Six Hope College winter student-athletes shared their insights into a school year and a season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They talked about how they have tried to display leadership and show gratitude during trying times.
In Part 2, the team captains answered the following question regarding gratitude: “What is something positive you have experienced this school year that you might not have during a “traditional” season?”
Bailey Smith, Men’s Swimming and Diving
“This season has made me so much more grateful and thankful to have the opportunity to even be in the pool at all and to be able to train with everyone. In a normal year, I would definitely take some practices for granted and not want to be there sometimes but after getting the pool taken away from me for so long, I have a completely different mindset.”
Emma Schaefer, Women’s Swimming and Diving
“Traditionally, our season is very long and as we head into the winter months, people tend to struggle more with the demands of practice and all the time required. This year, everyone has seen what it is like to not be training together and not be competing which has made our time together as a team that much more special. The uncertainty definitely has made people have a greater appreciation when we are able to compete and be together which has made for some very memorable practices and allowed us to really cherish our time together.”
Noah Russo, Men’s Indoor Track and Field
“It was fun to get creative on how we get through workouts when the facilities were closed. Basically, anything tangible became a dumbbell early in the fall, and our workouts definitely changed from those of a traditional season.”
Lauren Newman, Women’s Basketball
“Something positive that I have experienced this school year is the unity that has occurred in our program. When this pandemic began, no one knew or could relate to the pain and uncertainty we all felt. So having 17 to 18 women who are going through the same thing, who understand it has been a blessing and has truly brought us closer together is special. I am grateful for the relationships I’ve gained and those I’ve strengthened, thanks to this ‘not so traditional’ year.”
Ellie Haan, Women’s Indoor Track and Field
“I think one of the most positive things I have seen this semester is the drive that many of my teammates have shown to get better even though we had no idea if we would even get to compete when indoor season rolled around. Yet, people still showed up for practice and put in the hard work to get faster and stronger. It can be hard to show up for workouts every day not knowing if we would even get a season, but it was great seeing people show up anyway. I know I am biased, but the people on the track team are really amazing people. It really is one big family. It has been a joy watching older teammates build bonds with new members of the team. Despite the stresses of COVID and all the uncertainty it brings, we were still able to practice and spend time laughing with one another and pushing each other to get better, and that’s a huge blessing.”
Preston Granger, Men’s Basketball
“I never imagined having this much free time during the season. It’s taught me to value self-discipline and to be intentional with my time. It has shown me what I really value because there is no excuse for not having the time to do things I’ve committed to. This pandemic has also taught us to value every second we get together on the court because we never know when it could be our last.”
Six Hope College winter student-athletes shared their insights into a school year and a season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They talked about how they have tried to display leadership and show gratitude during trying times.
In Part 1, the team captains answered the following question regarding leadership: “How have you helped lead your team this school year amid the pandemic that has required so many changes to the way you do things?”
“We as a team have adopted a ‘next play’ mindset, which has been really important with the unpredictability of the year. I’ve done my best to just be there for my guys, whether that be to talk, hang out, or work out together. I’ve focused on building relationships that are more personal than just a bond over basketball.”
Ellie Haan, Women’s Indoor Track and Field
“As in many things, the pandemic has made it hard to make connections with our teammates outside of practice. Normally we would eat dinner together in Phelps after practices and have team hangouts, but with safety restrictions, that simply has not been possible. This had made building relationships with teammates, especially those new to the team this year, harder. My fellow captain, Hayley Scollard, and I knew that this would be a difficult year, and so we decided to start a Bible study with the help of one of the Campus Ministries chaplains. We wanted to provide the women with the opportunity to gather safely, but regularly. We wanted to create a space where the girls felt like they could be real about how they were feeling and that they had people that heard them and supported them no matter how they felt. Honestly, these weekly meetings were just as much of an encouragement for me as they were, hopefully, for the other women. I felt like finding ways to connect and support my girls were some of the most important things I could do for them this past semester, and I felt like our weekly Bible study was a good way to do that.”
