Geneva to hold memorial to honor Van Deveer

  • Athletic director Jim Kafer, far right, congratulates retired coach MIke Vandeveer for his induction in to the Geneva High School Athletics Hall of Fame Saturday during halftime of the Vikings boys basketball game with St. Charles East. Doug Reese, center left, who graduated in 1975 and Mark Searcy, 1981 were also inducted.

    Athletic director Jim Kafer, far right, congratulates retired coach MIke Vandeveer for his induction in to the Geneva High School Athletics Hall of Fame Saturday during halftime of the Vikings boys basketball game with St. Charles East. Doug Reese, center left, who graduated in 1975 and Mark Searcy, 1981 were also inducted. Mary Beth Nolan/Daily Herald

 
 
Updated 4/17/2015 12:20 PM

If it meant Mike Van Deveer were still with us, Gale Gross would gladly have remained a discus and shot put specialist rather than Van Deveer's successor as Geneva's head boys track coach.

Alas, on Jan. 27 after a decadelong bout with dementia Van Deveer, a 32-year Geneva High School driver's education instructor, cross country and track coach, died at age 68.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"If he didn't have Alzheimer's I have no doubt in my mind he'd be coaching today. He loved the sport," said Gross, who succeeded Van Deveer as head coach of the Vikings boys track program in 2006.

Gross hopes to return that love in a memorial to his late mentor on Friday evening at the high school.

Traditionally on the eve of the Saturday track meet that bears the former coach's name -- in 2007 the coed Geneva Invitational was renamed the Van Deveer Invitational -- members of the Vikings boys and girls teams meet for dinner in the school cafeteria.

After Van Deveer's passing Gross decided to add a memorial, plus some punch and hors d'oeuvres, as part of Friday's meal, and invite any and all of Van Deveer's family, friends, colleagues, students and athletes to come remember him and share stories.

The memorial will be held starting at 7 p.m. Friday. Gross would like to see it become an annual affair blending current track athletes with Van Deveer's legion of former athletes and students.

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"He liked to bring together the old and the new," Gross said.

Following Van Deveer's death in Columbus, Wisconsin, in a home he shared with his brother, Joe, news naturally disseminated through social media. Gross said the overwhelming majority of condolences and memories on one particular post came from Van Deveer's driver's education students.

Our old high school driving instructors, their specific mannerisms, teaching styles and occasional tics ingrained into a formative experience, often own a place in our hearts. Van Deveer held a place in the hearts of his students.

Gross recalled Van Deveer as an intense instructor whether it was as a teacher or coach. In both he produced results. A 2006 inductee into Geneva High's Athletic Hall of Fame, his boys teams finished in second place in Class A in 1986 and 1989, and his girls squads produced state champions in pole vaulter Sarah Landau and miler Rebecca Mitchell.

Van Deveer's Vikings teams won four sectional titles, his relay squads earning all-state 12 times plus another 15 individual all-state finishes.

Gross also appreciated his patience. As time wound down on Van Deveer's career the crafty old coach found ways to groom Gross for the head position -- even if the younger man didn't realize it at the time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He used to quiz me on the order of events," Gross remembered. "I'm a throws coach, like I cared."

Now he does.

Years ago when the Geneva Invitational was dedicated for Van Deveer, Gross said family members showed up for the ceremony. He said Joe Van Deveer was amazed by the number of supporters his brother had, and the extent of their appreciation.

"He was kind of awe-struck," Gross recalled, "by the impact he left on so many kids."

New personal best

St. Charles North graduate Erik Miller, who finished fourth in Class 3A high jump as a junior in 2013 and second as a senior, will transfer to the University Iowa next year on a track scholarship, and to pursue his degree in finance. Currently at Illinois State, he visited Iowa City last weekend.

"It's academics first and track comes second and Iowa is an opportunity I couldn't pass up," he said.

Miller, younger brother of former North Stars distance runner Steve Miller and St. Charles North's 2013-14 male athlete of the year, had a second shoulder surgery on Dec. 22 and redshirted for both indoor and outdoor seasons for the Redbirds.

A United States Track and Field Association all-American with a personal best of 6 feet, 10 inches in high jump, Miller will enter Iowa as a redshirt freshman. The former high school quarterback might also look to compete in javelin as well as high jump.

"Just looking to challenge myself more," Miller said.

Expect improvement

The women's soccer team at Concordia University Chicago may well see improvement -- and perhaps a local pipeline.

Chris Brown, most recently the director of coaching for the Campton United Soccer Club's girls program in St. Charles, was named Concordia's new head coach on April 7. The Cougars went 11-7 last fall.

An Arizona native but a graduate of Northern Illinois University, Brown was named 2013 Illinois Youth Soccer Association girls competitive coach of the year, and coached state champions at the Under-16 boys and girls levels.

Community calendar

Perhaps a one-day's notice is too late to rally a foursome, but slots for those as well as individual reservations are available through Friday for a Spring Scramble on Saturday at Pheasant Run Resort Golf Course in St. Charles.

The Spring Scramble costs $60 per player or $240 for a foursome and includes green fees, cart, prize fund and concessions. Reservations can be made at (630) 584-4914, ext. 2. Registration starts at 8 a.m. Saturday with a 10 a.m. shotgun start.

If that's indeed too brief notice Pheasant Run Resorts and head pro Jamie Nieto also are offering a four-person qualifier on May 30 for the World Golf Scramble in Las Vegas Aug. 13-15. That event is a little pricier (though the potential payoff more snazzy), and details and reservations are available at (630) 584-4914.

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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