Catawba Chiefs: Still going strong in a pandemic

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 8, 2020

By Mike London

SALISBURY — How do you maintain support for Catawba College athletics when a potential championship baseball season was halted in its tracks, a football season was postponed to 2021 and thoroughly sanitized basketball games are basically fanless except for a handful of parents?

Rest assured, Catawba’s athletic heart is still beating even as a COVID fall briskly turns into a COVID winter.

Through everything, the Catawba Chiefs Club, 544 members strong as of Sunday, with names ranging from Abernethy to Zuzga, have helped keep scholarship money flowing and major projects going, even when the only tangible personal benefit members receive has been the weekly electronic newsletter.

The Chiefs Club provides financial support for athletic grants-in-aid for student athletes at Catawba. At last count, Catawba’s 23 varsity sports were aided by 83 full athletic scholarships.

“We’ve got very loyal people,” said Jeff Childress, whose job titles include associate athletic director and director of athletic development. “We don’t have games for Chiefs to see right now, but those people who support us really appreciated their time at Catawba. They like what we’re doing and they like how we’re growing.”

Childress believes the Chiefs Club was headed for the lofty heights of 750 members when everything was suddenly shut down last March by the pandemic.

That was a serious setback, but the Chiefs Club is rebounding, even during a difficult time to make a comeback.

“It has been challenging to keep our membership up in 2020, but not as challenging as we were worried that it might be,” Childress said. “We’re getting a lot of former student-athletes on board. Half of our new members this year have been former Catawba athletes. They remember how a scholarship helped them at Catawba. Now they, in turn, are helping provide scholarships.”

Besides all the scholarships, there are highly visible projects that the Chiefs Club has a hand in. The new turf field for football has been checked off the to-do list. The long awaited renovation of Newman Park is scheduled to begin immediately after the 2021 Catawba baseball season.

The First Pitch Dinner, an event that is instrumental in raising funds so that Catawba’s baseball team can play early-season games in the warmth of the Florida sun, is an upcoming project that will be moved off-campus due to the pandemic. The scheduled date is Jan. 23. It will be a tail-gate affair held at West End Plaza. Doug Rice will be the master of ceremonies, with ultra-successful coaches Chip Baker and Pat McQuaid slated to speak. Shari Graham is the lead organizer for that event. It’s been detoured, but not stopped.

Henry C. Bernhardt, Class of 1950, is credited with founding the Chiefs Club in 1976,  when he was director of development at the college.

Forty-four years later, the Chiefs Club continues to carry on Bernhardt’s vision of an organization that promotes a spirit of camaraderie, goodwill and sportsmanship.

“Our annual golf tournament that is really huge as far as providing financial help for Catawba football couldn’t be held this year, but Chiefs Bill Hall and Bob Setzer got on the phones and raised $50,000 for an event that couldn’t be played, Childress said. “That’s extraordinary loyalty and support. There are a lot of people who care about Catawba. There are a lot of people who want to help.”

For information about joining the Catawba Chiefs Club, contact Childress at  704-637-4265 or