Lauren Newman, Women’s Basketball
“One of the ways in which I’ve led my team during the pandemic is by being a senior and putting on a brave face. It’s very scary for me to think I’d never get to play again, but by putting on a brave face amongst those thoughts, I think reinforces the idea of not looking back and being strong to my teammates. Also staying in touch via Zoom or text, checking in with how they are doing — not just about how their jump shot is. Just making myself available to be there for others, even when as a senior, I’m navigating all this too.”
Noah Russo, Men’s Track and Field
“In terms of leadership this semester, we’ve all had to change our approaches. In the past, I’ve always preferred to lead by example. Now since we don’t get to meet face-to-face nearly as much, it has been important to remain accessible to younger teammates and update them on what needs to be done on a daily basis.”
Emma Schaefer, Women’s Swimming and Diving
“Something that we have tried really hard to do this year is make sure that we are consistently reaching out to all of our fellow teammates. Whether that be in small groups, or through a text or a quick conversation after practice since we are not able to be together as much as we have been in the past. Another thing is helping to try and motivate people to keep training and to know that the hard work will pay off in the end. We had a couple months shutdown where we were not able to train as a team, and helping people to know and realize the importance of still doing what they could and that the effort they put forth while we are not together will have huge benefits to them and the team later in the season has been really important.”
Bailey Smith, Men’s Swimming and Diving
“It has been very different trying to lead the team this year with the restrictions amid the pandemic. Something I, along with the other captains, have tried to do is to come up with some sort of small group events while staying within the rules that we have. Getting together outside of the pool and before the season is so important in my opinion to try and build chemistry and friendships so whether it be ultimate frisbee or euchre, we have tried to have different groups of people be together safely in order to continue to feel more like a team in these tough times.”
As we get ready to start spring semester, we are excited about the opportunities it brings for our student-athletes and coaches. Last week, we experienced the highs and lows in athletics as we continue to navigate living in a pandemic with little to no control over the virus and the situations it creates.
We were excited as our women’s basketball team, our track and field teams, and our swimming and diving teams competed in their first contests of the 2020-21 school year. While we celebrated that, we dealt with the blow of having to pause activities for our men’s basketball program due to COVID-19 protocols. This will be the reality of athletics during this semester. We will need to be flexible and adaptable to any and all situations.
With the start of the new semester, we want to remind you of our goals for the Hope community. First and foremost, we want to protect the health and safety of our students and staff. Second, we are working toward keeping the Hope student body on campus for the full semester. Third and finally, we want to compete as much as possible. We will use these goals to guide us in each and every decision we make this semester in athletics.
We know that this is not what any of us had hoped for but we are confident that we can still provide transformational experiences for our student-athletes at Hope. I ask you to pray for our community and our country. We are grateful for you, our fans and supporters, and hope that you continue to find peace in knowing that our Savior, Jesus Christ is on the throne and holds each of us in all situations.
Hope College football coach Peter Stuursma and senior quarterback Joey Stark discuss on the Orange and Blue Hope Athletics Podcast this week’s decision that the program will focus on preparing for the Fall 2021 season and will not participate in MIAA league play this spring.
The Flying Dutchmen instead will follow a phased-in offseason training program this spring that includes strength and conditioning work, four to five weeks of practice, and the potential for scrimmages.
The Flying Dutchmen will kick off the 2021 fall season on Saturday, Sept. 4. Hope hosts Anderson University at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium.
Track and field head coach Kevin Cole ‘88 enjoyed the opportunity to see a small group of his Hope College student-athletes compete indoors last weekend.
In the first athletic event of the school year, 25 from Cole’s men’s and women’s teams went to Grand Valley State University for a three-time meet on Saturday, January 16. It was a different setting for sure — a limited number of Hope entries, no spectators, and just two other teams in the field. Yet, it was thrilling, too.
On the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast, Cole talks about appreciating the opportunity to have a meet again after 10 months out and how he has tried to support and lead his student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a lot of fun, hectic for sure because we came back to practice the day before and then had a meet,” Cole said. “It was just really good to get back and everybody was just really happy to be competing. It was low key; there were only three teams there. We only had 25 athletes out of our 100 or so total athletes. It was still just great to get competing again.”
