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Prodigal son coaches to impact lives

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Gateway Christian football coach Shaun Wigley after practice on Tuesday. (J.T. Keith Photo)

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Talking to Gateway Christian’s animated, enthusiastic football coach Shaun Wigley, it doesn’t take long to forget the king of eight-man football had a rough season last year (5-4-1). At one point the Warriors were 2-3-1 and in danger of missing the playoffs. The Warriors righted the ship and went on a two-game winning streak to make it into the playoffs, before suffering a disappointing 70-34 loss to Mountainair.

A Gateway Christian football player runs at the end of practice Tuesday. (J.T. Keith Photo)

In 2015-16 the Warriors were in the championship game losing both times to Melrose, in 2015 30-28 and 58-39 in 2016 to ruin their undefeated season. On the second day of football practice Tuesday morning the emphasis was on conditioning and teaching. The difference between Gateway and other schools is if the coaches want to, they can stop practice and pray or talk to players about life issues.

At practice, the coaches are not only coaching their team on routes and techniques but at the end of practice, they talk about life lessons and current events — about what’s going on in the world and how it applies to them. Wigley and his assistant coaches try to coach the whole person and not just wins and losses.

The fact Wigley is a football coach at any Christian school is a miracle in and of itself. Wigley shares that the person he is now is not who he was in high school. He went to high school at Gateway and didn’t play sports. He eventually graduated from Goddard two years after his graduating class.

Wigley enjoyed the party life from eighth grade until he turned 24. At 16, his parents told him he’d have to follow their rules if he wanted to stay there, and he told them he loved them but he wanted to do his own thing. He moved out and for the next eight years made bad choices.

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“I lived and worked to party and have a good time,” Wigley said. “ I thought the world revolved around me and having a good time. My only expectations were to make money to have fun. I was a selfish person.”

During the time he was partying, he married and had a son, Caleb. In the first year of his marriage he came home one day and his ex-wife, Carrie, told him he wasn’t a good person and she didn’t want to be married to him anymore. Wigley left with a handful of clothes and bunked with three roommates while working construction.

Broken as a person, Wigley realized he didn’t sign up to not be there for his son. Wrigley hit rock bottom.

“My big turnaround was my son,” Wigley said. “I may be this and this, but I’m not going to be a deadbeat dad. I realized you can’t provide for a kid if you can’t provide for yourself. I was an alcoholic, a functional alcoholic.”

Wigley said to God, “If you’re real, help me, I’m here.” Wigley felt like God said: “I’m here.” Wigley attended church that night after he got off work, in his dirty work clothes that had holes in them and his steel-toed boots, because those were the best clothes he had at the time. Gateway Christian Church’s pastor John Ogle preached a message and the church prayed over him and his life has never been the same. Wigley’s life changed instantly — he quit drinking that day, quit his friends, and asked his parents to help him walk out his newfound faith.

Wigley asked for help with accountability and to move back home. His parents gave him a 10 p.m. curfew at age 24. The changes in Wigley were evident to everyone, especially his son, Caleb, who at three years old said, “I’m so glad my mean nasty daddy died, and Jesus gave me a new daddy.”

“The reality is,” Wigley said, “that my choices put me in an environment that perpetuated those bad choices. I kept making them and putting myself in those bad situations and environments that I didn’t want to be. I woke up one day and thought, this isn’t what I thought it would be.”

After Wigley became saved and after two years as an assistant football coach, he wanted to become a youth pastor. Instead, the church and school asked him if he would become the head football coach. At the time Gateway had very few athletes and nobody wanted to coach. The administration told him if he wanted to be the youth pastor he’d have to coach football.

Success comes with a cross.

Wigley was in his first year as head coach and one day in 2004 during his quiet time in prayer, he asked God what he could do to honor him. He says God told him to make him a cross, carry it out and put it in the ground, which would represent putting God first in their lives, win or lose. Wigley built the cross in his parent’s driveway and the team carries the cross to a certain spot before home games and puts it in the ground. The team then kneels and prays.

“As long as I’m here, that’s what we’ll do,” Wigley stated. “That’s who I am.”

Gateway coaches are as concerned about coaching and teaching character as with wins or losses. Wigley recalls the time his team lost a game because his defensive end wasn’t doing right in practice and he benched him for the entire game, which they would go on to lose because they could not get any pressure on the quarterback.

“If it were easy, everybody would be a champion,” Wigley said. “What separates the people from greatness is the process. Embrace the process. Gateway’s motto for school this year is, ‘Path of Truth.’ If you’re not on the path of truth you’re never going to get where you’re going. The process is more important than the promise. My job is to embrace the process take care of myself and do what I can and God will always do what he is supposed to.”

Wigley has found his purpose in living for God and helping other youngsters not miss their senior year or go through some of the things he went through as a young adolescent. For him it is not about championships, but about impacting lives and the youth of today for tomorrow.

“When I thought living for myself was cool,” Wigley said, “I thought life was a party, but when I came to understand it’s about God, then it helped me to understand that my purpose was to help other people. I’m not here to take what I can get. I’m here to give what I’ve been given, which is a new start and another chance.”

As the season is set to begin, Wigley wants to get back to the championship game, like when they won three straight (2011-13), but his main purpose is to share his faith and impact his players’ lives for the better. Wigley believes if he does God’s work, God will take care of him. What makes him happy is when his players come back and tell him ‘thank you,’ and they get it and are doing great things with their lives.

“If you know how to put everything into this,” Wigley said, “and believe in this guy and something greater than yourself and just the game, and now. It’s hard to get kids to get beyond the mirror effect, we try to get our kids to look in the window where we can look out and see what’s going on and try to help other people besides ourselves.”

Wigley wants to try and help raise young men who can step into society and be productive. The football field and the wins and losses are part of the teaching tools he uses to help his players grow in life.