GREENVILLE, S.C. – Bethel men’s and women’s track and field head coach Tony Natali was inducted into the NCCAA Hall of Fame during the NCCAA’s Annual Convention on Thursday, one of two inductees in the 2018 Hall of Fame class.
Also honored were recipients of the Game Plan 4 LIFE Character Award, Heart of Courage Award, Meritorious Service Award, Presidential Award, and Sports Ministries Award.
Tony Natali has stayed true to his motto of “Christ First” throughout his 20-year career at Bethel College. Tony has won numerous championships and awards, but he believes those performances give Bethel a higher level platform to witness to others. Tony has used that platform to lead dozens to the Lord and disciple hundreds in their faith, leading his colleague, Dr. Dennis Engbrecht, to conclude that he is indeed a “fisher of men.”
While at Bethel, Tony has served as Assistant Athletic Director, Head Men’s & Women’s Track & Field Coach, and Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach. As an assistant basketball coach, Tony has been a part of 5 conference tournament championships and 2 NCCAA DI Men’s Basketball National Championships. Under Tony’s leadership, the Pilots’ track & field program has blossomed from a small unit into a national powerhouse, which fields anywhere from 75-100 student-athletes each year. He has led the Pilots to 8 conference championships and 10 NCCAA National Championships, while also earning 10 NCCAA Coaching Staff of the Year awards.
Tony’s program has also produced 229 individual conference champions, 203 NCCAA individual national champions, 6 NAIA individual national champions, 356 NCCAA All-Americans, and 66 NAIA All-Americans. Additionally, his student-athletes have earned awards off the track, including 7 NCCAA Wheeler Awards, 140 NCCAA Scholar-Athletes, and 31 NAIA Scholar-Athletes. All of these championships and awards have been achieved without a home track & field facility on which to practice.
This “higher level platform” that Tony has built helps to open the door for him to evangelize and disciple his student-athletes. One way Tony accomplishes this is through his heavy involvement with Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Another method is recruiting student-athletes whose fruits suggest they need the Lord. Many of these individuals have found a lasting relationship with Jesus Christ, and their lives have been totally transformed. Tony’s office is typically occupied with a track & field student-athlete, into whom he is pouring his life and mentoring them through issues that life can bring.
“Tony’s greatest impact has been on the student-athletes he’s coached,” stated Bethel College Director of Athletics Tom Visker. “The spiritual formation of his athletes has always been his first priority in coaching.”
Shawn Holtgren, Bethel College Vice President for Student Development, said, “Tony is a master recruiter, a gifted motivator, a committed team-builder, and an accomplished trainer. But most of all, he is a shepherd. Tony has learned from the Good Shepherd what it looks like to guide, counsel, correct, and care for his flock, which just happens to be college-age student-athletes.”
“Excellence in all areas sums up Tony Natali,” said NCCAA Executive Director Dan Wood. “He has built successful programs and sustained those programs while all the while making those student-athletes who were blessed to call him “Coach” better men and women for the Kingdom. Long after the championship banners and walls filled with plaques and certificates are gone, homes filled with better husbands, wives, moms, and dads will tell the story of Tony’s legacy.”