A Goodbye Every Mother Could Love

By Charles McKenzie, August 19, 2019
First-year student-athlete’s emotional goodbye captures social media spotlight.

Incoming first-year football player Daniel Hutchinson was sure of two things when he was dropped off at Ithaca College. The first was that he loved his mother, and the second was that he wasn’t going to cry when she headed back to Florida. 

In a moment that warmed hearts across social media, even capturing the attention of Oprah, the first fact proved more true than the second. 

Saying goodbye with their special handshake, they slapped fingers like two swinging doors. Forward, then back. Then, their hands clasped, a mother’s and a son’s, just the two of them, like it had always been. 

That’s precisely when the moment hit Hutchinson. Not even halfway through their ritual, he pulled away and turned to regain his composure. 

“We always did that handshake before every football game, and I realized this was the last time I’d be able to do that for a while,” he said. He also thought about how his mom, Beth Wagmeister, had served as both his mother and his father, and as his nurse after his traumatic ACL tear, and as his therapist when Division I scouts stopped calling, and then as his cheerleader in his long recovery. 

“I swore I wouldn’t cry, so it did hit me by surprise. I love my mama,” he said with a laugh. 

She too was trying to compose herself. 

“I was holding it together because I knew we’d be a mess if we didn’t get through that handshake, and even then it was really tough when I got in the car,” she said. “He’s my baby.”

To bring him back to the moment, she purposely tried to surprise him, tugging at his shorts and even teasing him to “man up,” which was the opposite of how she had raised her four children, pushing them instead to be open and share their emotions, and he did, just on Instagram. 

Their story was shared on WPTV News in West Palm Beach and was picked up around the country.

As a tribute to her, he posted the vulnerable moment, writing, “As much as I love to start new chapters and fresh beginnings, it’s hard to turn the page. I went through what I went through to be the man God called me to be. I haven’t left anything behind or forgotten any part of my life because a great story always uses its first chapters to create a grand ending.”

He shared it with his then 3,000 followers.

“I thought it was a heartwarming moment that other people might be inspired by, but I had no idea.” he said. “I was walking back to my dorm, and my phone started blowing up with followers.”

“What I want to tell people, especially football players, is that you don’t have to be as hard as a rock all the time. Let your pride go, and be emotional. Be human.”

Daniel Hutchinson ’23

He realized the clip had been reposted by House of Highlights, which shares sports-related moments with its 14 million followers on Instagram and Twitter. It generated 5,000 comments, and caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine and was tweeted by a motivational speaker who is the son of NFL great Walter Payton. Both Winfrey and Payton are Chicago as well as national icons, so the moment was even more special for Hutchinson, who was born and raised near Chicago before moving to West Palm Beach, Florida. 

The social media fame feels weird, especially to his mother.

“I’m not sure I fully understand the whole thing,” she said. “Because I’m not in that generation. It’s all been very overwhelming. The feedback has been almost all positive. It was amazing that even in those 30 seconds, people recognized the special bond that we have.” 

Young man in football jersey pointing towards the sky

Daniel Hutchinson will play cornerback for the Ithaca College Bombers.

The spotlight is nothing new for cornerbacks, like Hutchinson, a position often played by brash athletes known more for their swagger than their sweetness.

“A lot of football players are tough guys, but what I learned from my ACL tear [in September 2018] and what I want to tell people, especially football players, is that you don’t have to be as hard as a rock all the time. Let your pride go, and be emotional. Be human.”

That’s just part of his message for his followers, which jumped 10 fold after his moment in the social media spotlight.

“It feels amazing,” he said of having a new, larger audience (31,000 strong and growing on Instagram). “I will just keep doing what I’ve always tried to do, posting inspirational videos and doing God’s work spreading positivity and love to the world.” 

His mother wasn’t surprised. “Through all of the trials and tribulations, Daniel always tried to keep a smile on his face and find that positive message. Our lives aren’t for us but for others, so if people can be inspired by our story, that’s fantastic.”

And he says IC is the perfect place to share his message. 

“I knew I was going to Ithaca College even before the plane even landed,” he said. “There was a moment when I was overcome by this sense of, ‘This is where I need to be,’ and I listened. I loved that moment. I still love it now.”

​​​​​​​Even before Hutchinson was part of IC’s football family, IC football was part of his family, his mother says.

“Ithaca College never gave up on Daniel. That meant so much to us. It felt like IC would just fit like a glove.”

Beth Wagmeister

As a junior, Hutchinson earned Division I attention, helping Oxbridge Academy make it to Florida’s state championship game, which they lost, and the small private school disbanded its football program, citing a lack of players. He transferred to a public school but tore his ACL at the start of his senior season, a crucial period for college scouts.

“In recruiting, everyone loves you,” he said, “And then suddenly overnight, no one knows who you are anymore. That was tough.”

“Ithaca College never gave up on Daniel,” his mother said. “Coach Terp [defensive coordinator Michael Toerper] stayed in our lives through the ACL tear and the blood clot Daniel developed. That meant so much to us. It felt like IC would just fit like a glove.”

Mother and son embrace

Daniel Hutchinson and his mother embrace after sharing their signature handshake.

With high school football out and college football in doubt, everyone assumed Hutchinson would immediately transfer back to Oxbridge, but loyal to his new team, he waited out the season, sitting on the bench for every game so he could support his teammates. In turn, his mother sat in the stands every game so that she could support him supporting his teammates. 

That’s why the comradery that comes with Cortaca, and especially the 2019 game, played a big part in recruiting him, he said. Once referred to by Sports Illustrated as "the biggest little game in the nation," the Ithaca/Cortland rivalry will move Saturday, November 16, to MetLife Stadium, home to the NFL’s New York Jets and Giants. 

“Coach Terp said this would be the best game, and the best culture I would ever be a part of, and he’s right so far. I’m excited.” 

Hutchinson hopes his biggest fan will be there too. It will be a costly trip for the sign language interpreter and advocate for the deaf, but the single mom is trying her hardest to get there, he said. 

As for the unfinished business of their handshake, after Hutchinson walked away, overcome with emotion, his mother did what she’s always done. She followed him, reined him back in, refocused him and even teased him a bit. He said that’s just what she does and who she is.

On take two, he was able to finish their handshake and seal it with a kiss, an emotional goodbye for someone who’s been more than a mother. 

“She’s my rock.”