Under the Big Montana Sky
Story by Jim O'Hara; Photos by Dr. Harold E. Newman
Creating close bonds between athletes and coaches is vital for a team to be successful. It is a bond that builds from the first meeting to that first practice and into that first contest. Everywhere in between, that close connection grows even tighter, and becomes one that often results in achieving victories.
Such are the relationships among the individual teams at Shorter College, and following a recent department trip to Montana the seeds have been planted to establish an even stronger bond within the Hawks’ entire athletic program.
During the final week of July, 28 student-athletes representing all 18 intercollegiate teams joined eight coaches in a getaway to Glen, Montana, where fresh air, beautiful mountain views and nights so clear you could almost reach out and touch the stars can combine to create one powerful impression.
Shorter College President Dr. Harold E. Newman and Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Nelson Price, joined the group of athletes and coaches in a truly unique experience.
“It was awesome,” Shorter head men’s basketball coach Chad Warner said about the group’s time at Two Moose Camp Gainey Ranch, a 6,000-plus acre facility created for such purposes by Georgia native and philanthropist Harvey Gainey and his wife, Annie.
Two Moose Camp Gainey Ranch in Glen, Montana
“When I first took the job here, Dr. Price asked me if I would be interested in pursuing this,” Coach Warner said. “It was a blessing to all of us and it reflects on the leadership at the college.”
While the vision to create an avenue in which to build leadership qualities through relationships and faith was clear, the athletes and coaches didn’t know what to expect.
“I had no idea what it would be like,” said senior football player Sharrod Kimble who represented his team. “All I knew was that it was a free trip and that I was honored that Coach Jones asked me to go to learn about leadership and take part in some Bible study. But it was more. A lot more.”
“It was life changing for me,” said assistant women’s basketball coach Kristy Brown. “It was a good way for our student-athletes to grow closer to the Lord and grow closer together because a lot of them didn’t even know each other.
“I’ve been on retreats before, but this one was different because we were all athletes who were different, but all dealt with the same issues. God moved in everyone’s life.”
“We didn’t know what to expect when we went out there,” said head volleyball coach, Jon Moseley. “I guess we had more hopes than expectations. But what I saw was spiritual growth and bonding between teams.”
“At first, there were some who had the attitude of ‘What are we doing here?’” said assistant football coach Paul Pitts. “By the end of it, all of them felt changed in so many ways. What I noticed was the time being spent with other athletes and seeing them with each other. It was amazing to see those who play different sports and don’t hang out with each other come together.”
Twenty-eight Shorter College student-athletes and eight coaches took part in a leadership retreat at Two Moose Camp Gainey Ranch. The group was the guest of Georgia native, philanthropist Harvey Gainey (pictured at far right) and his wife, Annie.
Each day’s schedule for “Team Shorter” in Montana offered both spiritual and physical benefits. Every morning, the group opened the day hearing testimonials by the coaches, holding devotions and breaking off into small groups that allowed the athletes more time to reflect with each other. Each afternoon consisted of different activities that included a trip to Yellowstone National Park, playing volleyball or softball, tubing down a local river and hiking the scenic mountains that rose up more than 8,000 feet.
“It was so beautiful out there,” said Brown. “You felt closer to God. There was no distraction. It was peaceful, and it was fun.”
“It was a phenomenal trip, and I can not say enough of the beauty of the ranch,” said head track coach and strength and conditioning coach Scott Byrd. “There was no cell phone, no TV, no texting, no computers – and none of them missed it.”
Capping each day was a nightly service led by Scott Pilkington, the pastor of New Life Church of God in Orlando, Fla., and a national speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, who delivered inspiring messages and brought the athletes and coaches closer to each other and to God.
“For a lot of them, there were first time commitments and for others a rededication,” said Coach Warner, who noted that Pilkington has committed to come to Shorter this fall to lead FCA services. “When you travel across the country and find yourself in that kind of environment, you can’t help but strengthen your faith.”
Kimble saw his own faith and faith in others grow following the night gatherings when he found himself alone under the peaceful night sky and the heavenly stars.
“It was as if they were 10 or 15 feet away from you, as if you could reach out and touch them,” he said. “When I was by myself, I started thinking about things I’ve never thought about before.”
And looking into oneself led to opening up relationships with each other.
“[Relationships are] the biggest thing that we stress on the football team,” said Kimble. “What was amazing is that I learned that there is a relationship between all of the athletes at Shorter.”
“The athletes really opened up with each other,” Moseley pointed out. “I guess the environment out there helped. Some athletes I talked to talked about coming back as leaders and making a difference at Shorter.”
“You saw a lot of focus put on Shorter and its mission, how we can bring it back to Shorter,” Byrd said. “Something like this helps you refocus.”
“When you are in college, you are faced with a lot of things and you have to make decisions you never had to before,” Kimble said. “Going to Montana was a process of getting past that those difficult decisions. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
See a slide show of additional photos from the trip>