Features Girls Basketball Winter Sports

Sixteen Years of Coach VanHekken

Written by Kaari Dreyer

By: Kaari Dreyer

Sixteen years of memories, sacrifice, adversity, triumph, and friendships. Coach Dan VanHekken has been through all the ups and downs of coaching in his sixteen years of head Varsity Girls Basketball Coach at Hamilton High School. On Tuesday, March 26, Coach VanHekken announced he would be stepping down as varsity girls basketball head coach at Hamilton.

Just four days earlier, he was sitting in a hot, crowded VanNoord arena coaching his team in the MHSAA Division II semi-final game against Freeland, the first time in program history the Hawkeyes made it to the final four. Hamilton ultimately came up short in a thriller to Freeland, but finished a record-breaking season with a 25-1 record and conference, district, and regional championship titles.

Throughout his career, Coach VanHekken achieved a 225-130 overall record. He also has won four OK-Green Conference Championships, five District Championships, and two Regional Championships.

In his first year as head coach, his team had an overall record of 3-18, with a conference record of 1-9. Cady Cooper, named the MVP of the season said, “We didn’t have the best record, but having him as a coach made it still some memorable fun years.”

What makes VanHekken such a great coach doesn’t only stem from his in depth basketball knowledge, but his ability to make basketball fun, and something that the girls want to do, rather than have to do. Players from his first year to his final year can agree to this, no matter you win or lose, VanHekken knew how important it was for high school basketball to be a memorable time for his players.

Courtesy: MLive

While Coach VanHekken will undoubtedly be remembered for his impressive record and accomplishments with Hamilton Girls Basketball, he will more so be remembered for how he coached and meshed with his team.  

When asked about their favorite memory of Coach VanHekken,  Ashley Overbeek, Hamilton’s all-time leading scorer and 2014 alumna, 2019 alumna Bria Schrotenboer,  and 2017 alumna Brooklyn Groenheide all overwhelmingly responded with his tie dances after games. Whenever the team achieved a huge win, he would enter the team room with his signature tie dance with the team.

Former player, a 2016 alumni Abi Ediger, highlighted memories of his “VanHekkenisms,” like his dance parties with himself, ridiculous half-court shots, funny walks around the gym, terrible dad jokes, tie dances, self-written and performed raps, and classic VanHekken expressions.

None of his former players mentioned the wins in their favorite memories of him, it was his actions and personality that the girls remember.

Courtesy: Abi Ediger

Not only do his former players appreciate his ability to have fun, but his love for the game. VanHekken knows how to balance having fun at practice with getting to work. Cady Cooper appreciates, “[VanHekken] constantly dancing, goofing off, or smiling. He made working hard actually something to look forward to.”  VanHekken allowed his team to enjoy the game as much he did every day, and to make sure they made the most of it every day.

Coach VanHekken has proven to be an amazing coach over the past sixteen years, and his players can attest to that.

Ediger states that what made Coach VanHekken a great coach was “His knack for understanding how to keep the ‘fun’ of basketball alive” as basketball is a long season, “it’s not uncommon to feel burned out or lose sight of why you’re playing basketball,” but VanHekken knew this and found a way to ensure this didn’t happen. He kept everyone in the game and wanting to come back every day to continue to play.

Brooklyn Groenheide and Abi Ediger have had the unique opportunity to not only play for Coach VanHekken, but then coach alongside him in his final two years of his Hamilton coaching career.

Groenheide played for VanHekken for four years and Ediger moved to Hamilton her junior year and played both junior year and senior year for him. Needless to say, at this point they know the a lot about Coach VanHekken and everything he put into his team.

Ediger states, “I loved playing for him, and I might love coaching for him even more.” She is grateful that “his ability to have fun also extends to his staff.”

Coach VanHekken kept the game fun for both his players and coaches. The season also gets long for the coaches, and being able to have fun and enjoy what you are doing day in and day out makes everything more enjoyable for both players and coaches.