The meet was the first for track and field since the MIAA Indoor Track and Championships on February 29, 2020. Senior Anna Frazee and freshman Ana Tucker were warming up for the NCAA Division III Indoor Championships a week later when the NCAA canceled the meet due to the pandemic. The outdoor track and field season and NCAA Championships were canceled shortly later.
Gratitude and Patience
Amidst the challenging times, Cole has been inspired by how his student-athletes have handled everything that’s been thrown at them the last 10 months. They have shown gratitude and patience throughout.
“I just have found them to be just super accepting and pretty laid back about it. it’s like, ‘Oh, this is what it is. This is what the normal is, that’s what we do,’” Cole said. “I think they’re adapting really well to that. They’re really grounded young adults that realize that no matter how bad it is, they’ve still got it really good, so they keep a positive attitude on things. They’ve been great about it.”
This is Cole’s 16th season as head coach. On the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast, Cole also discusses his Hope journey and what it’s meant to and offered him as a student-athlete, professor and coach.
An accomplished athlete in his own right, Cole is a former four-time, All-MIAA athlete between cross country and track and field. He was a two-time MIAA champion in the 800-meter run.
After graduating from Hope, Cole went on to earn a master’s degree in physical education from Texas Christian University and his Ph.D. in human bioenergetics from Ball State University.
In 2005, Cole returned to his alma mater to become Hope’s head track and field coach. He has led the Flying Dutch to three MIAA outdoor and two indoor team titles as well as the Flying Dutchmen to two MIAA outdoor championships.
As Hope College approaches the start of a new semester and the tipoff of its first athletic event in 10 months, Director of Athletics Tim Schoonveld ‘96 is busy juggling a multitude of important tasks.
Despite the uncertainty and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s working tirelessly to not only give Hope student-athletes the opportunity to compete again, but also safely.
It’s a labor of love for a beloved place.
On this episode of the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast, Schoonveld discusses his work for the Flying Dutchmen and Flying Dutch. He talks about what is being done to keep student-athletes safe and healthy with COVID testing three times a week and mask-wearing during competition.
The first athletic event of the school year is scheduled for Saturday, January 16. The men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams are set to compete at a meet at Grand Valley State University. The first home events are set to happen on Wednesday, January 20 with a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader in DeVos Fieldhouse.
Classes at Hope College will begin on Monday, January 25.
“When you’re in the middle of all the COVID-related stuff, it’s pretty trying and tiring,” Schoonveld said. “But when you take a minute and step back, you can definitely see God sent in some gifts in that regard, even though it’s a lot different than probably any of us would have hoped for.”
He finds blessings all over the Hope College campus, ranging from understanding student-athletes “who have done everything we’ve asked” to adaptive coaches shifting “from a mindset of competitive excellence” without competition to “How do I love on and look after my team? How do I care for them?’
Additionally, Schoonveld sees blessings in supportive staff who continue to provide top-notch care in spite of new pandemic-driven needs as well as college leadership eagerly investing in him.
“You love to be a part of this team and I’m just thankful to be a part of it,” Schoonveld said.
Schoonveld’s gratitude for Hope College, which dates back to his days as a student-athlete, also covers his immediate family.
He and his wife, Lisa Timmer ‘97 Schoonveld, have two children who are student-athletes at the college. Kenedy is a senior on the women’s basketball team and a returning All-American for the Flying Dutch. Eli is a freshman on the men’s basketball team.
“On some levels, Hope was a place of redemption for me. Hope’s a place that’s transformed my wife’s and my life when we were here,” Tim Schoonveld said. “To watch our kids be impacted by their coaches, Colly Carlson, Brian Morehouse and Courtney Kust with Kenedy and, Coach Mitch (Greg Mitchell) and Coach (Chad) Carlson, Ken George and Coach Dav (Tom Davelaar) impacting Eli’s life, it’s just shows me the difference that people can make.
“I’m completely biased, but the difference that Hope has made, this is a place that’s going to love and care for your kids and I’ve experienced that.”
A demanding training routine featuring lots of miles and hours in the pool. An academic semester and competition schedule disrupted by a worldwide pandemic. And, most important, a teammate in special need of encouragement and care hundreds of miles away from Hope College.
