Kuipers finally gets his shot at being a head coach; next stop: Holland Christian
Holland – Chris Kuipers admits he constantly thought about football.
Sometimes he would sketch out a new play on a piece of scrap paper in his classroom. Other times his mind would drift off to football during quiet moments at home with the family. Occasionally he would pick up nuances of the game from watching games on television.
It’s accurate to say Kuipers lived for football. At least, that is, until a higher calling took him away from the game.
"There was a point in my last year of coaching when I felt like football had become an idol to me," Kuipers said. "I would go to sleep thinking about football and then I’d wake up thinking about it.
"It was all probably a little too much."
Football had always been a priority for Kuipers. He spent 11 years coaching in the Grand Rapids Christian program, then four years as an offensive coordinator at Grand Rapids South Christian when Sailors won two state championships in 2012 and ’14 spearheaded by an offense that averaged 33 points per game.
A teacher at South Christian, Kuipers had always aspired to become a head coach. He would keep tabs abreast of coaching openings, but never found the perfect fit to run his own program. Even though that opportunity didn’t present itself at that time, Kuipers eventually wound up stumbling onto what he believed could be an intriguing professional opportunity. He accepted a two-year sabbatical from South Christian to uproot his family and move to Jakarta, Indonesia, to teach 11th and 12th grade economics at the Sekolah Pelita Harapan.
For Kuipers, the upshot of the move was this: Teaching at an upscale Christian high school in a predominantly Muslim country 15,000 miles from home was about as far as one could get from coaching high school football in the United States.
Whatever thoughts Kuipers harbored of eventually returning to the game became further from becoming a reality.
"You don’t plan on (achieving) great dreams," he said. "You think God has a calling for all of us."
It didn’t appear that calling included football for Kuipers, who actually started his coaching career with Grand Rapids Christian while a senior at Calvin College.
So be it, Kuipers told himself.
"I had put a lot into football, but I felt like God acknowledged that I should let it go," Kuipers said.
Caught up living in Indonesia, Kuipers tried to find substitutes for football. He introduced Indonesian youngsters to flag football, coached basketball and dabbled in the country’s favorite sports of rugby and soccer.
Still, Kuipers couldn’t entirely shake his attraction to the game and fulfilling his competitive side. He loved teaching, the interaction with students and the lifestyle of the country as a whole. But football was always in the back of Kuipers’ mind. Despite a 12-hour time difference, for instance, Kuipers would watch South Christian football games on the internet.
Eventually, however, Kuipers’ attitude on football did change. The love of the game and competitive juices were still there, but after two years in Indonesia, Kuipers was able to put his involvement in perspective.
"I guess it was in the back of my mind that I might come back to it sometime, but it wasn’t a driving force anymore," he said. "I didn’t feel like I needed to. But I still loved it. I just felt like I needed to step away for a while. I never felt like I didn’t belong. For me it always about how I connected with the kids."
So armed with a new perspective on football and nearing the end of his time in Indonesia last January, Kuipers stumbled on another life-altering decision. He learned that the Holland Christian head coaching job was open and decided to throw his hat in the ring. In March after spending virtually his entire life trying to become a head coach while living in the U.S., Kuipers received his first opportunity to run his own program while living abroad.
Instead of lecturing Indonesian teenagers on the merits of two-world conceptions, sustainable systems and diversification, Kuipers began interviewing prospective assistants while still over there. He finally returned to the U.S. in June and immediately began making final decisions on a coaching staff along with sorting out a roster, bonding with the athletic department and introducing himself to the community. All this at a school which has had one winning season since capturing a state title in 2008 and which has managed only a 7-14 record in the O-K Conference Green Division over the last four seasons.
If Kuipers wanted a challenge, he found it.
"The potential of bringing (success) back to the community and connecting with the kids is exciting to me," he said. "I love kids and teaching. I say that I love kids more than winning and I like to win. I left a great situation at South Christian, with great kids and coaches. I had nothing to complain about and I would have been happy to go back there.
"But now I feel like I can use football as the context to impact lives socially, academically, physically and to have kids embrace competition and family values. I want to teach them how to sacrifice for each other and what you can do through hard work.
"And I want to teach kids to be grateful for what we have. I always thought there was a possibility I would come back to football. I always had confidence in my ability to coach. I’ve poured a lot of time into football and I enjoy it. But I also felt it could never define me."