Thomforde Encourages "Turning Toward the Good" at McCandless Speaker Series
Dr. Chris Thomforde ‘69, President of Moravian College and Theological Seminary in Bethlehem PA, returned to Princeton on Tuesday, November 9th, as part of the Jake McCandless ’51 Princeton Varsity Club speaker series, for his lecture entitled "Education for a Balanced Life." In addition to his current position at Moravian College, Thomforde has also served in the same capacity at Bethany College and St. Olaf College. He is a former All-Ivy League basketball player and an ordained Lutheran minister, holding a Master of Divinity degree from Yale University, as well as a Doctor of Ministry degree from Princeton.
Thomforde began the day by providing insights gained from a long career of service to his church and community at a lunch held for Princeton coaches and Academic-Athletic Fellows. He discussed the “power of invitation;” citing his recruitment by former Princeton coach Butch van Breda Kolff. “Going to Princeton was a foreign concept… I would not have come if I had not been invited,” he explained, suggesting the power that the coaches in attendance had in bringing student-athletes to a school that they might not have otherwise considered attending.
He also discussed the process of “turning toward the good” that students should go through during their undergraduate experience. This transition involves changing from a self-centered to a community-centered perspective. He cited the experience of starting Stevenson Hall
at Princeton with 200 other members of the student body in 1968. He found himself, the morning of a game against Army (coached by a young Bobby Knight, and captained by Mike Krzyzewski -- which the Tigers would go on to win
), at Nassau Hall, trying to convince the university brass that students needed a dining option that fell outside of the bicker process. He punctuated the story by explaining that “the purpose of turning was to use the privileges that I had to help those who had been pushed to the fringe.” After a question-and-answer session with the coaches in attendance, he suggested a question for all to ask themselves, that would be echoed in his presentation that evening: “is my community better because I am here?”
While the evening’s presentation took on a more formal tone, it was no less insightful. Thomforde set his talk against the backdrop of the W.H. Auden poem “The Runner
,” with proper balance between intercollegiate athletics and university academics as the main theme. The definitions of the words “play,” sport,” and “athletics” were each defined. “Play” was discussed as an essential part of being a human being; we play in order to separate ourselves from our working lives. Play contains observable patterns, rules and boundaries. “Sport” is characterized by rules and customs, with an organized nature. It requires teamwork, leadership, and strategy. “Athletics” involve competing and enduring suffering on the way to coping with winning or losing, under the umbrella of set team goals. These individual pieces provide a strong framework for the educational value of intercollegiate athletics.
However, Dr. Thomforde also warned against the growth of college sport as “entertainment”:
“I felt wonderfully sustained [playing home games] at Dillon Gym … we were providing entertainment, but provided a great deal of school pride … At its worst, [however,] it’s a circus … bands, garish outfits, crude behavior. What is the educational value of entertainment?”
He argued in favor of finding a “healthy balance, so our experience might form and shape our students who are participating,” citing Plato, who encouraged “turning toward the good.” His coach at Princeton, the legendary Pete Carril, made moral development a central aspect to playing basketball at Princeton.
Dr. Thomforde finished, again, with questions. “What is the mission of your university? What do you mean by ‘athletics?’ What is the purpose of academics?” He encouraged defining answers to each of these questions and forming your academic and athletic programs around those definitions, while always being sure that your athletic program is not just competitive on the field of play, but also provides a “launching pad” for the lives of your student-athletes.
You are invited to view a selection of photos from the event by clicking here!
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