Facing numerous challenges together, head coach Jake Taber and the Hope women’s and men’s swim/dive teams have rallied around a Bible verse for inspiration and comfort this semester.
“Let us not become weary in doing good.”
These eight divinely-inspired words have helped them navigate their studies while adjusting to the COVID-19 safety protocols on campus. But on a personal level, for senior Hope Reynolds, these words have meant so much more.
Reynolds lost her senior season after she was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall. As she is completing her treatment back home in Exton, Pennsylvania, Galatians 6:9 provides a daily focus for her and her concerned teammates.
“Everything that I’ve gone through, those words have been really important to me,” Reynolds said. “Not giving up, always trying to do the right thing, just do whatever you can to get better. From my health perspective, that is how I look at the verse. From a training perspective, you just get in the water, do the right thing, do the best you can, and then just know in the end it will pay off.”
Just 21 years old, Reynolds learned moments after completing an interview for physical therapy graduate school on September 14 that she had Grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. She had met with her doctor virtually in late August after noticing a mass in her breast and struggling with migraines over the summer. On September 9, her doctor scheduled an ultrasound and biopsy.
Once found, the tumor proved so large that surgery was not an option initially. Reynolds first needed eight chemotherapy treatments over a 16-week span starting on October 6.
While 13 percent of women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes, only five percent of those cases occur in women in their 20s and 30s, according to the American Cancer Society.
“I was diagnosed on a Monday; my mom flew out that night. I went to my last practice on Tuesday and told the team. Then, Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. we left for home. I met with my surgeon the next day,” Reynolds said. “They prescribed a whole bunch of tests to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere. I met with my oncologist and she walked me through what my journey would be like.
“My last treatment will be January 12. After that, there will probably be a whole bunch more scans before I decide for sure about the surgery I’m doing. The tumor started at 4 ½ centimeters, but now is down to 1 ½ centimeters, which is awesome.”
The swiftness of the discovery — and the need for Reynolds, amid the pandemic, to recover safely at home two states away — stunned everyone involved, including the team’s coach.
In addition to creating a new training program for his teams and helping a large freshman class adjust to their first semester of college, Taber now desired to find the best ways to communicate with and support a beloved senior. Her concerned teammates needed him, too.
The moment felt overwhelming at first, as it can be for many individuals and families facing a cancer diagnosis.
Relying on Faith
Taber found his path by remembering Galatians 6:9 and striving to live out those impactful words.
He started by listening to Reynolds and picking up her mother, Colleen, at the airport that night she flew in. He continued by following his swimmer’s lead.
“You look at this incredibly healthy, fit young woman, with the world at her fingertips and think ‘How is this even a possibility?’” Taber said. “You find out on a Monday and, two days later, she’s back home in Pennsylvania, meeting with doctors, trying to get to the bottom of it. That just doesn’t seem fair.
“It’s been incredibly difficult for everybody, but the perspective that her parents, Rob and Colleen, have had is great, too. They were very swift and efficient in finding out and understanding what Hope’s options were and what was going to create the best opportunity for her health moving forward.
“The Reynolds are doers. It’s no accident Hope is who she is.”
Rob ‘90 and Colleen Reynolds named their daughter at his alma mater. That word Hope fittingly captures how she has approached her challenging semester, Taber said.
While starting treatment, Reynolds, who is an exercise science major with minors in classical studies and psychology, completed her semester remotely while also joining her teammates for team dry workouts and conversations on Zoom. She also continued work on identifying where she would go for graduate school.
Her handling of everything has inspired and comforted her teammates, including best friend, senior Emma Schaefer.
“People can get frustrated with (COVID-19) and how everything is constantly changing, but seeing how Hope has taken on her cancer diagnosis with such a great attitude — super driven and positive — has been great for everyone to see, ” Schaefer said of her roommate the past three years. “Especially the younger swimmers. They don’t necessarily know what normal is like here. The optimism, trusting in God, it’s been great to have Hope around virtually. She is a beacon of positivity.”
