By Chris Moon
Kendall Wildey has been having quite a time in recent weeks.
The associate pastor at East Columbus Christian Church in Indiana doubles as head basketball coach of nearby South Decatur High School. His team started its season 11-0, earning it the No. 6 ranking in the state and gaining statewide attention for its fast-tempo, high-scoring approach that has the team averaging more than 90 points per game.
The Indianapolis Star recently wrote a feature article about Wildey and the team. But basketball is only half the story, if that much.
On Jan. 5, Wildey baptized the team’s point guard and the teen’s father.
“God has given me great opportunities,” Wildey told Christian Standard. “He’s opened doors for me to walk through.”
Wildey is in his third year as South Decatur’s coach. It’s a job he took on with some hesitation.
This is Wildey’s second stint as a high school basketball coach. Before entering the ministry, he spent 13 years at another Indiana high school and ran up a string of successes that included multiple regional and sectional titles.
But basketball consumed Wildey. He said he took wins and losses too seriously and that his wife was a “widow” during the basketball season.
“It truly was an idol to me. Everything I did, my whole life, was geared toward, or at least pointed toward, that career as coach,” he said. “I felt like it was sinful how much I allowed that to control my life.”
PURSUING A NEW PATH
So he gave it up. Instead, he pursued public school administration, serving as a high school principal and then in the district’s central office.
Then eight years ago, his friend Ron Bridgewater, senior minister at East Columbus Christian Church, lured him away to become superintendent of the church’s school, Columbus Christian School, which has 233 students this year. Wildey eventually also became an associate pastor of the church.
For a total of 17 years, Wildey lived happily without a basketball coaching job.
Then South Decatur High School called. The school had lost its head coach just after the start of the school year. Would Wildey step in to help out?
He had to wrestle with that decision. His school board gave him the OK, as did the church elders. It would be a great outreach, they said.
But Wildey pictured the biblical story of Peter on the lakeshore, with Jesus asking him three times whether Peter loved him more than anything else.
“That was me,” Wildey said.
Knowing that Christ always would come first, Wildey decided he would coach. “But it would be a completely different approach [this time],” he said.
Wildey made it a point not to take winning and losing so seriously. And he committed to being relational with the players and their families.
BACK TO BASKETBALL
The team won only four games his first year. The next year, the team won seven games.
This year, Wildey’s system seems to have caught on with the players. The wins are piling up.
“The kids have bought in,” Wildey said. “They’re such hard workers, and they’re dedicated. . . . The pieces have just fallen together.”
And Wildey is staying true to his commitment.
“I’m not going to allow [basketball] to rule my life, and I’m going to keep it in perspective,” he said.
And he continues to build relationships. The team’s point guard, Dominic Walters, began spending a lot of time with Wildey, and he began asking Wildey questions about the coach’s faith.
Wildey said that while there are limits to what he can do as a public school coach as it relates to sharing his faith, he can answer questions. And his players can see him praying, and they can observe him at times reading his Bible in his office.
And that can spur fruitful conversations.
It’s about being salt and light, Wildey said. “I think it starts by just opening up the top of the saltshaker and pouring out the salt.”
Walters eventually came into Wildey’s office in December and asked if the coach would baptize him. Later, the point guard’s father asked if Wildey would baptize him as well.
They recently were immersed at East Columbus Christian Church.
“It was awesome,” Wildey said.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.