The head coach for Messiah’s wrestling team, Bryan Brunk, is often seen cheering on his athletes during a match, encouraging them in their faith and mentoring them in all areas of life.
This year is Brunk’s 18th season as Messiah’s head wrestling coach. He has had a positive influence on athletic standings as well as team comradery during his time here.
Brunk wanted to be a wrestling coach ever since ninth grade after competing under his high school wrestling coach, Ted Reese.
“He’s the greatest man I know and my hero,” Brunk said. “He made a difference in my life, I feel like I could’ve gone a lot of bad ways without his influence, so I just want to do the same for other people.”
Reese was like a father figure to Brunk and helped him with the struggles of growing up with only a single mom. Brunk honored Reese by naming his daughter after him and striving to follow in his footsteps as a coach.
Brunk was working as an assistant coach to Reese at the University of Southern Maine when he got the offer to come coach at Messiah.
“My faith is very important to me and I was always drawn to Christians in wrestling,” Brunk said. “I got to know Neil Turner, the Messiah coach right before me and he asked me to apply for the job of head coach when he was retiring. He was looking for people he knew loved Jesus and were invested in wrestling.”
His passion for wrestling and Jesus has turned Brunk into an important figure in Messiah’s athletic community.
David Stevens, one of the senior captains on the wrestling team, would not have come to Messiah if it was not for Brunk.
“The day before my visit, I decided I wasn’t going to Messiah,” Stevens said. “My dad made me still go and meet Coach Brunk. The atmosphere here, being able to talk with him and hearing how much he believed in me and what I could accomplish made me want to go to Messiah.”
Steven’s decision to come wrestle under Brunk proved to be a smart one for both his career and his faith.
“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had and I’ve had a lot of really good coaches,” Stevens said. “He wants the best for us and he wants us to be the best wrestlers we can be but he’d rather see us be strong Christian men rather than good wrestlers.”
A big part of Brunk’s coaching mentality is the importance of building strong relationships with his athletes.
“Relationships are my favorite part of the job by far,” Brunk said. “I often say that wrestling is just a vehicle for relationships in ministry. Whatever position God puts me in I want to use it to build deep relationships so that I can disciple and love people.”
Those strong relationships come from Brunk’s desire to keep his faith the center of his life. After practice, the team often does Bible studies together that apply directly to their lives.
“He relates wrestling with spirituality, and that clicked for me,” Stevens said. “I saw how I could have wrestling be important and have it incorporated into my faith as well.”
Brunk also has sayings and phrases he repeats to his athletes in order to remind them to focus on God.
“One of the sayings is ‘when you’re tired, don’t be tired,’” Brunk said. “The guys all know that the saying is tied to the scripture passage ‘Do not grow weary of doing what’s right. You’ll reap what you sow in due time if you do not give up.’”
Many of their team sayings can apply to life outside of wrestling as well.
“He teaches us to have open hands and hold everything in life with open hands and not have a firm grasp on it,” Stevens said. “If God wants to take something away instead of holding onto it you have to be able to let it go for Him.”
The advice and motivation Brunk shares with his athletes was put to the test last semester when COVID-19 hit. The team had just made it to nationals held in Iowa when it was cancelled and everything shut down.
“Regardless of how strong you are in your faith, it’s still frustrating when something like that happens,” Stevens said. “He was a good example in how he overcame that.”
While the let down was disappointing for the team, it helped them put their trust in God even more. Brunk uses setbacks like COVID-19 to keep pointing his guys towards growth in their faith.
“Number one is that God doesn’t need your wins or victories to be glorified,” Brunk said. No matter who you are, you can glorify God through your sport, your efforts and how you treat other people.”
Brunk encourages his athletes and everyone around him to keep seeking to glorify God in ways that are not self-serving. Give all the attention to God and His work, not your own.
“Don’t get discouraged if you’re not perfect and mess up,” Brunk said. “God meets us all where we are. If we submit our will to His, He will be glorified. Just continue to stay faithful no matter what’s happened in the past.”