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South Christian mourns loss of coach, heads to finals

By: Jeff Chaney, October 15, 2014, 8:45 pm

Byron Center – In a sport as serious as golf, Rod VanDyke liked to keep it light with his girls.

The Grand Rapids South Christian girls golf coach would always be the first one to make one of his Sailors smile after a rough day on the course, whether it be with one of his many jokes, or the loud pants he would wear to most matches – pants that would make flamboyant PGA professional John Daly proud.

Smiles stopped on October 7 when Mr. VanDyke was struck by a car and killed while riding his bike to South Christian High School, where he also served as a teacher.

That was a somber day at the high school because many students loved the math teacher with a great sense of humor. But it was particularly hard for his team, because it happened one day before the Sailors were to compete in the Division 3 regional at Diamond Springs Golf Course in Hamilton.

Aside from dealing with all the grief the school was going through, a decision by school administrators was made to have the team compete in regional – it was a decision welcomed by the team, because that is how they were coached.

"When I heard the news, the first thing I thought of was we have regionals tomorrow, what are we going to do," senior Rachel Theule said. "Then the next thing I thought is that we have to go out and play, because that is what he would want us to do. I knew we couldn’t let him down, because the past 19 years he has taken his teams to state, and I wanted to continue that streak for him."

The team did that in a big way, winning the regional title with a score of 357, which was 18 strokes better than runner-up Lake Odessa Lakewood.

Junior Nicole Hoekwater led the Sailors to victory by shooting a round of 84, a great score considering the emotions she was going through on every shot.

"I knew he would want me to stay calm and act like everything was normal, even though it wasn’t," Hoekwater said. "It was tough because when I was doing bad, I knew I didn’t have anybody to tell me what I was doing wrong. When I needed help, he wasn’t there. But I knew I couldn’t stay down about that, because it was not what he would have wanted."

Senior Nicole VanderYacht said it was one of her tougher rounds.

"My emotions were starting to get the best of me, but then I would picture coach telling me to quit focusing on everything else, and just focus on your golf," said VanderYacht, who shot 93. "That kind of got me through it, even though there were times I would start to tear up and think about it too much.

"He was a big part of how we all played. I would be struggling, and he would come around and get me to smile," she added. "I would be struggling, he would tell a joke, and then I would be smiling again and that would help me to forget the bad holes, they were in the past."

That’s how Mr. VanDyke coached and taught life, on the lighter side. Many problems can be solved with laughter and a smile, and it seemed to be paying dividends.

He was a beloved teacher, and a great coach, leading his teams to 19 straight finals, winning two titles, one in the spring of 2007 during the old high school sports schedule, and the other in ’09. He also led the Sailors to five runner up finishes (’02, ’03, fall of ’07, ’08 and ’11).

To help the girls at regionals and this weekend’s state finals at Forest Akers East Course on the campus of Michigan State University were South Christian boys coach Matt VanStee was brought in as interim coach, as well as girls junior varsity coach Shari Cashen.

"We are just trying to do our best," VanStee said. "We are not trying to replace Rod. Shari and I joke, two of us maybe make half of Rod. We are trying to do the best we can.

"That tournament Wednesday, in a pregame speech, I said for the next five hours we don’t have to worry about anything else, we just play golf. I kept asking would Rod want us to play that

Wednesday, and I know that he would have. And I also said these girls need another week together. So we said let’s put our best foot forward, that what Rod would have wanted, and his family wanted and that’s what we all wanted, another week together, and those girls did it."

Now comes state, and another tournament without coach Rod.

"It’s been really tough, I still can’t believe that he’s gone," senior Lauren Hofman said. "It feels like he is on vacation or something, and he will come back for state. But I know he’s not, and that’s really tough."

"It is going to be tough, just because he was such an encouragement to us," Hoekwater said. "Winning regionals was really tough because we didn’t have a coach there to celebrate with. We did have help from other coaches, which was nice, but it just wasn’t the same."

"It will be hard to focus, because there is so much going on in your head" said Theule, who shot 92. "It is fine having other coaches to help us, but they don’t know us like he did.

"I’m going to miss how he kept it fun, he was never too serious. He wanted us to do well, but he laughed with us and kept it fun, in practice and matches. If I or the other girls were crying, he would just stay ‘Girls, stop crying!’. He always made me smile, and I’m going to miss that."