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Athletic History

With a 71-percent graduation rate among its athletes, a well-deserved reputation for academic quality, many "coaches of the year" and outstanding facilities, Concordia is home for student-athletes who want to fulfill their competitive goals while earning a meaningful degree that will open doors for a lifetime.

Our tradition of athletic excellence has grown significantly since the founding of the college in 1891.

In the early years of the 20th century, attending college was considered very serious business as families had to work hard to afford such a luxury. At Concordia, where stern Scandinavian farm family's predominately sent their children, playing sports was initially considered frivolous and was slow to catch on with students.

Baseball was the main sport played at the college, beginning in the spring of 1903 when a team was organized to play other schools in the region. In 1907, when Main Hall (today's Old Main) was completed, a basement gymnasium enabled the introduction of basketball, which could be played throughout the fall and winter months. The spring baseball season was short and frequently handicapped by inclement weather.

All sports were suspended during World War I, but in 1919 baseball was revived and biology professor Alfred "Pop" Sattre organized the first football team. In 1921, Concordia joined the fledgling Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) after organizing the forerunner of an athletic department, the Concordia Athletic Board. In succeeding years, teams for tennis, golf, wrestling, track, hockey, swimming, softball and volleyball were organized as student interest in sports increased. Athletics were off and running at the college.

They were not immediately successful, however. Boys raised on rigorous farm labor were woefully unfamiliar with most sports, and many had never seen a basketball before coming to Concordia. In their leisure hours, they seemed to prefer the novelty of "yust sittin' around." Women's sports suffered from the biases of the times, which hindered their development.  

The gymnasium wasn't very appealing, either. The narrow, low-ceilinged space had no lockers, dressing rooms or bleachers. Spectators simply lined up along the walls. There they watched teams that seldom scored points into double figures. Apart from buying a $6 basketball, the major athletics-related purchases by the college were bandages and ointments to treat various injuries suffered by the rough farm boys during their strenuous workouts.

In 1922 the Concordia women's basketball team won a regional championship and in 1931 the men's team won their first MIAC title, outscoring their opponents 339 to 199 in route to nine successive victories.

Concordia dedicated its spacious new field house, Memorial Auditorium, in 1952 with a 69-59 victory over former cross-town rivals, the Bison from North Dakota State University, before 5,500 fans. Memorial Auditorium gave the college the top-notch facility it needed to attract top coaches and athletes, which helped the college emerge as a regular contender for conference titles in indoor sports like basketball, volleyball and wrestling.

Football, first introduced on campus in 1916 then suspended during WWI, resumed in 1919 under the determined leadership of "Pop" Sattre. The team played its first games the following year and set a record never again equaled: Jamestown College 40 and Concordia 0, Fargo College 16 and Concordia 0, Moorhead Normal 21 and Concordia 0.

Eventually the basketball and football teams began winning and athletics became the recipient of widespread acceptance.  Championships meant something more than just winning. It made Concordia known to scores of people who knew nothing about it before, and it added to Concordia's ever-widening circle of influence in the region.

A big influence on successful athletics at Concordia was J.M. "Jake" Christiansen, who arrived in 1941 after coaching at Valparaiso University. Christiansen was a son of the famous choral conductor F. Melius Christiansen, and his brothers, Olav and Paul J., both conducted the choirs at St. Olaf and Concordia, respectively.

Christiansen coached both basketball and football, and was the insightful designer of both Memorial Auditorium and the football stadium and outdoor athletic complex. More than that, Christiansen was a man of rare compassion who combined a love of learning with a deep affection for students and a burning commitment to excellence. He became legendary for bringing out the best in anyone who played for him.

In 1953 Christiansen founded the summer Concordia College Coaching Clinic and for the next 20 years he attracted the biggest names in coaching to Moorhead to share their insights. The high point came in 1965 when 600 coaches attended.

In 1964, Christiansen coached the Cobbers to both the MIAC football title and the NAIA national championship. One of his talented former players, Jim Christopherson, then surpassed the success of his illustrious predecessor by winning nine conferences titles and two national championships. Both Christiansen and Christopherson have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Not to be outdone, the women's basketball team won Division III national championships in 1984 and 1988.

While football and men's and women's basketball have been the dominant Cobber teams, the philosophy of Concordia athletics is weighted more toward participation than the winning of championships. It seeks to build body, mind and character. To play fairly, to show good sportsmanship, is important both in team participation and in personal relations. Self-realization involves the training not only of mind and spirit but of one's physical resources as well. Because Concordia has always been a college of the church, the athletic department has endeavored to remember that dedication to Christ involves "spirit and soul and body."

Today, there are 22 varsity sports with more than 800 student-athletes participating in Concordia athletics - that's fully one quarter of all students at Concordia who participate in athletics!