Coach VanHekken kept the game fun for both his players and coaches. The season also gets long for the coaches, and being able to have fun and enjoy what you are doing day in and day out makes everything more enjoyable for both players and coaches.

Being able to coach and play alongside Coach VanHekken is something both of them will be forever grateful for. Learning alongside a successful coach and the deep playoff runs is something they will never forget, and the way Coach VanHekken approached it will always impact the way they coach.

Courtesy: Jessilyn Rockhold

Not only has Coach VanHekken proven to be a great coach, but he has also proven to be a great man off the court as well.

Schrotenboer expressed, “At home with his family he is an amazing dad, at practice he is an outstanding coach, second father to many high school girls, and in class he is a great teacher.”

Being able to maintain his credibility as a coach while juggling everything else from being a dad to a DJ is something to look up to, and it’s not easy to do.

It is hard to balance so many things he does, and do them to the level he does, he’s a husband, father, coach, DJ, and teacher. He doesn’t allow for any of these things to hinder his ability to be the best as he can in any other area. VanHekken’s decision to step down truly shows how dedicated he is to be a great man.

As his son starts to play varsity basketball at another school, he realizes that in order to continue to be a great dad, he needs to be at his son’s games on Tuesday and Friday nights. In order to do so, he stepped down as coach.

His decision to step down as coach is admirable and something his players, parents, and the community respects. Gina Schrotenboer, Bria and Sierra Schrotenboer’s mother can attest to VanHekken having a positive impact on her daughters. Bria and Sierra have both been on his team since their freshmen year, Bria will graduate this week and Sierra will graduate in May of 2021.

Schrotenboer speaks of VanHekken’s impact on his daughters with, “While increasing basketball IQ and strategies are great, he helped [her daughters] navigate the mental and emotional challenges of dealing with various day-to-day stresses.” and she “appreciated how he could win and lose with grace.”

VanHekken coaches his players and teaches his players as though they are his daughters. He wants only the best for his players on and off the court. He realizes that high school sports are an opportunity to impact young women around him.

Courtesy: Jessilyn Rockhold

Before the state quarterfinal game in March of 2019, he addressed his nervous team in the team room right before the game. An emotional coach VanHekken, expressed his desire to show his players that girl athletes can achieve so much and deserve to prove what they are made of. He told his team that it doesn’t matter what people say about women in sports, all that matters is that you prove that you can do great things. He then played a recent Nike advertisement that stated that women in sports are often shown as crazy to be doing what they are doing, and ends with “show them what crazy can do.” In such a vital time, he knew he could add this in and give his team a positive message that was relevant to their everyday lives and a hint on inspiration before the game.

Coach VanHekken is able to look back at his career and be proud. He has impacted so many young women and help mold them into the women they are today. The game of basketball may fade from the players, but Coach VanHekken and his personality and tenacity will always stay with him.

The foundation for the Girls Basketball program at Hamilton has been set. Hamilton wasn’t on the radar for a state-championship contending program 16 years ago. Throughout VanHekken’s career, he has made people talk about Hamilton Girls Basketball, and made it a force to be reckoned with. VanHekken changed the mindset of the program, from a players and coaching perspective. Throughout the years he has had rough seasons but he has always rebounded from those.

It takes a strong man to walk away from something he has spent the past 16 years of his life building and loves so endlessly, in order to support his family. Giving up something you have spent so much time on is not easy, but since he has built a strong foundation and has shown the people around him how to be successful, he is able to shamelessly and confidently hand the program onto Coach Jacquelyn Schwark, who he personally guided in her first year of coaching.

Last of all, from everyone who was affected and was fortunate to work or play alongside Coach VanHekken, thank you. You truly have changed our lives for the better and gave us memories we will never forget. Even though you won’t be coaching any more, I know we will still be able to talk to you about anything in our lives. You will be a role model for future coaches and players in the Hamilton Community. You truly have impacted the Hamilton Community in such a positive way and have definitely shown everyone what crazy can do.

Courtesy: Jessilyn Rockhold