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Forever The Chanimal: nickname remains a signature of Folkerts' HOF career

By Jacob Knabel on Sep. 29, 2023 in Men's Basketball

The first time it came up during conversation in a workplace capacity, all Chandler Folkerts could do was laugh. That’s right, ‘The Chanimal’ is never going away. It ranks as perhaps one of the all-time great nicknames bestowed upon a Concordia Bulldogs athlete. Little did anyone know just how ingrained ‘The Chanimal’ would become after it was first uttered by former teammate Robby Thomas on Jan. 9, 2016, in the aftermath of a big-time performance on the road at Northwestern.

The moniker was fitting for the 6-foot-8 Folkerts, who starred in the post during the 2013-14 through 2016-17 seasons as one of the best to ever lace up the sneakers for Concordia University Men’s Basketball.

“It spread like wildfire,” Folkerts said with a smile. “I work a remote job where most people live in Chicago. That’s exclusively what they refer to me as because they found the articles. It’s insane. I don’t think I’m ever going to escape it at this point.”

No, probably not. Folkerts is resigned to that fate, as he relented in front of the audience gathered on Sept. 22 for the 2023 Concordia Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Quite frankly, it’s The Chanimal’s fault. This what you get for a collegiate career that was every bit as astounding for the accomplishments off the court as the ones attained on it. It takes a special kind of student-athlete to earn the NAIA Emil S. Liston and the Academic All-America Team Member of the Year awards (from College Sports Communicators), both of which honor excellence in athletics, academics and citizenship.

When the dust settled, Folkerts had produced four-year career totals of 1,963 points, 868 rebounds and 142 blocked shots (all figures that rank inside the top five of the program’s all-time lists). He was named an NAIA Second Team All-American following his senior season of 2016-17. That particular campaign, Folkerts averaged 18.3 points and shot 68.6 percent from the floor. In the early days of Head Coach Ben Limback’s tenure, Folkerts helped build the program up. Concordia went from an 8-21 record in 2013-14 to a 21-10 mark in 2016-17.

It was clear from Folkerts’ hall of fame speech that he hated losing. More important than the wins or the losses were the relationships that were formed. As Folkerts remarked, “I really think I had the best group of people you could ask to go through the college experience with. Coming in, we had a new head coach, one senior and one or two juniors. As you could imagine, we had a little bit of a rough time trying to win some basketball games those first couple years. We kept getting better and better. The trust we developed over four years is incredible, and the bond we shared is amazing. We still have it today. I hope the current athletes know how special it is to go through what you’re going through right now. Just know it’s going to continue to last for years and years. Those guys are my friends for life.”

The Chanimal considers himself a Bulldog for life thanks to those enriching relationships and experiences. Out of Milford High School, Folkerts had options, understandable for someone with his abilities both athletically and academically. The awkward part about his recruitment centered upon a coaching search that had been ongoing at Concordia. Director of Athletics Devin Smith made a plea to Folkerts as part of the process. There was already a fondness for the institution with Chandler’s mother, Angela Muller, serving as Associate AD.

Interestingly, Folkerts also had the pull of good friend Ryan Tegtmeier, who was heading to Morningside (and is now Concordia Men’s Basketball assistant coach). Ultimately, Folkerts’ heart was at Concordia.

“As a senior in high school, I was very late to decide where to go to college,” Folkerts said. “I think it was late March/early April. Devin Smith recruited me and Coach (Marty) Kohlwey recruited me while they were working on the head coach. I was very slow to decide. I want to thank Brett (Muller) for getting me here. He cut through all of my overthinking and helped me get to Concordia. It’s a truly exceptional place for students to go to and excel in their passions.”

Basketball was always one of the passions for Folkerts, who competed intensely from a young age alongside his older brother Paxton. As part of Chandler’s speech, he recalled those childhood days when he and Paxton would paint basketball court lines “anywhere you let us,” as he said while speaking specifically to his mother Angela and father Paul. Pretty early on, Paxton and Chandler began to display impressive athletic skills.

The Chanimal got the most out of his skills in four years as a Bulldog. Performances like the one at Northwestern (34 points and 14 rebounds) that earned him the nickname became the norm. Off the court, he was known as kind and caring, a gentle giant. People like former Concordia president Brian Friedrich took notice.

Said Friedrich in 2017, “He is the young man every parent wants as a son. One of (my wife) Laurie’s and my favorite memories of Chandler is the evening he arrived at our home 40 minutes early for a team dinner. He sat in our kitchen as we put the finishing touches on the meal and visited with us as if we were lifelong friends. Chandler has amazing parents who have shaped him, encouraged his Christian faith and taught him what is really important in life.”

Chandler discussed the faith aspect of Concordia as part of his Hall of Fame speech. As Chandler said, “What made my experience particularly unique is that Christ was at the center of all of it. We got to share and grow in our faith together. We even got to watch one of our teammates get baptized. That was truly special, and I’m very, very thankful.”

It’s no surprise Chandler has gone on to be successful in putting to use his physics degree from Concordia and master’s in agricultural engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Of course, he thanked all those who made the achievements possible, including his family, coaches, teammates and professors. As he put it, “All of those folks are the ones who make this place so amazing and so unique, and I’m so thankful that I came to Concordia.”

Perhaps years later, one can fully appreciate The Chanimal’s impact on Concordia Athletics and the men’s basketball program in particular. If you didn’t enjoy those four years while they lasted, we can’t help you. Back in 2017, Limback tried to put it in perspective in saying, “I don’t think it’s sunk in the type of career he’s had. He played at a very high level for a number of years. This year I thought he expanded as a leader and you could see that amongst our team. His unselfishness and his work ethic was something he brought every day. I think we’ll look back at him as one of the all-time greats here. Some things you don’t even realize what he was doing. There’s all the off-court stuff, the academics and his character. It was a spectacular career that he had at Concordia.”

Six years since his graduation, The Chanimal keeps on thriving while finding references to his Concordia days completely unavoidable. His humble nature never would have commanded any sort of nickname, but he’ll wear it proudly if it means more positive attention for Concordia.

Married earlier in September to Jaycee, Chandler jokes that his wife will never hear the end of Concordia, just like he’ll never hear the end of ‘The Chanimal.’ Says Chandler, “She puts up with my incessant promotion of Concordia Bulldogs Athletics. It is unshakeable, I will keep doing it, that is not going to change, I’m very sorry.”