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.