. Bethel would only compete against Christian colleges, and

2. That “every move concerning competitive athletics be brought into the hands” of the administrative committee.

On Jan. 7, 1959, Bethel hosted Asbury Seminary in its first intercollegiate basketball game. In December 1959, the Bethel Beacon student newspaper held a contest for naming the team. There were seven options: the Crewmen, the Beacons, the King’s Men, the Helmsmen, the Blazers, the Crusaders, and the Pilots. Before the students left campus for Christmas break, the name was announced. The Bethel College basketball team would be known as the “Pilots,” consistent with the college motto, “with Christ at the Helm.”

Women’s 1974-75 basketball team: Coach Mary Schuster, Diane Burton, Linda Martin, Diane Myers, Sherry Biehl, Gail De Vault

This was the beginning of intercollegiate athletics at Bethel College, leading to the addition of subsequent teams: Baseball (1963), followed by men’s tennis, men’s golf, and men’s soccer in the 1960s. After the signing of Title IX, a women’s basketball team was added in 1973, the first of several women’s athletic squads. Currently, the college competes in 17 intercollegiate sports for men and women. Bethel has won three NAIA National Championships and 32 NCCAA National Championships by 10 different athletic teams while producing hundreds of NCCAA and NAIA All-Americans.

Read more about the history of Bethel athletics in chapter 9 of “With Christ at the Helm: The Story of Bethel College,” available in April.