[caption id=”attachment_733” align=”aligncenter” width=”348”] Woodland Christian High School teacher, coach and athletic director Ken VanderZwaag holds the Pete Beach Award he received from friends/coworkers and Central Western Ontario Secondary Schools Association representatives Carolyn Chesney and Pat Klassen.[/caption]
Their lengthy standing ovation was a moving moment for Woodland Christian High School’s Ken VanderZwaag, warming the spotlight that he usually shuns. It was the students’ way to honour him for the award of excellence he’d just received, as well as 30 years of instilling life-enriching qualities as a teacher and coach at the Breslau school.
“I think it’s the place that God wants me to be,” VanderZwaag says of Woodland and the larger Christian education community, which he first joined as a young boy in Grade 1.
VanderZwaag prays he’ll return to Woodland Christian, after taking a leave last year to battle pancreatic cancer.
He is the school’s longest-serving teacher, instructing in everything from physical education to geography. As a coach and athletic director, he’s guided the school to three Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) bronze medals as well as a number of sportsmanship banners.
All the while, he’s worked quietly to help others reach their potential — in sports and in life.
“He’s been faithful, committed, loyal, and he’s always interested in seeing this school succeed and kids succeed,” says John Van Pelt, Woodland’s principal and a former student of VanderZwaag’s.
He says VanderZwaag embodies OFSAA’s Pete Beach Award, which he was surprised with at the school’s June 13 awards assembly.
Named for a former OFSAA executive director, the annual award honours an educator who utilizes the medium of school sports to positively influence students in the remainder of their lives. The individual, according to the certificate of recognition, “best typifies the true function of the teacher coach — a source of discipline, a mentor and a friend.”
“That’s exactly who he has been over his 30 years here,” Van Pelt says. “Ken has had high expectations for students … but the highest priority for him has been the integrity, character and sportsmanship kids demonstrate when they play the game.
“For him, that is winning.”
Reflecting on his former basketball, badminton and soccer coach, Van Pelt always appreciated VanderZwaag’s push for players to excel and become excellent. He emphasized that everyone was important to the team and their contribution valuable.
“In every sport there are super stars, and they often can take care of themselves. Ken recognized there are people who play different roles on teams and he was able to bring out the best in them and help them to understand that that role was significant and worthwhile.”
Current Woodland athletic director Jamie Wright marvels at VanderZwaag’s organizational skills and willingness to put in the extra effort to get things done.
He also marvels at VanderZwaag’s long-term dedication on many different levels — within the school, to his classes and the countless teams he’s coached, and within the sports-governing bodies of District 8, the Central Western Ontario Secondary Schools Association (CWOSSA) and OFSAA.
During the award presentation, it was noted that VanderZwaag has given smaller schools a voice and support as a long-time representative on the CWOSSA and OFSAA boards.
“I guess I was keeping my eye out for the little guy,” he says.
The Pete Beach Award was a surprise to VanderZwaag; he’d been invited to the assembly to give out an award when CWOSSA representatives honoured him.
The event brought him back to the school where, for more than 29 years, he’d never missed a day of work. He misses the classroom and the joy of working with kids.
“It’s been a tough year not being at school but my prayer is that I get to go back some day,” VanderZwaag says.
He is grateful for all the support he’s received, including former students, and for his rewarding career and long, uninterrupted tenure at Woodland Christian.
“For somebody to be able to go through a career that long without being sick, God was keeping an eye out for me,” he says — and he feels God still is.