He was a head coach in five sports over the past 30 years with the Wildcats
Herm Van Weerdhuizen said he’s just an old coach who can “easily” be replaced.
Do not believe that.
Sure, Van Weerdhuizen said that with a laugh. He was not seriously trying to make it as if his 30-year career as a head coach in La Center athletics was no big deal.
It was a huge deal.
“He’s just full of La Center tradition and history,” said Matt Cooke, the high school’s athletic director. “He is so much of what La Center is, with his passion for the game and passion for the kids. He was always creating an environment for kids to excel in, to give them an opportunity to shine.”
Officially, Van Weerdhuizen retired as the girls basketball coach last week.
But in his 30 years with the Wildcats, he has been the head coach in boys soccer, girls soccer, baseball, as well as boys and girls basketball. He has gone from one sport to the other and back again.
If it’s a school year, there must be a Herm coaching something, somewhere at La Center High School.
A health scare this past month that had nothing to do with the pandemic, combined with the uncertain times of COVID-19, led to his decision.
“I don’t want a pity party for Herm,” he said. “Stuff happens.”
Complications from gallbladder surgery led to three hospitalizations. He is recovering at home now, but the 65-year-old is now considered to be among the vulnerable population during the pandemic. He said he could not coach with a clear conscience.
“That’s not fair to my wife, or to the basketball team, or to the school,” Van Weerdhuizen said. “It was a tough decision but it was an easy one.”
In 1989, he started the high school soccer programs at La Center. Later, he had a stint as the baseball coach.
He was an assistant with the great La Center boys basketball teams that won back-to-back state championships in 1996 and 1997. Two of his sons, Dustin and Derek, played on those squads.
“I’m not a great coach. I thought I was a good coach,” he said. “I’m just thankful for the talent I had that made me look good.”
Here are a couple “Herm” classics:
“My first year in baseball, I was a genius. We won league. La Center baseball had never won a league championship. The next few years, I wasn’t so smart anymore. That’s just the way it is.”
“The girls soccer program, we won league, won district, then we’d go up north to play the private team and get drilled. It is what it is.”
Through it all, he was there for his athletes.
“I had a great run. I was thankful. La Center was good to me,” Van Weerdhuizen said.
The school and the city. He lives about a mile from the high school. He even has worked for the district for the past nine years after 35 years working for Frito-Lay.
With all the success he has had in all of the sports, he never truly considered leaving to see if his philosophies would work at a different school, at a bigger school perhaps.
“It was never about me. It’s about the kids,” Van Weerdhuizen said. “We’re going to try to push them to be the best players possible, but we have to play it the right way.”
In fact, that is what he loves about La Center students.
“The kids that played for me, they always came in with the right attitude,” he said. “Represent the school. Do it with class.”
Last week, he called Cooke with his decision. The next day, Van Weerdhuizen called every player in his program.
“That was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do. I shed a few tears,” he said.
As any coach who has left a job can attest, in normal times, a team meeting is called. The coach can say goodbye to the group, just one time.
With stay-at-home orders and the like, Van Weerdhuizen called his players, one-by-one, and had to say goodbye over and over again.
“He was my go-to for anything sports related,” Cooke said.
Now, it is up to Cooke to hire the next girls basketball coach. One thing in his favor? The outgoing coach is proof that a love for the athletes and a passion for sports can turn into a decades-long run with the Wildcats.
“That just speaks to itself,” Cooke said. “La Center is a special place to be. It’s one of a kind.”
Herm Van Weerdhuizen spent 30 years there making it a bit more special.