Dick Van Wieren
The architect of some of the greatest football seasons in school history, he demanded maximum effort on the field and commanded respect off it. The embodiment of “tough but fair,” his players understood there was but one path to victory, and it was paved with equal measures of dedication, discipline and teamwork. He presided over one of the most outstanding stretches in BHS athletics history when his team went 23-2-1 over a three-year span, including an undefeated season in 1968. Few Beaverton coaches in any sport garnered more career wins, and none evoked more admiration and gratitude from players and students alike.
Distinguished high school football career in Cadillac led to several offers to play at Big Ten universities; he eventually chose Indiana University
On IU's freshman team, Coach Van lined up in the backfield with a running back named Harvey Yeary, who would later show off his speed as Lee Majors on The Six Million Dollar Man
A knee injury as a sophomore at IU ended his playing career, but he retained his scholarship and graduated
He was hired by Superintendent Harold Broka in 1963 as Physical Education teacher and football coach
Coached the Beavers through a memorable three-year, 23-2-1 stretch, including an undefeated 1968 season; those teams either won or shared the conference championship each year
Was named by his peers as the Regional Coach of the Year in 1984 following a 7-2 season
Retired from coaching in 1985; continued at BHS as Athletic Director and Vice-Principal through 1992
In 1992 at the annual BHS Fall Sports Award Banquet, the football team's Most Valuable Player award was rechristened The Van Wieren Trophy from 1984 to 1989
Inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame on March 26, 2011
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.
Workouts Begin for Beavers - Gladwin County Record
Van Wieren is Coach of the Year - Gladwin County Record
Beavers Shut Out Gladwin 16-0 - Gladwin County Record
On The Football Sidelines - Gladwin County Record
Fall Sports Awards Given at Beaverton - Gladwin County Record
Van Wieren Finds Home at Beaverton - Bay City Times
Beaverton's Van Wieren Won't Be Pacing Sidelines - Bay City Times
Frosh Will Play Intersquad Game
Reds Drop Whites, 14-0, in Frosh Intersquad Tilt
Dick Van Wieren Brag Board
“Coach Van was the one everyone looked up to while I was in school. He taught physical education and coached football, basketball and track, but he was a lot more than that. He controlled the halls and had a shoulder pinch that would make you see things his way! A lot of other teachers were glad there was a Coach Van in the building. His outstanding character truly makes him a legend of the game. Van Wieren never ran the score up on his opponents, even whey they could have beat teams 70-0. He never did it, out of respect.”
– Dan Grant
“Coach Van was the best 5-4 and 6-3 coach (along with owning a couple of conference championships) that I’ve known. He played all of his players, and they loved him for it. I have never heard a bad word about Coach Van. He coached discipline, sportsmanship and respect. I have a lot of admiration for this guy. I am sure he held the same respect from the students he taught.”
– Ken Govitz
“With Coach Van, we became good friends in life. I was a quarterback in high schools, and so was he at Cadillac, and then he went on to play at Indiana. When we coached together, he put me in charge of the line. I made sure we had good protection for the QB. He would just show me what to do, and I’d do it. He was a strict disciplinarian, and I grew into one too. He would get on peoples’ butts, but if you get on them and they do it right, you can’t say enough good about them after they do it right.”
– Roy Johnston
“Coach Van: From a player’s perspective, my husband Joe relates, you were his coach for JV basketball and Varsity football. Although he remembers you as a great coach, it is the man he addressed as “Coach” that probably left the greatest impression. The respect you were given as a high school coach has continued long after graduation. You will always be “Coach Van.” The Grant family knew you as a coach, a neighbor and a friend. My parents so enjoyed the days they spent at Beaverton High School working as sports boosters or just doing what they could to contribute to the school. I remember how much they looked forward to the Sports Booster meetings and watching the game replay movies with your play-by-play commentary. They respected you and the job you did as a coach and teacher, instilling the same values they also believed were important. You were then, and remain today, a real first-class person and a role model for so many. As a neighbor and friend, you and Donna were always available to give a hand when needed. We had great times together, and during the tough times you and Donna were also there as some of the first to lend your support when we lost our parents. We are grateful that you and your family have touched our lives. Congratulations on your induction to the inaugural Beaverton High School Hall of Fame. You are truly a deserving honoree.”
– Sue (’69) and Joe (’67) Mishler