Fire evokes fear and anxiety. Fire has destructive power. Fire also has the power to reveal the strength of a foundation. When a building burns to the ground, the foundation remains. The foundation on which people are built can be revealed by fire as well. Westmont College (Santa Barbara, Calif.) was scheduled to play Azusa Pacific University (Azusa, Calif.) in the finals of the Golden State Athletic Conference Men’s Soccer Championship. The winner would earn a spot in the 2008 NAIA Men’s Soccer Championship. Less than 48 hours before the November 2008 matchup, Azusa Pacific learned that Westmont College had fallen victim to vicious California wildfires. The inferno took the homes of the Westmont coach and several faculty members, and caused severe damage to the campus of 1,300 students. Many students, including members of the soccer team, were left with just the clothes on their backs. Azusa Pacific could have won the game by forfeit. The team could have taken the easy route to a paper victory. However, Azusa Pacific showed the character worthy of the national championship it captured in 2007. School officials immediately postponed the match and sought to help their would-be opponents in a time of need. The entire Westmont team was invited onto the Azusa Pacific campus. Room and board were provided to the team free of charge. Free admission to the game was also granted to the Westmont student body. When the two teams finally took the field, a rejuvenated Westmont College defeated Azusa Pacific 2-0 and clinched a berth in the 2008 NAIA Men’s Soccer Championship. While the loss undoubtedly stings, it pales in comparison to the burden of regret. Members of the Azusa Pacific family will have no regrets as they allowed their character to shine brighter than the polish on any trophy.
Azusa Pacific University is the recipient of the NAIA’s “All That’s Right in Sport” award.