Has Reynolds been tired at times this semester? Yes. Still, as Galatians 6:9 instructs, she has chosen not to allow fatigue to keep her from doing good.In fact, she has a goal of returning to campus in time for her birthday in April and graduating with her classmates. There is work to be done.
“She puts her faith in God and knows that there’s a plan. She doesn’t get tripped up in the ‘Why me?’ or ‘I’m too young for this” mantra, which logically would trickle into a lot of people’s heads,” Taber said. “She’s more ‘I got this for a reason and we’re going to beat it.’ Since I’ve been here, Hope’s not afraid of any practice I can throw at her. She’s not afraid of hard work in the classroom or in the pool. She was ready to attack this cancer recovery head-on.”
Close-knit. Shared love of sport. Competitive. There are many ways to describe families, but these words aptly describe each of the three unique families involved with Hope College Athletics this school year.
The Coles, the Fritzes and the Morehouses all feature fathers as head coaches and one of their children as student-athletes on their teams.
Kevin and Jacinda Cole (women’s track and field), Stu and Tucker Fritz (baseball), and Brian and Meg Morehouse (women’s basketball) are relishing a special time together. They’re all hopeful more memories can be made next semester when competitions can resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kevin and Jacinda Cole
Women’s Track and Field
Close-knit. Kevin Cole finds joy in every opportunity he has to see his daughter, Jacinda, run, whether at practice or at a meet in 800 or 1,600-meters events.
“I’ve always liked to watch all of my kids’ sporting events as often as I can. Once they got into college, I thought it might be a little more difficult,” Kevin said. “I obviously can see every single race of hers; I’m always right there. Plus, I get to watch her in practice. It’s kind of a dad’s dream come true that you get to spend more time with your kid.”
Jacinda Cole, a senior, relishes the opportunity as well.
“We’re in a unique position when we’re actually in practice since I am a distance runner and he coaches more of the sprinters,” Jacinda said. “I can have two different coaches that I can go and talk to; it’s exciting to talk to someone else about my races. When he was in college, he ran some of the same events. It’s cool seeing that perspective, too.”
Kevin Cole is a two-time MIAA Field Day champion in the 800-meter run (1986 and 1987) who set Hope and MIAA records in the event. He earned All-MIAA honors four times between track and field and cross country. Since 2006, he has coached the Flying Dutch women’s track and field team to two indoor and two outdoor titles, and the Flying Dutchmen to a co-championship in outdoor track and field in 2011.
“It’s been fun watching him as a coach to other people instead of just my dad,” Jacinda said. “It’s a different interaction with everyone, especially the sprinters who he spends a lot of time with, but I’m proud to see how comfortable they are with him and how willing he is to be a coach for them.”
Jacinda Cole is an accomplished student-athlete in her own right who has flourished as a runner since deciding to focus on it during his junior year in high school at West Ottawa. The education major, with a focus on English language arts, earned All-MIAA honors in cross country as a junior in 2019 while helping the Flying Dutch claim their school-record fifth consecutive league championship.
She also was a member of track and field team’s MIAA title-winning teams in 2018 (indoor and outdoor), 2019 (outdoor), and 2020 (indoor).
“If she ever gets to race this year, she’s going to turn in some amazing times because she’s really, really put in the effort for it,” Kevin said. “She’s also a leader. She’s just somebody that people always look to for answers.”
Stu and Tucker Fritz
Shared love of sport. Tucker Fritz found his own passion for baseball while playing Little League while he was growing up. Stu Fritz introduced his son to the game, of course. Now Tucker Fritz runs with it, glove, bat, cleats and all.
“I met some of my best friends playing baseball. I started forming solid connections with kids and really making friendships,” junior Tucker Fritz said. “That’s when baseball started hitting at my heartstrings.”
Stu Fritz, too, was introduced to baseball by his family in Iowa, namely his father, Darwin, and brother, Scott – both accomplished athletes in their own right. Stu Fritz went on to letter four years in baseball and football at Wartburg College (Iowa).
In 1994, he became Hope’s baseball coach and has led the Flying Dutchmen to 579 career wins and nine MIAA championships over 27 seasons. He has also been the president of the American Baseball Coaches Association.
