“Oh, I’m gonna succeed”

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Natalie Wilcox and Anna Krupka

   “People always ask what I would change, but really there’s nothing I would change because I feel like my life’s pretty good right now. It’s the product of everything I’ve had to go through.”

   West Ottawa Instructor and Girls Varsity soccer coach Brent Wyckoff has created a successful life despite the hardships he experienced in his younger years.

   Stepping into Wyckoff’s classroom, one would see a multitude of pictures that capture his life. His marriage, his family, his home, soccer teams he has coached. All pictures of his successes. 

   What these pictures don’t show, however, is the difficult path Wyckoff endured on his journey to success.

   Wyckoff was born in New Jersey, then moved to Michigan at the age of four with his mom and siblings after his parents divorced. 

   At a young age, Wyckoff helplessly watched two people in his family suffer from addiction right in his own home.

    “My brother, he basically abused every substance known to mankind,” Wyckoff said. He recalls his brother frequently having mood swings and being especially cruel to him. 

   Wyckoff’s grandpa, who lived with his family at the time, also struggled with substance abuse. At a young age, Wyckoff watched his grandpa drink and smoke, quite literally to the point of death. 

   Growing up and watching his brother and grandpa suffer the repercussions of substance abuse, Wyckoff made a decision. 

   “I was never going to drink or smoke. And I never have. Those were just the choices I made and I have stuck to them,” Wyckoff said.

   This may seem like a big decision to make while in elementary school. Kids his age were supposed to be worrying about whether they’d play with blocks or Legos at free time, but Wyckoff had already witnessed the negative effects of divorce, substance abuse, and poverty. It wasn’t going to happen to him.

   While Wyckoff always felt loved by his family, he had to figure out on his own how to make good choices, succeed in school, and achieve his own vision of success.   

   As a result, Wyckoff kept away from drugs and alcohol, stayed in school, and worked jobs as early as middle school. Carrying around such a heavy burden at a young age resulted in carrying around an equal amount of anger.

  Wyckoff began to play sports at an early age, which became an outlet for him. In his high school years, sports became a way for Wyckoff to let out the frustrations he had built up. 

   “It was like my thing. It was an anger release and competitive thing. It became something I had a lot of success in, which made me feel good because the other parts of my life weren’t what I wanted them to be. School was kind of that too. I literally never missed a day of school because for me it was the better place to be,” Wyckoff said.

   In direct contrast, Wyckoff’s siblings did not graduate from high school on time. Their family had very little money, and his siblings did not go to college directly after high school. However, Wyckoff never doubted that he would finish high school and earn a college degree.

   Wyckoff attended Hope College, majored in PE, and minored in social studies. He also took the required education courses to become a teacher.

 

  At Hope College, Wyckoff worked almost full-time in order to pay for school. He played soccer and track his first two years, but unfortunately had to give up track his junior year, then soccer his senior year in order to create more time to graduate in four years. 

   In his last two years of college, Wyckoff was taking 18-21 credits per semester, along with working nearly full time. “I was basically sleeping three-four hours per night for two years,” Wyckoff said

  Now, Wyckoff has been a teacher for 31 years and is coming up on his 34th season of coaching. He has achieved many goals, but in his eyes, the greatest successes do not come from trophies or awards. “A lot of my accomplishments come from having a successful marriage and raising two good kids.”

   Wyckoff started dating his wife when he was fifteen years old. They got married when he was 20. Now, the two have been married for 32 years.

   In all of his years of teaching, there is no question that he has made an impact on countless students. “The whole reason I do this (teach) and coach too, is just having a chance to make an impact, even just on little stuff,” Wyckoff said. 

   West Ottawa instructor and coach Larry DeLeon is a longtime colleague and friend of Wyckoff. Since 1998, DeLeon has seen first-hand the impact that Wyckoff has on his players and students. 

   “One of the things I appreciate about him is how much he cares for his students and players. He wants to do what’s best for them while staying true to his values, like hard work and excellence. He’s a caring individual,” DeLeon said.

   DeLeon recognizes that the obstacles Wyckoff faced early on helped him become independent.  

   “I’ve seen him pass that on to other students and athletes the idea of personal responsibility like it’s up to you to make things happen,” DeLeon said.

   Not many teachers have a similar childhood to Wyckoff, which makes his ability to connect with students unique. 

   “I think that just makes me be able to relate to some of the issues that people have to deal with. Because unless you’ve been really poor, you just don’t understand what all the struggles are. It’s not just that I don’t have a lot of money, and a lot of clothes, and I don’t eat three times a day, it’s not that. It’s just the whole impact it has on how people feel about themselves,” Wyckoff said.

   With the hand Wyckoff was dealt, it would have been much easier for him to go down the path of drug use, leaving school, and being angry about his circumstances. Instead, he put his mind to reach the goals he set for himself and did not rest until he did.