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Kinesiology, religion alum Jim Nendel leads football team to Finnish championship

October 26, 2010
Nendel also founded A Champion's Heart ministry, co-wrote book on service-learning in physical education

On Sept. 4, Jim Nendel, B.A.'82, M.A.'99, led the Porvoo Butchers to win the Maple Bowl Championship XXXI, Finland's equivalent to the American Super Bowl. The Butchers overtook the Seinäjoki Crocodiles 30-17.

Coaching a team that had won the Maple Bowl the last five consecutive years prior to his arrival, Nendel says he felt the pressure to win this game, and felt a great sense of relief when they won.

"The most fulfilling part of the victory was that we won not only the national championship for the top level in Finland, but our U-17 and U-19 teams also won national championships, so we have built a new foundation for the future," says Nendel. "Many players commented that this team was the first time that they felt that they had won the title as a full team and felt a togetherness that they had never experienced before."

The six-time Maple Bowl champion Porvoo Butchers took home silver and bronze from the same championship in 1995 and 2003, respectively. Nendel has coached the team since April.

Though winning the championship was a highlight in Nendel's life, he says his best experiences as a coach come from the continuous relationships he's built with athletes over the years. He remains in touch with former athletes from across the U.S. and Europe, claiming these rich experiences stand out more than any one victory.

"Coaching has provided me with both access to athletes' lives and opportunities to develop rich, deep relationships," Nendel says. "When working as a coach you have opportunities to see players in a variety of situations over long and consistent periods of time. You see them grow, struggle, and find success."

Nendel has 20 years' experience as a coach for high school, college and semi-professional teams, including a position as Whitworth's assistant coach and athletic recruiting coordinator from 1992 to 2001. He also has taught kinesiology and sports history courses at Eastern Washington University and Penn State University.

In 2007, Nendel was inducted into the Manchester All-Stars Hall of Fame Induction as Most Influential Coach. In 2004, he received the Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award from Penn State University. In 2006 and 2007, he received the ESPN /NASPE Play Your Way national award.

Nendel played football for four years at Whitworth, where he graduated in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in religion. He returned to receive his master's degree in sport administration in 1999.

At Whitworth, Nendel founded a program called the Barnabus Project, which utilized the school's athletes and facilities to reach at-risk kids in Spokane. The project opened Nendel's eyes to the importance of sports in people's lives. In May 2009, he founded A Champion's Heart, a Spokane-based Christian humanitarian organization that brings hope to kids, families, and communities through sport and play in impoverished regions.

"Our hope is to take mission trips to play with kids and bring them hope while using our curriculum to help in AIDS awareness and to combat other health issues," says Nendel, the organization's executive director.

On their annual trips, A Champion's Heart donates balls and sports equipment to impoverished areas, provides training for local leaders in play and sport development, and builds playgrounds and gymnasiums in orphanages in impoverished villages. So far they have traveled to Nicaragua, Belize, Thailand, Argentina, Kenya, and Malawi.

Nendel co-founded A Champion's Heart with Chadron Hazelbaker, '97, Randy Nichols, '98, and Assistant Professor of Theology Moses Pulei, '97. For more information, visit

Last January, Nendel released a book he co-edited, Service-Learning in Physical Education and Related Professions: A Global Perspective (Jones & Bartlett 2010). Written with Marybeth Miller from Slippery Rock University, Nendel wrote a section on service-learning projects he completed while coaching at Whitworth. Nendel describes the book as a resource for teachers in physical education, sport management, outdoor education, recreation, adapted physical education, and athletics on how to implement service-learning into curriculums. The book is available at

Nendel is in the process of writing a biography of Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian Olympic champion swimmer whom Nendel describes as the father of modern surfing. In his book, Nendel uses Kahanamoku as a cultural text for studying the changes in Hawaiian culture and values, from the overthrow of the monarchy until statehood. Nendel says Kahanamoku had tremendous influence on the changes in that culture during that time.

Nendel's connection to Hawaii began as an undergraduate, when he became friends with several Hawaiian students. Through a friend, Curt Kekuna, '70, he took a group of YoungLife students to Hawaii. By the time Nendel returned to Whitworth in 1991 to coach football, the school's Hawaiian connection had diminished, so he began recruiting players from the Aloha State. A few years later, Whitworth had more Hawaiian players on their roster than any other school in the country, aside from the University of Hawaii. Nendel also recently discovered he might have Hawaiian ancestry.

Currently, Nendel is working at Camp Lutherhaven, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, teaching outdoor education to children. He may renew his contact as head coach of the Porvoo Butchers, though he has also been approached by teams in Switzerland, Italy, and Germany.

"Ideally, I would like to find a coaching position in the U.S.," Nendel says, "but I also feel like God has placed me in Europe for a reason, so that I can live in obedience to Christ and be a visible expression of the invisible God for them."

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or