U.S. Cellular announced Coach Wilken as a finalist in their Most Valuable Coach campaign on Oct. 8. By Monday, Oct. 22 they had joined Wilken, assistant coach Jackie Freeman, athletic director Kirk Hamm, former athlete Tyler Smith and the rest of Bloomfield school for an assembly in the gym.
U.S. Cellular also had representatives there, explaining how big of an honor this was for Wilken, the school and even the state as he was the only coach from Nebraska to make the final 15.
Kirk Hamm kicked off the speeches with nice words about Wilken.
“In my mind he is one of the greatest coaches in the U.S. in regards to track and field and cross country. Our fourth place finish this year for girls should prove that he knows what he’s doing,” Hamm said.
Hamm said this small community is lucky to have a coach like Wilken. He then proceeded to implore the students and community to keep voting, to get Wilken to the top, where he belongs.
As Jackie Freeman took the microphone from Hamm, a different tone was set. Freeman’s relationship with Wilken started about 30 years ago and she was responsible for nominating Wilken for U.S. Cellular’s Most Valuable Coach.
Freeman met Wilken’s daughter, Heidi, as an athlete in cross country. Even though Freeman was from another town, Coach Wilken was cheering for her.
“That stuck with me through all these years,” she said emotionally.
Freeman asked for everyone to keep voting every day before handing the microphone to Tyler Smith.
Smith graduated from Bloomfield in 2013 and is an aspiring teacher and coach. According to Smith, Wilken had a huge impact on him. It wasn’t that he is a hard worker or his motivational speeches that impacted Smith but how passionate he is that left a mark.
“Coach Wilken is passionate, he’s not just passionate about running, he’s passionate about his students and his athletes,” said an inspired Smith.
He explained how Wilken would help students with math problems after practice making it evident he cares about the students.
“He’s put in 46 years to this program, what is a few more weeks from us,” Smith said hoping to motivate more votes from everyone.
He handed the microphone to Wilken who approached the podium that read “Most Valuable Coach.” He began by thanking Freeman for the nomination as well as thanking her, Hamm and Smith for their kind words.
He thanked U.S. Cellular for putting on a program that recognized coaches efforts and former and current students, athletes, parents and the community for voting.
“Its like cross country, you just have to keep going till the end. We have to keep voting till it’s over,” he said.
Wilken became a little emotional as he thanked the past and present administration to allow him to coach his athletes.
“I truly love it,” he choked up as he finished, “I’m passionate about it.”
As he thanked his wife, as he stated he certainly wouldn’t be where he is without her.
His wife Pat not only supports her husband but she makes breakfast and suppers for the athletes, helps arrange the stands at meets and always attends the meets no matter what the weather is like.
“I am very blessed to have a wife that supports me that way,” he said.
Wilken went on to say he wishes every coach and teacher could feel the appreciation he feels. He said after 41 years of teaching he knows that everyone has hard times and times where it can be difficult to tell yourself “I love this.”
“Then sometimes things like this happen and they really make you feel good,” his voice broke a little.
He spoke about a Bible study his wife had where the theme was choosing joy, he also referred to the song “Choose Joy” by For King And Country.
“That theme has resonated with me for awhile,” he said.
Wilken and Freeman try to instil choosing joy into their cross country athletes, to not only help their performances and how to handle losses, but how to handle life.
“It’s not if we face trials, you will face trials. How we face those trials, what we do in times of difficulty, that is the determining factor in our lives,” Wilken said.
According to him, there are choices when things go bad. Staying in “the pit” or get up and encourage others even in times of difficulty. Wilken said that is how you determine a person’s character.
He then asked for votes not for himself but for the school before turning the microphone in and accepting the giant $5,000 check.
Voting for the finalists has began and will end November 13 at noon. To vote, visit www.TheMostValuableCoach.com. Voting can be done once a day. First place will receive $50,000, second place will win $20,000 and third will be given $10,000. All finalists received $5,000 for their schools.