Why Do a Senior Send-Off?

By Chris Willertz
Head Wrestling Coach, Cincinnati OH
  • Why invite a group of senior boys (wrestlers in my case) on a 5 hour trip to climb a mountain??
  • What does this have to do with wrestling?
  • We do our “senior week” at the end of our season on campus.
  • How much did it cost?!
  • You gave up a weekend with your family to do what?
  • Are you crazy?  You are too old to try to climb a mountain!
These are all valid arguments. To me, climbing a mountain and inviting my boys to Mt. Leconte in the Smokey Mountains outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee the weekend of March 19th-20th just made too much sense. For one, it is strenuous, very strenuous, climbing over 6000 feet, traveling over 10 miles up and down the mountain for a 6-8 hours was what I wanted.  
Secondly, it was WILD, not too wild but wild.  There are parts of the trail that are risky, you are hiking right next to the cliff wall and the drop off is far, just three or four feet of you.  If you are afraid of heights, a mountain takes the cake!  There is the danger of wild animals ….animals you’ve only read about or seen in zoos; bears, snakes, spiders, wolves, etc..  There is the wildness of bad weather, snow, rain, extreme cold that makes the experience uncomfortable and adventurous.
Thirdly, climbing a mountain is an incredible accomplishment, sadly these days a rare accomplishment of teenage boys, who don’t leave the comforts of their video games, i-pods and cell phones.  How many of YOU have ever climbed a mountain?  
But the biggest reason I wanted to climb a mountain was because I wanted to invite my wrestlers to hear the voice of God.  I firmly believe (especially after reading John Eldridge’s Wild at Heart back in the winter of 2003) that God is everywhere, but He is especially present “out in the wilderness”.  The boys needed to hear what God wants to say to them.  
They didn’t hear it on the way to Gatlinburg. They were listening to their I-pods and texting the whole trip.  They don’t hear it every day at school or at home because they are constantly talking, goofing off, listening to their I-pods or texting.  They don’t hear it at church because most don’t go to church and the ones that do don’t want to be there; they’ve turned off God even before they walk in the door.  
So maybe it doesn’t have to be a mountain, but it HAS to be SOMEWHERE in nature away from their comfort zone.  They have to enter an alien world, a world where they don’t fit in, a world where they have to listen, to pay attention, to focus, to feel their environment.  Once their senses are heightened, they are ripe to hear God’s call. (Of course the boys were not allowed to bring I-pods or cell phones on the hike and I even patted them down to make sure!)
I want to invite my wrestlers to experience God.  Maybe you disagree.  Maybe you think your job is to teach your sport, period.  Maybe you do more, like emphasize character and virtue (hard work, courage, etc.)  Maybe you think you should win and that’s your focus.  Or getting your kids into college is your goal.  There are many reasons why coaches coach.  I want my wrestlers to be great wrestlers, I want my wrestlers to be virtuous, I want my wrestlers to win and I want them to go to college.  But what I REALLY want, is for them to meet God. They have to make that choice, but it is one I hope for.
We are living in a culture that is becoming more and more godless, every day.  There is no place for God.  We can get by without God, heck we can thrive without God.  This is a hoax, it’s a lie.  It’s my job to expose my wrestlers to this lie.  Don’t believe it!  God is real and what is more, He created you, He loves you and He has a mission for you.  
Once this message is realized (as I am sure you can attest) your life takes on a whole new meaning.  You are a new man, you have a spirit and a joy that can’t be explained.  Don’t you want your athletes to have this type of joy?  If you could play a part in giving this to your guys, wouldn’t you do it??  
There is a crisis in our culture today, many men do not know who they are, or who they are supposed to be.  They don’t know where they are at or where they are supposed to go.  They don’t know what they are supposed to do or how to do what they are supposed to do.  We are a culture with a huge portion of of wimpy and directionless men. And we know it but we don’t know what to do about it.
BUT NOT MY WRESTLERS! I want my wrestlers to know what their mission is and to truly get after it -without whining, without coming up with every possible excuse, without blaming everyone else ... I want my wrestlers to be MEN.
Knowing God and knowing your mission does not mean you will be sinless, that you won’t fall and make mistakes.  Just ask Peter.  They may not realize their mission until they are on their deathbed.  Some may tragically never realize their mission.  I’m wise enough to know this.  But that’s not the point.  I did what I felt called to do.  I took them to climb a mountain, so God could speak to their hearts.  I don’t know what God said to them individually.  But I know He spoke to them.  And I know He spoke to me as well.  He said, “Well done, my true and faithful servant……I am proud of you!”  That is enough for me to do it again and again and again and again.
Think about what you want to do for your athletes.  What is special about your program, what is special about you, what will be special about your guys?  You need to figure this out, you need to figure out why you are coaching and what you want to transmit to your kids.  If you are unsure…………try climbing a mountain……it worked for me.  
God Bless and get it done!
Coach Willertz