The game of baseball obviously means a lot to Stu Fritz. Yet, he is glad Tucker Fritz has made it his own game.
“He’s really done a great job of becoming his own person,” Stu said. “People will say when they hear our voices, we sound exactly alike. We have a lot of similar interests. We have a lot of different interests, too.”
A business major, with a communication minor, Tucker Fritz is an outfielder for the Flying Dutchmen. The West Ottawa High School product is looking forward to competing with his teammates this spring. Hope played only three games during the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Selfishly for me, baseball allows me to see him every day,” Stu said. “We’re best friends, but at the same time, we don’t talk a lot about [baseball] stuff off the field. It means the world to me to watch him interact with his teammates and to see his work ethic.”
Tucker Fritz is grateful for the support he received from teammates immediately his freshman year, a sign of the healthy program his father has built.
“I tried really hard to gain the trust of my teammates, but I didn’t have to; the guys here were extremely accepting of me,” Tucker said. “I don’t call him ‘Dad’ on the field. It’s more of a respect relationship. I don’t want him to treat me any different as a player. If that means I’m not good enough to play, I want to know.
“But it has meant a lot to me seeing my dad compete, be emotional with his players and relate to college students. It’s been an awesome experience.”
Brian and Meg Morehouse
Competitive. Brian Morehouse laughingly admits family board games happen “on a very limited basis” in his household because of how much everyone wants to win, himself and daughter, Meg, included.
The Morehouse-compete gene came in handy for his basketball team, though, during last season’s memorable drive to a 29-0 record and postseason run.
At his assistant coaches’ insistence, Meg Morehouse was plugged in and quickly became a harassing, shut-down defender for the Flying Dutch as a freshman guard. She helped Hope win the MIAA Tournament and two NCAA Tournament games before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the tournament. The Flying Dutch finished ranked No. 1 in the nation and were Division III’s lost remaining unbeaten team.
“Freshmen don’t understand our defense for most of their freshmen year, if they ever get it. Meg kept battling and battling, though,” Brian said. “For her to earn our coaching staff’s trust to be put in in the biggest moments, with less than two minutes and we have to have a stop, was an incredibly cool Dad moment. It was also a really cool coaching moment to say, ‘Hey, a freshman has earned our trust to play in the biggest moments.’”
Meg Morehouse’s drive to play basketball came from watching her dad’s Hope teams while she was growing up. She made it her own game to love while in middle school, though.
“I just realized this is just so much fun. I love playing. I love being around my teammates,” Meg said. “Before it was ‘I’m going to the gym because Dad wants me to go.’ (Then) the switch kind of flipped and I wanted to go to the gym. I want to get better.”
After choosing to enroll at Hope and play basketball, Meg Morehouse is enjoying the opportunity to be on the same team with her dad.
“It’s definitely been a really good bonding experience for us. When I was in high school (at Zeeland East), he would have to miss some games, just recruiting, having his own games,” said Meg, who’s pursuing a physical and health education major. “It’s nice to be learning more about each other. I’m seeing everything that goes into his coaching from a player’s perspective. That’s something I never realized until I was a player here.”
The 2020-21 season is Brian Morehouse’s 25th season. He is one of the most successful women’s basketball coaches in the country, reaching the 600-win mark in NCAA-record time, claiming a national championship in 2006, and owning 15 MIAA titles in 24 seasons.
“I did miss things when she was growing up,” Brian said. “I’ve done Hope Basketball with my dad (Dean Morehouse) for 20 years, seeing him every day. Now I see Meg. I really appreciate the chance to see my kid every day and have this new connection point.”
2020 has been quite a year for all of us. Normally, we would have just finished a fall season with some league championships and NCAA national tournament runs. We would be excited as we watch our winter teams play their non-conference competitions and look forward to league championships in the coming months. Our staff would be finishing up the final loose ends of the year in their offices and would be getting ready for some rest with family and friends. We would be seeing many of you at events and would be wishing you well. Yet, here we are unable to compete or spend time together while waiting for a vaccine to stop the spread of COVID-19.
