For a guy who made everyone feel like a friend, it seems like even after all these years, there’s still always something new to learn about Dick Van Wieren, the longtime BHS football coach, teacher, administrator and brand-new Hall of Famer. Whether it’s the secret to his speed and endurance as an 11-year-old, or his brush with future Hollywood fame in the Indiana University backfield, or the one player who made him the proudest, a conversation with Coach Van is a nostalgia-filled blast from the past. He hunkered down with HOF Q & A for a quick trip down memory lane.
Legend has it when you started playing organized football, you were in game shape from Day One. How did that come about?
I was born the last of six children in 1938, so my young years were during the Great Depression and times were financially difficult for a large family. By the time I was ten years old, I was working summers in the woods with my dad, who was a pulp cutter and my hero. He was a very strong, hard-working man who never complained about anything. We’d go into the dark woods at four o'clock in the morning and I’d carry my own fifty pound chain-saw in one mile to where we were cutting.I was expected to work like a man until we left the woods at night. I loved this work, and being with my Dad.
You enjoyed quite a bit of success on the playing field. Which teammates helped bring out the best in your game? How did they do that?
So when I played on my first football team in the sixth grade, I was strong, agile and quick as a result of lots of hard work. I loved the game then and still do. I played basketball and ran track, but football was always my favorite.
As I progressed to the junior high and high school teams, I became a standout quarterback (left handed). My passing had become accurate over the years because I had tied an old tire in a tree and practiced throwing the ball through the center of the tire for hours when I was home.
My running ability was enhanced because of a paper route I had from the age of eleven during school months. It was four miles long and ran along the Lake Cadillac shores. I ran my route and back every day, and I tried to do it faster each time. I carried my papers in a bag on my shoulder. I was also the kicker for the team; I guess that just came natural.
What’s your fondest memory on the high school field as a player?
My biggest thrill in high school was a 98-yard kickoff run back for a touchdown at Ludington, thanks to some really good blocking. There’s nothing more fun than running the full length of the football field with a bunch of players chasing you.
Since you ended up being a coach, you must have had a certain appreciation for the coaches in your life.
My high school coach, Hiram Becker, not only taught me about football, but about life and what’s important. Teamwork, teamwork,teamwork! He became a mentor to me as a coach and a lifelong friend and he also taught me to control my very bad temper, which has been a significant change in my success in life. Donna would not have married me with that temper! Coach Becker also insisted that players acted like gentlemen off the field; no big-mouths or show-offs allowed. We dressed up for bus trips and behaved ourselves as guests of other schools. He also monitored the girlfriend situations; he taught us that girls can mess up your football head.
How did you end up attending Indiana?
As a graduating senior, I received some athletic scholarship offers from colleges and universities. Three of them were Big Ten Conference schools, and I chose to go to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. In 1957 football, you had to play both offense and defense. So on defense I played outside linebacker. Also, NCAA rules didn’t allow freshmen to play on the varsity team. So we ran the plays of the opposing teams at practice against the varsity.
On my freshman team, I played quarterback and had a running back on the squad whose name was Harvey Yeary. He’s now known as Lee Majors and played the Six Million Dollar Man on TV. He was a better actor than running back and didn't last long on the team. But he was a nice guy.
I had been recruited by Coach Bernie Crimmons, who ran a T-formation. My sophomore year, we got a new coach, Phil Dickens. He ran a single wing. I was red-shirted to give me time to adjust to a different offense and playing position. That year, in a practice, my knee was severely injured and my playing days ended. I retained my scholarship and put my energies toward graduating and becoming a football coach so I could continue to be a part of the game I loved.
And you found a way to do that in Beaverton. How'd you end up here?
Superintendent Harold Broka hired me in 1963. He was a fine man and helped me in any way he could to get started. The principal, Clarence Metzger, was also very supportive and a great sports fan. He was great to work with. I think of him to this day.
Who were the teams or players you faced as a coach where it felt like there was always just a little bit more at stake than on a typical game night?
