Four days before the beginning of his senior soccer season, team captain AJ Moyes found himself without a head coach. Jake DeClute, who had led the Thunder since 2015, resigned unexpectedly, leaving Moyes and his three fellow captains scrambling.
While Moyes and his co-captains processed losing their coach, they decided to attend Student Development Training at the invitation of the Student Engagement team. It was the first time athletic captains had been invited to the annual event, which seeks to foster community among student leaders on campus and equip them for their leadership roles.
“The desire to invite the captains came from the belief that team captains have important leadership roles on campus,” said Athletic Director Julie Davis in an email to the Record. “The hope was that by beginning the year attending some of the workshops and through worship and prayer they would be strengthened in their leadership calling.”
Starting two weeks before classes begin each fall, the student leaders of Wheaton’s various organizations and clubs descend on HoneyRock Retreat Center to participate in a series of training sessions, corporate meals, worship, and devotionals in preparation for their leadership duties. This year, due in part to COVID-19, the Student Development Office made the decision to hold this training retreat on-campus. The move allowed the team captains of varsity athletics the opportunity to participate.
“The way Student Development included athletes as a part of Student Development Week was perfect,” said AJ Moyes, senior Interpersonal Communication major and soccer team captain. Moyes and his three co-captains opted to attend sessions separately to learn from various faculty and staff, who held workshops on topics related to the theme of “Becoming.”
Two of the workshops were led by varsity athletic coaches: “Becoming a Team Player,” based on Philippians 2, was taught by basketball coach Michael Schauer. Jim Gruenwald, head wrestling coach, spoke on Philippians 3 in “Becoming an Individual Contributor.” The varsity captains gladly took the chance to learn from other coaches.
The captains of men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s soccer, women’s tennis, and softball all attended the retreat, which lasted from August 15 to August 18. They joined leaders from organizations including Zoe’s Feet Dance Ministry, Chapel Band, Orientation Committee, organizations from the Office of Multicultural Development (William Osborne Society, Unidad Cristiana, Koinonia, 1-2-1 and Gospel Choir), Diakonoi, and many others.
Time spent in training was divided between worship services, prayer for each ministry on campus, and breakout workshops. Leaders were provided with twelve session options, all relating to “Becoming,” and chose the two that would most benefit their various roles and responsibilities.
“I wish I had been able to attend more than just two,” commented senior Spanish major Sarah Backer, one of three captains on the women’s tennis team. Backer attended the workshops “Becoming a Team Player,” taught by basketball coach Michael Schauer, and “Becoming in Healthy Relationships” by Beth Maas, interim director of the Wheaton Equity and Title IX Office.
Despite being initially hesitant to the idea, Backer found the workshops helpful and applicable to her role as a captain and student leader.
Schauer’s workshop proved to be especially valuable as Backer was able to incorporate his teachings about identity when addressing her team. “Something we all struggle with as athletes is our identity in our sport, which is not how it’s supposed to be. Our identity is in our faith” she said.
Reflecting on the different ways students ascribe value to themselves, such as test scores and GPA, Backer was reminded that “ value does not change to God. You are not your worst moments or your best moments.”
“It’s not really about what you do in leadership, it’s more about why you’re doing it,” said senior psychology major Sydney Heinrich, a captain on the softball team, who attended the workshop “Becoming an Inspirational Leader,” taught by Steve Ivester, the dean of Student Engagement. Heinrich said she appreciated being included in the gathering of student leaders.
“It feels like sometimes athletes are separated from other on-campus groups,” said Heinrich. “Student Development Week was like one community trying to come together toward God.”
Naomi Bunker, a junior and an Applied Health Science major on the volleyball team was also at the training for her leadership position with the OMD. “I was happy to see that there was an athletic group there,” she remarked. She felt that it was important to the college that the athletic student leadership was given the same opportunities as the other clubs and committees have been receiving in years past.
“Any time you get the opportunity to develop and grow as a leader, it’s going to be beneficial to your team,” Bunker said.
Backer mentioned, “it helped me understand my coach better, by hearing the perspective of the basketball coach and how he sees his athletes interact with each other.” Heinrich said, “It was cool because some of the workshops were led by the wrestling coach and the basketball coach, so having coaches incorporate the athletes’ point of view was exciting.” Moyes attended “Becoming Slow to Anger” by Paul Chelsen and “Becoming an Individual Contributor,” which he found both beneficial to his own personal life and applicable to guiding his team during this uncertain time. Fortunately, the team was able to find interim head and assistant coaches, with John Gosling agreeing to coach the team for the 2021 season with Dylan Milkent and Elliot Borge.
“Any time you get the opportunity to develop and grow as a leader, it’s going to be beneficial to your team,” said Backer.