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Faculty Profile: Len Rhoda concludes forty-two years of teaching

By Sally Jongsma

Len Rhoda has coached dozens of teams in several sports during his thirty-four years at Dordt College.  His longest tenure was with the women's basketball team.

Len Rhoda has coached dozens of teams in several sports during his thirty-four years at Dordt College. His longest tenure was with the women's basketball team.

It’s hard to find anyone at Dordt College who doesn’t like Dr. Len Rhoda. Rhoda, who retires at the end of this academic year, is appreciated for the warmth and care he shows to students and colleagues alike. He’s been a part of the college community since 1970.

“Fantastic years, very rewarding, most enjoyable,” he says, summing up his career in the HPER (Health, Physical Education, and Recreation) department. He can’t believe they’re over already.

“It’s a privilege to teach at a Christian college where a Christian perspective shapes not only classes but also the sports program,” he says. He knows that students appreciate the Christian environment too.

“Coaches traveling with their teams hear students talk about everything and everyone,” Rhoda says. “Over the years I’ve heard many comments about Dordt College and its professors. Students appreciate how helpful most faculty members are and how interested they are in their students.” That makes Rhoda proud to be a Dordt College faculty member.

But Rhoda is also proud of Dordt’s athletes. They represent a broad cross section of majors and work hard at both their studies and their sport, he says. Most Dordt College athletes are good students—some excellent students—who, after their four years here, move on to professions in their major. Participating in sports along the way serves them well, he believes, building character and good habits.

He believes it did so in his life.

“Besides the joy of participating in activities in which I had some skill, I gained valuable lessons: the hard work needed both personally and as a team to reach a goal, the cooperation necessary for team play, the process of determining individual roles on a team, and dealing with the sheer joy of success or the reality of total disappointment,” he says.

Rhoda retires this year after forty-two years of teaching—thirty-four of those years at Dordt College. During those years, his primary responsibility has been teaching elementary school physical education and health to future teachers. He’s enjoyed almost every minute of it. Rhoda also coached first the men’s and then the women’s basketball teams. He gave up basketball coaching four years ago, but he continues to coach the men’s tennis team and has taken on the women’s team as well.

While Rhoda acknowledges that he’s had his share of losses—which he admits haven’t always been so easy to take—he is convinced that good communication between a coach and his athletes is crucial to good coaching.

“Athletes need to understand their role and know your expectations for them if they are to play as a team,” he says. “The more you talk to your players the more successful they will be.”

As Rhoda nears retirement, he says he’d choose the same career if given the choice. The stories he tells make it easy to believe him. He recalls Jackie Van Leeuwen and the rest of the team waitressing one night at a truck stop in South Dakota while they were snowed in because the Interstate was closed. He chuckles as he remembers the time Marla Habben and Terry Schouten received speeding tickets while coming home—after he asked them to get home fast because he had a bad headache. He sheepishly admits that in thirty-four years of driving athletic teams, he’s never had a ticket, but every time he goes to Sioux Falls, he’s careful because Marla is now a police officer and that ticket was the only blemish on her record.

He smiles as he recalls Shelli Van Ginkel stepping off the free throw line in front of a very vocal opposing crowd in their gym. After pausing to flash them a big smile, she returned to the line, sank both shots, and earned the opposing team’s cheers instead of taunts.

These memories and others too numerous to tell give a good picture of Rhoda’s teams, his coaching, and the kinds of students he worked with. He reiterates, “I’d do it all over again.”