The word faith can take on many forms on the football field. One’s faith can be in a god, a team, a teammate or even oneself.
Paul Wilke, senior pastor at Woodlawn United Methodist Church, appreciates what faith can do. His own faith slants toward Christianity.
But on the sidelines of Derby Panther football games, Wilke understands his assignment. He is an outlet and sounding board for young men. He wants to inspire faith – in all forms.
“When he (Head Coach Brandon Clark) talked to me about being team pastor, I got excited about that because if it can’t help you in the rough and tumble world in football – if your faith isn’t strong enough to help you in smashmouth football, then what good is it?” said Wilke.
Clark’s high school and Kansas State teams had a team pastor, and he wanted to continue the tradition at Derby. Wilke has been a team “coach” for five years.
“We’re all about giving kids opportunities to become better. A big part of that, for me, is we want to be better players and better students. If a kid chooses to be better in the spiritual life, then they have that opportunity,” Clark said. “There’s a fine line between school and church, but we really don’t play that line. It’s never forced on kids.”
At Thursday voluntary team meetings, Wilke delivers a message. It may be about handling success or coping with failure.
“I think Coach Clark really wants that presence because he wants the coaching staff, the full Derby football program, to be held accountable to a higher level of quality of life and personhood,” Wilke said. “There is a team togetherness that happens in football unlike any other sport.”
That togetherness is constructed around faith. Each player must have faith he can execute his task, and believe that those around him will do theirs, as well.
Clark and Wilke encourage self-improvement. They want athletes to be thankful for life’s positives, and help their football brothers when times are difficult or a life decision must be faced.
“I’m hoping to inspire them to be the best they can be in the best sense of that word. Not just the best player, but to be the best human being you can be, and my belief is that you can’t do that without faith,” he said. “Life is messy. Football is messy. It’s exciting to apply our faith directly into the real, messy reality of life.”
"Put God in all things and put Him first. God gave us our talents and expects us to make the most of them. To not do your absolute best in the use of your talents is to disappoint the God who made you. Even on the football field, maximizing your talents and efforts can only glorify you in the eyes of your God and in the eyes of your team, family and school and town. it is what winners are made of. JMC."