As we move towards Christmas, we want to encourage all of you. I have been reminded that this year has been filled with unexpected blessings and gifts in the midst of the struggle. Today, I write to share some of what I am grateful for this 2020 Christmas season:
Coaches who love their student-athletes and have chosen the transformation of lives over competition.
President Scogin and his visionary, positive, and spirit-filled leadership of Hope.
The countless faculty and staff who have gone above and beyond their job descriptions to provide a meaningful in-person experience for our students.
Our fans and supporters who have continued cheering us on through financial support and words of encouragement.
Our athletic leadership team of Courtney Kust, Caroline Dykstra and Lindsey Engelsman who continue to give and serve our student-athletes because they desire to live out impact daily. They inspire me!
A family who brings more joy than I could ever have imagined or deserved!
I want to thank each of you for the ways you love and support Hope Athletics. IT MATTERS. Please do not ever underestimate your impact on our lives. I hope and pray this holiday season that you are able to look back on 2020 and see the good that the Lord our God has given to us this year.
This Christmas season may we all be reminded of the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ. One of my favorite songs describes Him this way:
He is our Author, our Maker, our Ransom. Our Savior, our Refuge, our Hiding Place. He is our Helper, our Healer, our Blessed Redeemer. Our Answer and Saving Grace. Our Hope in the shadows. Our Strength in the battle. Our Anchor for all our days.
May God bless you and your families this Christmas season and may we all cling to this hope.
In any typical year, head athletic trainer Timothy Koberna is most recognizable as the guy on the sidelines of numerous Hope sporting events always ready to administer health care to hundreds of Hope College student-athletes.
But, 2020 was no typical year. As intercollegiate athletics events were stymied and altered at Hope for the last eight months, Koberna still found ways to administer health care to hundreds of Hope students, though. He just inhabited a different kind of sidelines to do so.
Koberna has been directing Hope’s contact tracing program since students returned to campus in August. In this role, he coordinates the communication process between COVID-positive students and their close contacts and helps with large-scale testing of residential hall inhabitants as well as 25% of Hope’s student-athlete population weekly. He also remains up-to-date with COVID-19 health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and serves as the college’s primary liaison with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.
“Late in the fall, the CDC was reporting that tracing was occurring in 4+ days, on Hope’s campus we want it to be done within 45 minutes,” he says. “We just don’t want this thing to linger because of the high-risk nature of a residential community.”
Interestingly, Koberna did not seek out serving Hope in this capacity but it was a position he was prepared to fill. In fact, he is a natural for it.
How He Got Started
The process began back in May when the college and state were just two months into remote operations and stay-at-home orders. Time away from campus and his daily routine got Koberna to thinking: What will be the role of athletics in the weeks and months ahead?
“That capacity because of who we are and what we do as allied health professionals, as athletic trainers, it brings us into health care contact with people all the time. We know how to start a health-based interview process and evaluation process and to triage and prioritize different situations.”
“We had no idea how to forecast this [the pandemic],” he says. “And to be honest with you, I needed to prepare myself and my staff this way: ‘Look folks, we may not have athletics in the fall and we may have to show our worth in a different type of capacity.’ And that capacity because of who we are and what we do as allied health professionals, as athletic trainers, it brings us into health care contact with people all the time. We know how to start a health-based interview process and evaluation process and to triage and prioritize different situations.”
So, even before being asked by college officials to lead Hope’s contacting tracing team this fall, Koberna enrolled in an online class through Johns Hopkins University in June to learn the ins and outs of the process. The course is considered the gold standard in contact-tracing education and took seven hours to complete.
“I just thought, ‘Hey, let’s continue to move forward,’” he explains. “I really was not looking at being the guy on campus [to contact trace], but I was looking to add a new set of tools in my toolbox.”
Those tools, it turned out, would quickly be put to good use. And though they were skills that Jennifer Fellinger, vice president of public affairs and marketing and chair of the COVID steering committee, did not know Koberna had newly acquired, what she did know was that his health-care knowledge, organizational aptitude and level-headed demeanor were just what was needed to help Hope during the pandemic.
