Beyond the Game

news from Hope College - February 2002
 

In Glenn Van Wieren's office hangs a photo.

Actually, there are several photos--portraits of basketball teams past, and of his wife, and of their four children now grown. This particular image, though, is striking for both its size and its energy: the poster-scale enlargement shows a dramatic dunk at the Civic Center, circa a decade ago.

Van Wieren ('64) readily recalls the player and the game, and appreciates the artistry in the action, but he displays the frozen moment prominently for a different reason.

"I look at the background and see the tradition of Hope College, of the Holland community," Van Wieren says, immersed in the image. "Kids coming to games. Grandpas, grandmas, fathers, mothers, my family--that tradition carrying on from family to family, generation to generation."

"There's my father and mother watching their son coach," he says, pointing to his parents in the upper seats. And then, noting the others in the capacity crowd: "Here are all these people--I know the names of half of them."

"My captain this year is Chad Carlson--he's started for us for three years," he says. He points courtside: "Here's Chad Carlson, 13 years old, keeping score."

Now in his 25th year as men's basketball coach at Hope, Van Wieren is among the top 10 winningest active NCAA Division III coaches nationwide. His teams have earned more than 450 victories, with seasonal milestones including 13 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) championships and appearances in 14 NCAA Division III post-season tournaments.

There have been many professional accolades along the way, and the achievements continue -- 22 consecutive winning seasons, 20 seasons with at least 15 victories, 11 Hope players named league MVP -- but when asked to talk about Hope basketball, Van Wieren doesn't mention any of it. Instead, he focuses on the people, and on the difference that they have made in his life--and that he hopes he has made in theirs.

"Basketball is just a part of the mission," he said. "It's an avenue to be able to work with students."

"My foremost goal in teaching and coaching is to lift people up," Van Wieren said. "I think that you constantly in coaching--constantly--are embracing, encouraging, motivating and disciplining players to reach beyond what they think they can do, to go to the next level, to outdo themselves, to work harder than they think they can work, enabling them to aspire and reach the goals that they dream about, and in so doing to become the people that God wants them to be."

"I think that's what you try to do every single day that you teach and coach," he said. "You do it in a way that is respectful, in a way that is invigorating, in a way that is honest, in a way that is forthright and in a way that is good."

It's a focus on caring that friends, colleagues, players and even rivals see and admire readily.

"I just have great respect for this program and for the success that he's had, and more important than that how he's achieved that success," said Mike Turner, in his 28th season as men's basketball coach at Albion College.

"He's very, very competitive, which he should be," Coach Turner said. "I think that comes across to his players; comes across in the way that they perform on the court. But I also think he clearly does things the right way."

A junior this year, Carlson agrees.

"He instilled a lot of confidence in me right from the start with a very personal and caring attitude on the court and off the court, and that allowed me to grow basketball-wise," he said. "I know that he always has my best interests in mind, and he is always looking out for each one of us."

Hope's women's basketball coach, Brian Morehouse '91, didn't play while a student but did assist Van Wieren throughout his undergraduate years. He also served as an assistant coach after graduating, prior to becoming women's coach six seasons ago.

"He's been one of the most instrumental people in my life," Morehouse said. "He and my parents have really helped to shape the person that I am--have infused me with the values and morals that I try to carry with me every day."

Van Wieren was no stranger to Hope while growing up--and not only because he lived in Holland, Mich. His mother, Wilma, is a 1935 Hope graduate, and his grandfather, William Rottschaefer, was a member of the Class of 1903.

He treasures the letter he received as a high school senior in February of 1960 from the man who would become his mentor and later his colleague, men's basketball coach Russ DeVette '45: "I heard that you were interested in coming to Hope. Good. We have a good school. I believe that with hard work you could play basketball at Hope. With Ray [Ritsema] and V [Warren Vander Hill] leaving, we need players like you to come to Hope. And we'd like to have you visit Hope and see what Hope is all about. I will notify you about making a visit to come to see what it's like to live with the Flying Dutchmen."

(Van Wieren smiles a bit as he reflects on the letter. It was the only recruiting he experienced as a student. Times have changed these past 42 years--now he is constantly on the road, making phone calls, and sending letters and nowadays e-mails as he seeks out the next generation of student-athletes.)

Van Wieren became a stand-out collegian, earning 11 letters during his career: four each in basketball and baseball, and three in cross country. He received all-conference honors from the MIAA four times.

DeVette, now a professor emeritus of physical education, found not only his ability but his character remarkable. He noted even then that Van Wieren took a family approach to the team--a quality that applied literally while both he and brother Clare '66 were players.