Of course, Gladwin has always been Beaverton’s biggest rival. Some of my fondest memories are the games when we defeated them. Our kids always seemed to be so psyched out about Gladwin - we could be a better team and we would still lose to them. It was a real triumph to get the players into a mental state to know we could win. I'm also proud of the team, that went undefeated in 1968, and in 1970, when we lost only one game. We won the conference several times over those years and I am grateful for the fine, hard working young men and their good parents.
What factors helped you enjoy so much success at BHS?
It was the complete backing of parents, the school administration and young men who gave their all. Some players that stand out are Mike Loar, Dan Grant, The Mishlers, The Brubakers, Mike Shreeve, Bob and Dick Woodruff and Jim Walters. Some stood out more than others, but it was a team effort. I know I missed naming some good players; there were too many to remember them all.
I was always proud of the young men in Beaverton; it was part of the reason we decided to stay and raise our children here. It’s a town to be proud of and we always have been.
What thoughts can you share about your fellow 2008 inductees?
Ken Govitz was there on the sidelines when I arrived in Beaverton. He was one of sports’ greatest backers and he was always there for the kids. I can say ditto to Larry Gerow. Both of these guys were outstanding athletes in their time and always wanted the best for the young men of the community. Larry ran the chains for many years and you could always count on him.
Clarence Metzger was always the same, to your face or behind your back, a wonderful man all way around. I felt very fortunate to have him as my administrator for many years. His support and enthusiasm was very important to building a new program.
I didn’t work with Becky Phillips, but I have been grateful for her work with the girls’ sports. I have two daughters and wanted them to have a chance to be a part of the teamwork and camaraderie that comes with playing on a team, too.
Dan Grant has given so much to football. He was an all-state player, a natural runner who loved the game and gave it his all. He played on an undefeated team as a junior and his senior year they lost one game. He was a big part of that effort.
You also enjoyed a uniquely strong relationship with the behind-the-scenes athletics boosters.
There were many people who who assisted in my career. My wife, who was always there for me in the thick and thin of it.Line coaches Jere Chaffin, Roy Johnston and Tom Grant were very important people in the football program. They helped me more than they will ever know. Along with Clarence Metzger, Tom Randle helped by coaching the line a few years and by supporting the program as Principal and then Superintendent. I am also grateful for the hard work of all the JV coaches over the years and the Board of Education.
I also want to mention the early sports boosters who worked so hard to start a parent support group: Roy and Vi Grant, Evelyn and Howard Woodruff, Guerdon and Paula Schumacher, Barb Shreeve Sharp, Rose and Loren Smith...and many many more dedicated parents.
Also a word about Garmon “Buck” Calhoun. He was at practices and on the sidelines my first few years with so much support and lots of encouraging words. He would tell me, “If my boy doesn’t perform, just kick him in the butt, and he’ll get it again when he gets home!” That was parent support, 1963-style.
You're typically quick to credit the influence of others in your personal success. What are some of your proudest moments at BHS?
The many honors and kind words I’ve received over the years are all special to me. But none of it was done alone. I had lots of good help and fine people and youngsters around me who deserve it more than I do. Those that stand out the most to me are:
Being in a position to coach my own son. He was a real source of pride to me. He worked hard and poured his heart into doing his very best, which is what I ask of all my players. I believe that his football experience was a part of him growing into the fine man that he is today.
Having the yearbook dedicated to me. I felt so humbled and grateful with so many other more deserving people around.
The papers written by students in answer to the question “Who do you admire the most? And why?" The teachers passed them on to me when I was the subject and I was so flattered by these that I still have them to this day.
The Van Wieren Trophy. What an honor. I watch each year to see who won it, and I know that the coaches are choosing the most dedicated and hard working player on the team. I am so proud of them all.
Regional Coach of the Year. These kinds of awards don’t mean as much to me as the ones above, but it is always nice to be recognized by your peers.