It looked like a typical pep rally: Students in blue and orange face paint. Athletes loping across the gymnasium floor, followed by cheerleaders doing handsprings and back flips.
Then university President Robert Sloan Jr. and his wife stepped to the microphone, and Sue Sloan opened her Bible.
"Enter his gates with Thanksgiving, and his courts with praise," she read from the Book of Psalms, noting that the reference to "courts" fit nicely with Houston Baptist University's upcoming basketball game.
That duality, traditional campus life leavened with the spiritual, is everywhere as HBU begins its second half-century.
It is a school founded by Baptists, whose student body reflects the ethnic and religious diversity of Houston. Its academics are built upon classical literature, at a time when many universities are promoting programs directly linked to a career.
And as other schools move classes online and to the weekends in order to accommodate working students, HBU requires students to participate in campus life.
"We're not for everyone," said Sloan, who was named president in 2006. "But there are plenty of people we are for."
Sloan is only the third president to lead HBU, which was founded 50 years ago after three decades of effort.
Early concerns that the school would compete with Baylor University in Waco, the nation's largest Baptist university and the oldest university in Texas, eventually eased, said Jane Jester Marmion, a clinical social worker from HBU's second graduating class.
"I never felt we were competing," she said. "I don't know how we could. We were young. We were small."
But that gave those first students an emotional connection that Sloan said remains key to the HBU experience.
Other things have changed.
For starters, HBU is no longer primarily for Baptists.
"While we still have the name and a connection to Baptists I'm a Baptist Houston is a very ecumenical city," Sloan said, noting the range of mega-churches here.
Fewer than one-third of students are Baptist, and HBU's trustees earlier this year asked the Baptist General Convention of Texas, with which the school is affiliated, for permission to add non-Baptist Christians to the board.
The convention's executive board recommended approval, but delegates to the convention turned down the request on Monday.
But even as it sought to loosen its Baptist ties, HBU remains unapologetically Christian.
Faculty, staff and students elected to campus office must sign an affirmation of basic Christian beliefs.
"Nobody's neutral," Sloan said. "Everyone has a point of view. We just try to be up front with our perspective."
That isn't meant to exclude students of other faiths, he said, and the school enrolls almost as many Muslims as Methodists, along with Catholics, Hindus and those with no religious affiliation.
Jennifer Ulin chose HBU for a variety of reasons.
"It was close to my house," said Ulin, a finance major who graduated from Elsik High School. "I believe in the beliefs the school has."
She's Catholic, but she said that isn't an issue.
"They don't pound it on you," said Celia Tirado, a nursing student from Humble who also is Catholic. "They lead by example."
HBU's diversity is another case of leading by example, and Sloan said students learn, in part, by hearing from people of different backgrounds in small, discussion-style classes.
"Growing up in Katy, you see a lot of the same (types of people)," said Rachel O'Shields, who graduated in 2009 and now works for Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. "Coming to a school with people from all over the world, it was great."
O'Shields said Sloan brought new energy to HBU, where students knew little about him other than he had served as president of Baylor for a decade before stepping aside to serve as chancellor.
His time at Baylor was occasionally rocky. Hhe launched the ambitious Baylor 2012 plan to reach the top ranks of higher education, but he also clashed with faculty and some moderate Baptists.
At HBU, however, Sloan's blend of academics and a Christian worldview hasn't drawn open dissent, and his experience at the larger school raised the sophistication of recruiting and other operations.
He guided HBU's own blueprint for the future, known as the Ten Pillars.
The plan calls for a curriculum based on the classics, an expansion of graduate and arts programs, a higher community profile and a more global focus, among other things.
Sloan wants to recruit nationally and to expand the student body dramatically.
Enrollment grew 20 percent during his first few years, to about 2,500, but plateaued after Hurricane Ike destroyed the Brown Administration Building, which housed the student center.
More than two years later, the building remains closed while HBU pursues a lawsuit against its insurance company, and Sloan said it has made recruiting more difficult.
That's a serious issue for a school that draws as much as 90 percent of its operating revenue from tuition, fees, books, and room and board.
The economy has hurt, too.
Tuition is $25,395 a year, about $1,500 less than Baylor but three times the cost of a public university, and raising money for scholarships is at the top of Sloan's to-do list.
Former President George W. Bush is set to speak at a scholarship gala Tuesday, the first time in seven years HBU has hosted a fundraising gala and another signal that its new leadership feels ready for the next step.
The Ten Pillars doesn't mention the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but that is also part of Sloan's vision, and HBU expects to gain full membership as a Division I school next year.
"It gives the school a more comprehensive experience," he said. "Young people want that and, for good or ill, athletics is a part of that."
Athletics and the other extras of campus life are part of what lawyer and HBU graduate Randy Sorrels calls the "controlled fun" at HBU.
"There are opportunities to do everything you can do at any other campus," said Sorrels, a 1984 graduate who attended HBU on a soccer scholarship. "We didn't rank real high on the party list of colleges. We can have fun and do so responsibly."
HBU joined the Great West Conference for athletics in 2008.