By George Schroeder | LTVN Executive Producer
It was a night Allen senior and hockey club president Daniel Atkins said he still remembers vividly: During his sophomore year, sitting in his room at night, Atkins simply googled “Baylor hockey.” The sport he had played his whole life had no active team on campus or in Waco, although it had existed before.
“I just remember thinking, ‘I would do anything to wear a Baylor hockey jersey,’” Atkins said. “In that moment, I heard God talking to me and He was like ‘you need you need to go and email someone.’”
That email would get a response the next morning, and from there, the Baylor club hockey team campus knows today began to form.
“Doors kept opening, and things kept happening, and now we have a hockey team,” Atkins said. “In the past two years, coaching staff, donors, players — we have an abundance of players — we have had, truly, God come and meet every single need that we have had.”
After finishing a series 1-1 with the University of North Texas Friday and Saturday in Mansfield, Atkins sat next to the rink and said he doesn’t deserve the credit.
“I was not the person that brought 35 guys that play hockey to Waco, that was not me,” Atkins said. “I was not the one that brought all these fans out here today or yesterday, so [I’m] just trying to make sure that everyone knows where this team came from.”
Just over one year since hockey returned to campus, Atkins said no need has gone unmet and that the team has grown with a new-found focus on community.
Matthew Cole, a second-year graduate student studying sports ministry at Truett Seminary, plays goalie but also said he focuses on developing the players holistically as the club’s chaplain. He said last year, the community feeling didn’t exist as it does now.
“We were trying to play games, and we didn’t know each other’s names,” Cole said. “This year, that was something we really wanted to establish early on, was building that sense of community and really creating a space where we can get to know each other.”
Dallas sophomore Austin Thurman said it feels like the club is working for a higher purpose.
“We’re more centered on how as a unit, we become better and work harder as a unit, not just for ourselves, but for God,” Thurman said. “We just focus more on being better as men and it’s worked out beautifully so far.”
One way the team is coming together is through a Bible study.
“It’s allowed for conversation and get to know each other,” Cole said. “It’s allowed us to ask deeper and more challenging questions to one another, and in those challenging questions, we’ve established a real strong bond.”
Not every player on the team is a Christian or comes from the same background, but Cole said regardless of their beliefs, it doesn’t change how he tries to help his teammates establish their identity and find their purpose.
“Our identity isn’t in your stat line,” Cole said. “[For] athletes, and student-athletes in particular, it becomes a numbers game. What’s the bigger idea behind my purpose, rather than skating 60 minutes a night, getting goals and getting assists?”
The club does not fall under the Baylor athletic department, meaning Cole has more flexibility to try new methods and work in creative ways, allowing him to gain experience in sports ministry while finding methods that work well for him.
“Because there’s less structure, there’s an opportunity to really play around and see what works well, what doesn’t work well,” Cole said.
So, what works well? According to Cole, the players appreciate the simple things.
“The most positive feedback I’ve gotten is honestly in our pregame prayers, or our post-practice prayers,” Cole said. “Those prayers have been a time where we can connect with one another. It’s the simple things that really resonate with people.”
Cole’s undergraduate years were spent at Gordan College in Wenham, Mass. He played hockey there for one year, before leaving because he said the community element didn’t exist. Two years later, the team disbanded entirely — something Cole wants to avoid at Baylor.
“If we didn’t develop that community aspect, this team would not exist,” Cole said.
Atkins said the players’ bonding has made the team better, and he hopes the club can eventually make a larger impact on the Waco community and possibly even on a larger scale.
“We’ve had some phenomenal conversations with the city of Waco and the Dallas Stars, we’re trying to get a rink in Waco,” Atkins said. “We’re trying to help out with roller hockey youth programs right now through the roller hockey rink.”
To see the team on the ice for yourself, the Bears take on TCU at 8 p.m. at the Children’s Health StarCenter in Mansfield Friday. Atkins said last year over 250 fans attended, and he wants to see similar numbers this weekend.
“I always tell people if they’re going to come to one game this season, it’s next Friday,” Atkins said.
For a full schedule and roster, check the club’s Instagram at @baylorhockey.