Monday, January 06, 2014

In Memory of Coach Wolfe

On Sunday, June 5, 2013, Steve Wolfe passed away. I will miss him.

I met Coach Wolfe when I was a freshman in high school. He was my wrestling and my football coach. Many people will share about his accomplishments in the next couple of days. He was a committed family man, a accomplished athlete, a dedicated coach, a man of faith with a deep commitment to his church and his community. I would like to share what Coach Wolfe meant to me.

When I first met Coach Wolfe, I had just moved to Alaska. I was picked on and pushed around on a daily basis. I was struggling academically, emotionally, and personally. I was in a new place. I did not know where I fit or belonged.

Somehow, I think at the encouragement of Darrell White, I was drafted as the manager of the wrestling team my freshman year. I wanted a varsity letter, and I could get one if I was the manager of the team. So, I did it. And, I continued to get picked on by the upperclassmen I served. Every trip. All the time.

In the midst of all my difficulties, Coach Wolfe saw something in me as a person and an athlete. He encouraged me. Along with Coach White, he coaxed me into wrestling in one tournament my freshman year. Then, after playing football my sophomore year, I decided to wrestle as well.

My first year I was atrocious. I won enough matches to letter, but not by much. I was a first year wrestler wrestling varsity heavyweight. Coach Wolfe worked with me to get better every day anyway.

As I entered my junior year, he came to identify that I was a kinesthetic learner. I stayed after practice every night, and he worked with me and often Ivan on moves. He discovered that he needed to literally put my body into position and move me through the moves he was teaching with his hands. Once I felt what I was supposed to do, I often got it. And then as I practiced it I got better and better.

So he put in hours and hours of working with me. And his help paid off. I ended up going from 9-23 my sophomore year to a 50% win record my junior year. This was deceiving because I was much improved the second half of my junior year, barely missing the state tournament.

It was also at that time that my mother's boyfriend died. Having been with my mom since I was 5, he was really like my step-father. Steve not only invested in my wrestling skill, he invested in me as well. He picked me up to lift weights with him and Ivan in the summers. He stood up for me with other kids and other teachers. He ran with me. He encouraged me. He cared.

By my senior year, his work with me had paid off. I placed 3rd in state. I set the record for pins, wins, and varsity points at the time. I was a captain of both the football and wrestling teams. I was the Homer High School Male Athlete of the Year. As an athlete I went on to be a two-time Academic All-American football player. I would have given up on myself and quit if Steve Wolfe did not trust in me, believe in me, and invest in me.

Coaching was more than a way to stay athletic for Steve. It was his vehicle for reaching out and loving kids, of helping young boys become men, of reaching out to the lonely and downtrodden, the lonely and the lost, and using sports to help form them into the kind of people they could be. It was his mission and his ministry. With me, he found a beaten-up, lonely kid devoid of confidence and saw potential in me that I did not see in myself. He believed in me when nobody else thought I was worth believing in. And, although I still struggle with confidence in certain parts of my life, he taught me that I have the strength within me to overcome, to make a difference, to matter for something. My father did not do that. My teachers, family and friends did not do that. Coach Wolfe did that. And for that I will forever be grateful.

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