Sunday, April 22, 2007

Coach VerDuin to many, Uncle Jack to me

My uncle passed away in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan on April 9th. He was my mother's brother, husband of my Aunt Glo, father of my cousins, Miki, Mike, and Jami, and grandfather to my nieces Whitney, Briana, and Kaylee, and nephews Brandon and Jordan. All of us in the extended family will miss Jack VerDuin.

He was an excellent athlete, teacher, and coach, too. He crafted a long and successful career as Wyoming Park High School's varsity football coach, so he touched hundreds upon hundreds of lives. Countless of his charges were eager to share with others what Coach VerDuin meant to them.

His football program was successful by the pedestrian measure of wins and losses, to be sure. His teams won over 240 games, many conference championships and a state championship. But he enjoyed another kind of success as well. He had the rare gift that true coaches have. They call him a coach's coach. He practiced the alchemy that turned boys into men on the football field. Many who coach do not have this magic.

And many who do risk being under-appreciated because if their ratio of W's to L's isn't high enough. It's been a long time since my own school's football team has had a "winning" season, but I wouldn't trade our coach for any in the area. Rio's Coach Smith has the magic that my uncle possessed, too.

Growing up in Grand Rapids, Friday night football was a strong tradition. The Baird clan would join the VerDuin clan in the stands at Wyoming Park's home and away games. We'd scream and throw confetti (anyone remember confetti?) and we were nearly always on the winning side. In later years, we'd reconvene at Florentines (a local Italian restaurant) for pizza and pop.

The good vibe was so strong that I considered abandoning my own attendance area school track to attend Wyoming Park. Greener grass, some might say. In the end, I stuck with my Riverside roots through to Creston Senior High. But I'll add that episode to the many accounts of what a "larger-than-life" figure my uncle was. He created an attraction to his school for someone who was in no danger of donning helmet or pads.

Here's a note from the Grand Rapids Press. And some kind words from a local sportswriter.

3 comments: said...

Your Uncle Jack was one of the greatest human beings I have ever come into contact with. I went from a loner and quiet kid to outspoken and adventurous.
I grew up knowing Mr. VerDuin by folklore. He was always talked about by my father when we lived in the Wyoming Lee school district. To make a long story short my father knew enough about Coach that he decided we would move into the Wyoming Park school district. I went and seen enough Park games that, I myself, built Coach up to be a near-God.
When I became a senior in 1992, Coach Jack VerDuin sat me in his office and told stories of how he knew about me when I was younger. About how in junior high he couldn't wait for me to get to the Varsity team. He only wished I put on a few more pounds haha! I was 165 lbs. then.
I started my Senior year at Right Tackle and through his vision and leadership I became a heck of a ballplayer. Through his eyes and his ever-growing heart, I became a man. I became the man I am today because of your Uncle. He new the exact science of when to chew someones butt and when to say
"don't worry... I still love ya."
He always ended a Butt-chewing with that line.
I have such emotion for him. I have so much love in my heart towards him and your Aunt Gloria. There aren't enough charachters in this blog for me to say how much I miss him already.
I visited Coach at Hospice. Gloria told me that He doesn't remember many people and that his speech wasn't that well either.
I went to him and the first thing from the ole ball coach's mouth was " BIIIIZ ". We talked about the history of Wyoming Parks football and how we weren't the biggest but we were the fastest and the best conditioned. Then without missing a beat he told me how great I was. How our team coulda won it all. We had all heart and poise. I went on to say that even though football was fun, I was more blessed to have gotten to know him outside of football. I went down to hug him to hide my tears from him and he whispered to me," Don't let anyone tell you that you are a loser and when you get knocked down get back up for yourself and your coach." "and don't forget Biz, I still love you "
I know that this letter has a lot of I's in it, but that was made possible by your Uncle. My Coach. Everyones Hero.
Todd Bisard # 62 class of 1993

Dean Baird said...

Wow, Todd. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I know my uncle considered himself fortunate to have touched so many lives through coaching. And all of us who knew him have something of him we will take into the future.

Anonymous said...

Your Uncle Jack was one of a kind. His teachings of how to win apply to everything in life. He had a way of making someone feel like they were Superman. I have never met anyone else like that. "Play with pain"...How many times has he said that?...and then you see other people throughout life giving up so easily.
I could ramble on about his teachings but I'll use this format to thank him for helping me overcome anxiety. Anxiety can freeze you in your tracks and prevent a person from exceling. How Coach Jack knew how to handle me I'll never figure out...but he did and I can use his coaching throughout my life.
I wish I knew he was dying so I could tell him to his face but at least I finaly did it.
Goodbye Coach Jack