"When Glenn played, the thing about him that I think was outstanding was his concern for the whole team as a unit," DeVette said. "He was able to look at it in a larger context than just wins and losses. He was concerned about the other players on the team, and always pepping them up, and encouraging them." When it came time to consider a name for a new holiday tournament 13 years ago, there was no doubt in Van Wieren's mind that it should honor is coach. Today the Russ DeVette Holiday Classic has become a Hope tradition.

Van Wieren's student peers included Hope President Dr. James Bultman '63.

"Glenn Van Wieren is both a cherished professional colleague and a dear personal friend. Our relationship goes back to the 1959-60 academic year at Hope, when I was a freshman and Glenn was a senior at Holland High School," President Bultman said. "And I remember meeting him at that time and hoping that he would come to Hope College."

"I knew him during our student days as a fierce competitor and a very talented athlete, and a friend that you could always depend upon," he said.

Van Wieren's interests and experiences led him to consider teaching and coaching as a career choice, a path affirmed by his father's support of the idea. "For me that was the lifting up, the endorsing, to say, 'This is right for me,'" he said.

Van Wieren is deeply committed to his work not only with his players, but with all Hope students, and epitomizes the college's teacher-coach model. He makes it a priority to learn his students' names--he had 125 last semester.

Correspondingly, he is proud that 99 percent of his players have graduated, and that the team's grade point average of 3.41 two years ago was the best in the MIAA. More than 50 of those former players have gone on to become teachers and coaches themselves.

He emphasizes that the support of wife Jackie Nyboer '67 Van Wieren and their four daughters, Gretel '93, Heidi '96, Kuria '98 and Rebekah, has been crucial in his work. "If my wife didn't embrace that and get involved with my family, then I couldn't have done it," he said.

Similarly, he credits numerous others in the campus community for their commitment and friendship-- like long-time colleague Ray Smith, professor of kinesiology and director of athletics for men. "Sue and Ray Smith have been really significant in the life of Glenn and Jackie Van Wieren over the course of 25 years," he said. "That relationship has been incredible for me at Hope."

He also appreciates his coaching staff, in particular long-time assistant coaches Tom Davelaar '72 and Matt Neil '82, area middle school teachers who have been with the program for 20 and 16 years respectively. "I want people working with me who love Hope College, who love kids, are great role models and love coaching," he said. "These guys exemplify that."

With a combined total of 12 years as players in Hope's program and 61 years of coaching at Hope, the three are well in-sync.

"Glenn's love for people and love for Hope College show through the way he lives his life, and not just in basketball," Davelaar said. "He's so enthusiastic about life."

"Our role here is not just as a basketball coach," said Neil, one of Van Wieren's former players. "It's as a teacher, and a mentor, and as a father figure for some guys--it's someone that they can talk to. Every year we essentially adopt 15 guys into our families, and that's because of him. That's how he views it."

"He showed me what it meant to live as a person of faith," Neil said. "I came to Hope College pretty much unaware of what a relationship with Jesus Christ meant, and learned that here."

"Now I can be on the flip side, hopefully doing the same thing with the guys that we have here," he said. "He taught me how to do that."

Van Wieren's emphasis on his players' development beyond the court is reflected in the program's periodic trips abroad. There have been five during his tenure: three to Mexico, one to Sweden and one to the Netherlands.

The trips to Mexico have been arranged with Hope classmate Dr. Vern Sterk '64, a friend since eighth grade who is now a Reformed Church missionary in Chiapas. The most recent visit was this past summer.

"He's looking at two basic things when he takes teams down, and neither one of them really have to do with basketball," Dr. Sterk said. "One, I think he's looking for the development and the spiritual development of the young men that come. And the other is that they can do something--a project, a work project, build something, work on something--that also helps them feel like they're contributing something to the local people there."

"And when you come with those kinds of goals, it does make it a much more meaningful trip than if you just come away saying, 'Well, yeah, we played five basketball games and we won them all,'" he said. "That's kind of empty victory if you can't add the other parts to it."

Through all of his activity--teaching, coaching, recruiting, organizing tours, even coordinating the college's Run-Bike-Swim-Walk since its inception during Homecoming of 1978--Van Wieren has developed a reputation for tirelessness on Hope's behalf. Given basketball's fall-spring run, he has never taken a semester-long sabbatical. He even works with basketball during the summers, running camps at Hope for area children -- a campus tradition that started in the old Carnegie-Schouten Gymnasium in 1961.

And he has also never considered doing any of it anyplace else.

"Why change, if you feel fulfilled, called, joyful, about where you are in terms of work and community?," he said.

"It is a tremendous privilege and opportunity to be a teacher and a coach. You have the opportunity to influence families, students, kids -- it's a high calling," he said. "And to be able to do that at Hope -- I can't think of anything, anywhere else that would be any more enjoyable, that would offer any more opportunity than what I've had at Hope: to do what I absolutely love doing, where I love doing it, and who I love doing it with."