“Tim emerged at a critical time in our reopening planning as the person with a convergence of interest, capacity, and ability to engage with this kind of crisis-related issue,” says Fellinger. “Contact tracing is super complex, but Tim has the ability to work through the complexity and appreciate the process. For some people, it can be completely overwhelming, but Tim eats it up. That’s the way his mind operates. . . I can’t imagine anybody else who has the skill set to do what he did. We owe so much to him because of what he did with our contact tracing. He is a rockstar.”
Who He’d Like to Thank
In typical fashion, Koberna is one to deflect such words focused on him and project them back onto those who make up the larger testing and contacting tracing teams. “To be honest with you, I’ve had some incredible people who have walked alongside me in this effort and it’s been great. It’s a total, a total team effort with this thing,” he says.
That kind of interplay between Koberna’s humility and expertise is sincere and experiential. Anyone who has worked in athletics for most their lives like Koberna is fully aware of the value and authenticity of team efforts. No one ever succeeds singularly, and the pandemic has only heightened that reality. So, in no particular order, Koberna wants be sure to share public kudos to:
The testing team consisting of Cindy Sabo, Denise Brink and Danielle Hawkes of the Health Center; Scott Travis of Alumni Engagement; Peter Folkert and Jeff Pestun of CIT; Nicole Dunteman of Student Development; and, Dr. Aaron Best and Dr. Ben Kopek of the Biology Department.
The contact tracing team consisting of Liz Kubias of Student Development; Kate Ralston and Pat Van Wylen of Alumni and Family Engagement; Julie Huisingh of Public Affairs and Marketing; Michelle Gibbs of the Office of Sustainability; and, Mike Kasher of Campus Safety, and,
The athletic training staff of Tonia Gruppen, Annie Carrigan, Erik Byl, and Salvador Robles-Soriano.
What Others are Saying
For basketball student-athlete Kenedy Schoonveld, a new and deeper appreciation of Koberna’s abilities as an athletic trainer and a contact tracer was experienced in November when she received a phone call about her possible COVID-19 exposure. Immediately, she reached out to him for advice and assurance.
“We always joke on our team that Tim is kind of like our personal therapist. But it’s true. Even in spite of covid, I think that he brings a really calming presence to our team. He always makes himself available. I feel like as athletes, he always knows what we need, both physically and mentally.”
“I texted him right away, kind of freaking out, not knowing what to do or what that meant,” she says. “He was very calm, of course, which helped me a lot. And then he checked in with me a lot and that was very, very good for me because I was worried about missing class and missing practices.
“Once I got my negative test, he allowed me to come in and run on the anti-gravity treadmill in the training room as long as I wasn’t in contact with anybody else,” she continues. “He put together sprinting workouts for me too, which was really helpful for my mental and physical health during those two weeks. We always joke on our team that Tim is kind of like our personal therapist. But it’s true. Even in spite of COVID, I think that he brings a really calming presence to our team. He always makes himself available. I feel like as athletes, he always knows what we need, both physically and mentally.”
In her work with Koberna, Fellinger also felt some of the same mojo that Schoonveld describes – that ability to deliver just the right words and works at the right moment. For Fellinger, a one-time long-distance runner, that connection was found in receiving marathon metaphors from Koberna to boost her spirits. “He would text me and say things like, ‘Okay, we’re at mile 22. Let’s push through. Keep your head up and keep going.’ And I totally loved it. He thought that metaphor through and used it so well with me.”
While others valued Koberna’s special skills and mindset, he too gained a new level of gratitude for those in the COVID trenches. He always knew they were there, of course, but now he understands how hard they are battling.
“I have a whole new appreciation for public health officials,” he describes. “Public health in the past, from my perspective, has been undervalued. H1N1 was impactful, but I have never had a role in a pandemic like this. So, the appreciation I have for public health officials and the scrutiny that they’re under day in and day out with the decisions that they make is just profound. These are some very, very impressive professionals, because as we know, the virus doesn’t take a day off. It never does. It’s constantly there. It’s so hard to turn yourself away from it. And they don’t.”
And neither does Koberna nor the other professionals on Hope’s frontline. They’ll be back at it again when spring semester starts on Monday, January 25.