Developing the Hearts of Champions
For nearly two decades, Head Coach Tony Natali has devoted his career to developing the Men’s and Women’s Track and Field programs at Bethel College. In his tenure, the indoor and outdoor teams have won a combined nine NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association) championships — most recently in February, when the men’s team claimed the 2018 Indoor Championship. In May, Natali will be one of two coaches in the nation inducted into the NCCAA Hall of Fame, as a member of the 2018 class.
The NCCAA Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who are outstanding leaders, have high moral character and are passionate about Christian higher education and intercollegiate athletics.
“I am very humbled by this honor,” Natali says. This is a reflection of the coaching staff I work with every day and the tremendous student athletes who have been a part of the program over the years.”
But for Natali, coaching is about a lot more than awards, wins and losses. He sees himself first and foremost as a character-building coach for the 104 student-athletes currently on his teams.
He works at this through “family meetings” on Monday nights and quarterly team dinners that he and his wife, Andrea, host at their home. He instills in students that their identity comes from God, not their performance.
“We are not performance-based. We are a family,” he says. “We have athletes who are All-Americans and some who have never qualified … we have a very diverse group of kids in every way [every major, every background]. It’s really neat to see [their] character development.”
Still, the formula must be working, because the program has achieved incredible success on the track — especially considering their lack of adequate training facilities.
“The fact that we’ve been successful without facilities is a testament to our coaches and athletes. Having a facility would be program-changing. We can impact more kids,” he says. “We are at a point in the program where it’s a definite necessity.”
But the heart of the track program is all about honoring God. And it’s the character of the athletes, combined with their successes, that gives credibility to their witness when they share with other teams
and prospective students.
“The culture of our program is what makes us special. Being close, tight-knit and Christ-centered.”