ROME--Chris Beno had heard stories about what the trip was like but little did he know that his opportunity to see the wonder of God’s creation would have such an impact on his life.
As part of the fifth group of 21 Shorter University student-athletes who took part in a week-long retreat to Montana along with six members of the athletic department and faculty, the Hawks’ football player from Newnan got the message – he is not alone in the Lord’s overall game plan.
“It was amazing. I could definitely see God’s work first-hand,” Beno said about the recent visit to Two Moose Camp Gainey Ranch, a 6,000-plus acre facility created by Georgia native and philanthropist Harvey Gainey and his wife Annie in Glen, Montana, located in the extreme southwestern corner of the state and nestled along the Big Hole River the shadow of 11,000-foot Tweedy Mountain.
“This was the greatest trip in my life,” said Beno. “We only had a week with each other but by the end of it we came to love each other like a family.”
For Shorter assistant football coach Paul Pitts, who has made all five outings to Montana and serves as the group coordinator, the effect the scenery, the activities and the camaraderie has on the men and women is immediately noticeable.
“It really doesn’t get old,” said Pitts. “There’s a lot of work to prepare to go, but once you get there and see the beauty of that area it’s all worthwhile. The relationship with each other and with Christ – that’s probably one of the biggest things you take away from the trip.”
What the venture to the ranch provides is an opportunity to understand that while they are part of separate teams at Shorter, every student-athlete is linked together as not just part of the university’s community but as Christians.
Providing the impetus toward that end result was a daily schedule that included morning group discussions on leadership techniques through a Christ-centered perspective that was led by Dr. Sabrena Parton, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Liberal Arts Foundation; afternoon activities that included numerous hikes through the mountains, games between the athletes that rekindled their competitive spirit and a visit to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming; and nightly get-togethers held under heavenly stars that filled the sky.
“It felt like the stars were right there; that you could just reach out and touch them and I saw shooting stars for the first time,” said Shorter assistant head track coach Rochelle Black, who was a part of the trip for the first time.
“We would sit around the campfire at night,” said Beno, “and look up and see stars we never knew were there.”
“I had heard about it but I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” Black said, adding with a laugh that he hiked more that week than he had in his entire life, and admitted that the beauty of Yellowstone led to an embarrassing moment when much to the displeasure of park rangers he strayed off the trail that park visitors are required to stay on.
Shorter President Dr. Donald Dowless and Mrs. Dowless were fortunate to join the group and see first-hand how the trip touched the student.
“Teresa and I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Montana and the time we were able to be with our students,” Dr. Dowless said. “Each year our athletic department sends these students on a spiritual retreat designed to help them grow closer in their relationship with Jesus Christ and with each other.
Indeed, each day saw every athlete from different teams establish life-lasting relationships.
“All of them said to each other that ‘I’ve seen you around campus but don’t know you,’” said Black. “They came to realize that they’re a lot more similar to each other than they thought.”
“By the second or third day, they’re all talking to each other like family and it continues that way when we get back to school,” Pitts pointed out. “I’ve seen more and more students come together after the trip. They realize that they’re all the same. They may come from different backgrounds but they all have something in common.”
Perhaps what all had in common was being blessed with the opportunity to experience private moments alone as every member of the group – athletes and staff alike – were allowed to walk alone on the expansive ranch to reflect.
“They go out on their own to pray,” Pitts explained, “to find resolutions and to listen to God, and come back at peace.”
“It was a time between you and God,” said Beno. “It was very spiritual. I felt closer to God and it made me re-examine my life.”
“Seeing God’s majestic creation reminded our students of God’s great power and care for us,” Dr. Dowless said. “I appreciate our coaches and faculty putting together these types of trips that help us fulfill our mission of transforming lives through Christ.”
Staff: Brittni Dulaney (head women’s lacrosse coach) and Rochelle Black (assistant head track coach)
Athletes: Jesse Gavigan (baseball), Chris Beno (football), Daniel Howell (men’s basketball), Kendall Johnson (softball), Kyle Morris (men’s lacrosse), Bethany Fevella (women’s lacrosse) and Katherine Stachula (women’s soccer).
Staff: Kristy Brown (assistant professor of education) and Chris Tornow (athletic trainer).
Athletes: Joshua Skinner (men’s lacrosse), Ben Peterson (football), Kari Chambers (women’s lacrosse), Taylor Wilkerson (volleyball), Benjie Klouda (cheerleading), James Gillis (baseball) and Travis Jones (men’s basketball).
Staff: Joanna Reitz (assistant women’s basketball coach) and Paul Pitts (assistant football coach).
Athletes: Warren Brooks (football), Felicia Morris (softball), Grace Rogers (women’s basketball), Gregory Roachford (track), Anna Graham (volleyball), Seth Hopkins (cheerleading) and Jordan Starnes (men’s golf).