Ever since Union launched its first varsity athletic team in 1986, becoming a Warrior has meant a lot more than playing games. Coaches teach their students valuable life skills including teamwork, leadership, communication, confidence and learning to win and lose gracefully—the “soft skills” that companies look for in their employees and leaders.

Union’s new athletic director, Nestor Osorio, hopes to continue expanding this already successful program and refocus on sports as a ministry, creating graduates who serve joyfully in God’s calling.

“We hope students develop thanks to an intentional coaching and mentoring process where caring and daring are the pillars to further improve engagement as a result of finding God’s calling and purpose for students and coaches,” Osorio said.

Osorio’s philosophy isn’t the only recent development in Union College athletics. A nearly complete changeover in personnel has ushered in a new era for the program.

Revamping athletic personnel at Union College

Toward the end of last school year, Union needed to fill three positions connected with athletics and Larson Lifestyle Center, Union’s pool and fitness facility. Previously, one person had served as athletic director and Lifestyle Center director while a second served as pool manager and a third provided managerial support.

“In essence we were looking at a clean slate,” said Kim Canine, vice president for Student Life, who led a collaboration to reevaluate the makeup of the department.

“It made sense to bring in someone who specializes in athletics while allowing the Larson director to oversee the fitness facility and pool,” she said.

Maria dos Santos became Lifestyle Center and aquatics director. “My dream job has always been to be part of a fitness facility and pool,” said the 2017 elementary education graduate. While attending Union, dos Santos worked as the student intramural sports director and taught swimming lessons.

Having worked in aquatics for a decade, dos Santos has a passion for water safety. Her vision is to grow the swimming lessons program and implement exercise classes for students and community members. “I want to improve the fitness and wellness on our campus,” she said.

In Osorio, the team felt they found their man to head up athletics. “We were looking for someone to continue the integrity Ric had built into the athletics programs,” said Canine, referring to the previous long-time director, Ric Spaulding, who believed becoming a Union Warrior meant being a warrior on the courts and in Christ. “And we felt Nestor could bring his experience and passion to expand the program,” she added.

Previously, Osorio worked as the athletic director for Forest Lake Academy in Florida. A native of Argentina, he’s also been a coach and personal trainer and has worked with wellness centers and universities to advance programs and sports tournaments in both the U.S. and his home country. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in leadership from Andrews University.

Athletics in education

Ultimately, Osorio believes athletics is a ministry. With the right Christian environment and coaching, he believes athletics is one of the most effective tools in preparing leaders.

“Organizations excelling in talent acquisition, retention and development strategies tend to hire based on proven competence, not necessarily IQ or GPA,” he said. “We want to make sure our students and coaches are competent in many important areas—especially leadership.”

Osorio’s vision is to develop leaders by training student athletes in problem solving, conflict management, creativity, grit and critical thinking through sports and coaching. He hopes to blend athletics with community outreach, spiritual retreats and time management tools to improve students’ academic performance and college satisfaction.

According to Osorio, collaboration with other areas of campus—including Student Life and Campus Ministries—means athletics can be an outreach tool and “… more than just participation in competitive sports.”

His motto: “Victory is in Christ—that’s why in Jesus’ name we play and pray.”

Emily Roque Cisneros is a Union College graduate and freelance writer in Cedaredge, Colorado.