Crusaders to Sea Lions: 50 Years of PLNU’s Athletic Evolution

'73-'74 JV basketball team. Professor Anderson is number 50. The "Point Loma" across their chests is a patch covering up "Pasadena" as they had yet to get new uniforms. Photo courtesy of the 1974 edition of The Mariner.

From the green and gold of Golden Gym to the track and baseball stadium’s silhouettes against the sunset sky, for those familiar with Point Loma Nazarene University, the athletic facilities are an iconic sight. However, in 1973, when PLNU moved from Pasadena to the current Point Loma campus, the athletic facilities — and the teams that used them — had a different look.

Professor emerita of writing Charlene Pate (‘77) attended PLNU at the time, and she recalled that the state of the university’s athletics was way less developed than today.

’73-’74 track athlete running on the old cinder track. Photo courtesy of the 1974 edition of The Mariner.

“The buildings were rather scruffy,” said Pate. “The facilities, equipment and knowledge were limited.”

When PLNU purchased the land that the campus now sits on, Golden Gym was around 10 years old, according to PLNU Athletics. It was originally built to be used in part as a hockey arena, but since its original construction, it has undergone many renovations and paint jobs, notably replacing the gym floor, since it used to be removable per the original hockey blueprints.

Due to the renovations and updates of the gym, it has been able to host many important championship events over the years. According to PLNU Athletics, numerous NAIA national volleyball tournaments and two Division II men’s basketball West Regional tournaments were held there.

If it weren’t for the gym’s ability to handle hosting large tournaments, PLNU may have never been the home to “America’s Most Scenic Ballpark.” 

According to PLNU Athletics, Kevin Kernan from The San Diego Union-Tribune was covering a volleyball tournament in Golden Gym when he first laid eyes on the baseball field in the early ‘90s. The view inspired him to write an article that was published in The Union-Tribune and the national Baseball America magazine that dubbed PLNU’s field as “America’s Most Scenic Ballpark.”

However, though it’s always had the view, the stadium itself had to undergo numerous makeovers before it could be crowned as the “most scenic,” and improvements are being made still. These renovations include the old six-foot high “dug-ups” becoming field-level dugouts, a chain-link fence replacing a wooden one, new seating being put in and a digital scoreboard being installed.

While the baseball field was being revamped, its neighbor, PLNU’s track, was undergoing what PLNU Athletics calls “the most extensive project in the history of Pasadena/Point Loma Nazarene University Athletics.” Over a 10-week construction period, the oval surrounding the soccer field turned from a cinder to an all-weather track.

“It [the new track] was just incredible,” said Pate.

All of these projects and more have transformed the athletic facilities into the view that PLNU’s community enjoys and what the Sea Lions use every day.

The Sea Lions weren’t the ones using the facilities 50 years ago, though. Back then, the Point Loma campus was home to the Point Loma College Crusaders. The Sea Lions wouldn’t represent PLNU until around 30 years later.

In the 1973-74 season, the Crusaders competed in NAIA District 3 in seven men’s athletic programs: varsity and junior varsity basketball, cross-country, baseball, wrestling, track and field, tennis and golf. Of the around 100 student-athletes at the time, there was only one woman who was part of the tennis team.

The university was just beginning to launch, relaunch and further develop its women’s athletic programs — some of which existed in Pasadena — due to Title IX passing only a year prior and the chaos of the move.

“It was so chaotic it was unbelievable,” said Ben Foster (‘68), the JV basketball coach at the time.

Slowly but surely more women’s teams were added to meet Title IX requirements by the late ‘70s. Professor of kinesiology Ted Anderson (‘78), who was a basketball player under Foster, said the then-athletic director and baseball coach, Carroll Land, is largely to thank for the advancements in women’s athletic programs at PLNU.

“I just remember how important it was to him to give women an opportunity in sport,” said Anderson. 

Foster added that Land was a huge driver to start women’s programs nationally.

“I would even go so far as to say he was the father of implementing Title IX at the NAIA level,” said Foster.

Land was on the committee that organized a national championship in basketball for women. This women’s NAIA national championship was the first of its kind in the United States, and the NCAA used it as an example for the women’s championships it would start soon after.

Now, the Sea Lions compete in the PacWest Conference of NCAA Division II and fill 11 athletic teams — 4 men’s and 7 women’s. Of the over 200 student-athletes, nearly 150 are women, with almost 70 of them belonging to the women’s track and field team.

Fourth-year track athlete and biology major Sarah Pratt said she’s thankful for those who came before her and pushed for changes to happen and programs to be added so that she can compete today.

“It’s super cool to see how much has changed during Point Loma’s history,” said Pratt. “It means a lot to me that I have the opportunity to run in college. I’m super excited to be a part of such a large team this year, and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.”

While the nature of athletics is to constantly look to the future, Pratt added that it’s important to look back every once in a while.

“It’s really important,” said Pratt, “to remember how far we’ve come.”