Dordt College News

Rick Vander Berg ends three decades in Dordt athletics

May 9, 2009

Rick Vander Berg

As Rick Vander Berg looks back over his thirty-one-year career in Dordt College athletics, he thinks first of all of the students he’s been able to work with: “It has been a privilege,” he says.

He’s been impressed by their sense of responsibility, their loyalty, and their character.

Those impressions come from years of coaching, a relationship that puts instructors and students in a unique position, he believes. Not only are they together a couple of hours a day in practice, but they sometimes spend hours a week traveling to and from games. The miles pass as conversation flows and relationships grow.

“It gives a coach an opportunity to have an effect on who they are as people, their sense of self-worth, and how they set goals and priorities,” says Vander Berg. Anyone who knows Vander Berg knows that this is likely done in an understated and quiet way, encouraging and interacting in a way that lets them develop as responsible and committed people.

Vander Berg also has helped shape the young people he worked with through the work study system.

“The value of work study positions is underrated,” he says. He found that laying out expectations and allowing students to do their jobs usually resulted in responsible, loyal employees for the department. He in turn was loyal to them, and he believes that many students developed valuable leadership skills and benefited from character-shaping experiences as they managed teams, worked as athletic trainers, managed events, and kept statistics. They knew others were depending on them to do a good job, and they did.

Vander Berg came to Dordt College in 1978 as a physical education instructor and basketball and track coach. Things were different then. Expectations for athletics were not as high, fewer services existed for athletes, and getting out sports information was a low priority compared with other responsibilities.

“We didn’t hire professional trainers in those days; we did it ourselves,” he says. “Expectations are higher today, but we’re also able to do a better job in our program.”

The basics remain the same, though.

“We make clear to our students that they are students first of all. That’s what they’re here for. And they all know that our focus, like that in every department at Dordt, is to glorify God in everything that we do.” That means acting appropriately in training, practices, and games—serving others as they do their job.

“We expect each person to do his or her best, playing within the rules and with integrity. By doing this, they also help teammates and opponents do the same,” Vander Berg says. He acknowledges that Dordt doesn’t have many issues with people who don’t want to act that way, but he still says this perspective needs to be part of every day’s teaching and interaction.

“Being on a team helps students learn to work together for the good of the team. It helps them learn to set priorities, and it gives an opportunity for students with athletic gifts to exercise them. It’s one way we glorify God in our lives.”

Vander Berg gave up coaching years ago. For the past several years, his primary responsibility has been as athletic director, taking care of the administrative work involved in running an athletic program in today’s world of college athletics. In that role, he has continued to help shape the program. He will miss these students and the
colleagues with whom he’s worked for many years.

“I really did look forward to coming to work every morning at 6:30,” he says. “I’ve had a good career here.” He won’t mind giving up all the scheduling and staffing responsibilities, though. And, although he knows it will be different, he’ll probably show up occasionally for morning coffee.

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