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Spotlight: Wesley Weightlifters

By Dennis Snethen | Aug. 01, 2019, 12 p.m. (ET)


Dennis Snethen
Youth Director, Interfaith Community Services
Head Coach, Wesley Weightlifters
USA National Coach

The Wesley Weightlifting Program began in 1978 as a result of a former steel worker at Wire Rope Corporation in St. Joseph, Missouri coming to the Wesley Center to demonstrate the proper Olympic-style weightlifting technique to kids who were participating in our youth program. With no weightlifting equipment in the building, the volunteer did this demonstration by using a broom stick.

I was a part-time worker at the InterServ Youth Program and a local college basketball player and was very interested in learning how to lift myself. The volunteer, Jon Carr, was very nice and displayed a very professional attitude and pledged to donate some weights to our youth program to get the Wesley Weightlifting Team started.

Mr. Carr worked out with the youth a couple of days a week in the beginning and often encouraged everyone who came to the youth program to lift and learn throughout the year. Seeing some progress with our youth in the program, I contacted USA Weightlifting and talked with then executive director, Harvey Newton. I learned a lot about the coaching education program at USA Weightlifting and attended a camp with then 12-year old, Wes Barnett, who at the time only weighed 47 kilos.

Throughout the years, the program has continued to blossom and give opportunities to athletes and coaches alike. I continued to attend all of the levels of coaching certifications and began a women’s program in the early 1980’s. The Wesley Weightlifters have competed in all areas of the sport, mainly AAU and USAW Junior competitions.

Not only have individual athletes achieved great heights as a Wesley Weightlifter, the program itself has been rewarded throughout the years, hosting numerous events on the regional and national stages. The Wesley Weightlifters have hosted the Schoolage Nationals, Junior and Senior Nationals, The American Open and the United States Olympic Trials in both 1996 and 2004.

We have produced two (2) Olympians – Wes Barnett in 1992, 1996 and Pete Kelley in 1996. When the original resident program began in the 90’s, we had nine (9) athletes in the program including two (2) women lifters.

We have also had many challenges with the program. Our first was cost. Weights and bars are very expensive as well as travel to events. Currently, 87 percent of our weightlifters come from single parent families and fall below the AMI for our area of Northwest Missouri. We had to come up with some very focused ways to raise funds to allow our program to thrive.

In those early years, Olympic-style weightlifting was very foreign to our community, so we got out and did demonstrations with our team in front of the service clubs, demonstrating the lifts and providing information on how to join, what the requirements for joining are and what it means to be a Wesley Weightlifter – having passing grades, being a good citizen and personal improvement.

As the weightlifting program became more popular, our youth program at the Wesley Center improved dramatically. We started our program in our brick gymnasium with a concrete floor, but as the weightlifting program grew, volunteers “built” an entire new wing added onto the gymnasium that was to include a new weightlifting room. We also received new weights and new platforms to lift on. This entire campaign was coordinated by Mr. Buddy Davis who helped raise the funds and recruited volunteers to help build the addition.

That took place 30 years ago and we were ever grateful for those who put in the work. But, over time and with the aging of the Wesley Center, the InterServ board of directors decided to undergo a capital campaign to replace the Wesley Center and they did. Currently, we have moved to even a better facility – a $5 million building – of which the Wesley Weightlifters now have a 21st century weightroom with 18 platforms, plenty of weights and bars and we are available to lift six (6) days a week with two sessions daily.

As a recommendation to other clubs, I would decide what meets you are able to attend and how much equipment you need and prepare a budget accordingly. The next step would be to meet with your supporters and families and set up ideas on how to raise funds for the club. Some examples of how our youth raised funds in those early years of operation were – hunting night crawlers (for sale), collected aluminum cans, yard cleaning, lift-a-thons, even getting your service groups to buy into your program and get their support.