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Sioux City JournalBefore the governor quest, there was basketball

Feburary 16, 2006
Copyright Sioux City Journal
By Bret Hayworth, Journal staff writer


Bob Vander Plaats sits in the front row Tuesday while watching son Hans Vander Plaats and the Hinton Blackhawk basketball team.

(Staff photo by Jim Lee)


Before he was running for governor twice in the early 21st century, he was just Plaats, a lanky young man with basketball jones.

Hull Western Christian basketball star Bob Vander Plaats continued in the sport he loved while attending Northwestern College from 1981 to 1985. Red Raider teammate Scott Sieperda (Northwestern '85) said many particulars from the practices and games have been lost to time, and said, "I think we just called him 'Plaats.'"

Sieperda, now working in insurance and real estate in his home town of Rock Rapids, Iowa, said he wasn't surprised his former teammate is running for governor. "He fits the bill," Sieperda said. "He's a good speaker. His competitive nature carried over from the sports world."
Added Sieperda, "Plaats always had a big desire to succeed and do well. He has been successful wherever he has gone," mentioning the school administrator post in Sheldon, which was followed by a few other public school stints.

Sieperda recalled Vander Plaats' college choice was a bit of a surprise, since many HWC grads went to Dordt College in Sioux Center rather than Northwestern in Orange City. "Bob was a lot of joy to be around," he said. "He was a good basketball player and just a good teammate."

Sieperda, who played roughly half the minutes as sixth man his junior and senior year, said Vander Plaats didn't see a lot of floor time. Vander Plaats played the wing -- the 2-spot or shooting guard -- and "he got in the games late," Sieperda said, and then "quit his senior year."

Les Douma, now administrator of Area Education Agency 4 in Sioux Center, coached men's basketball at Northwestern from 1981 to 1990. Douma confirmed Vander Plaats did not go out for the sport his senior year, saying he was heading toward a career in teaching, had student teaching assignments and "he knew what he wanted to do with his life and he stepped aside from basketball. I respect that."

Douma said "there was a bit of gym rat in (Vander Plaats); he liked the game of basketball," but at Northwestern he displayed more than single focus and embraced a broad college experience.

Prior to Northwestern, Douma coached boys basketball at Sheldon, which was Vander Plaats' hometown, although he went to Hull Western Christian. "Bob and his brother were both good basketball players. I would kid him, he should come over here and play for the Orabs," Douma said.

Ironically, that fall of 1981, Douma landed the Northwestern job, and among the freshman players was Vander Plaats. Douma said Vander Plaats was "a great shooter and a great team player and dedicated to the game."

Douma said "Bob wasn't a starter, but I benefited from his team play, he was a hard practice player." He said the one game he recalls of Vander Plaats' career was a home "overtime game with Briar Cliff when Bob came off the bench and played very, very well" in a game in which the starters were depleted.

Today, Vander Plaats still takes in a lot of basketball, watching his two oldest sons playing in Hinton High School games. Senior son Hans averaged 18 points as a junior and now is a key player on a 17-1 Blackhawk team that was undefeated until Feb. 7., while freshman son Josh is currently on the Hinton junior varsity squad.

Douma said when he sees Vander Plaats these days, it is "around high school athletics. I watched his son (Hans) a year ago, and there is Bob and his wife (Darla) and they were selling some T-shirts for the booster club."

Douma said "Hans is the leader on that team, with the same kind of play" as his father -- a good shooter, composed on the court, a team player.

Hinton boys basketball coach Phil Skamser said Hans has mentioned his dad played ball, without giving specifics. "I'm sure Bob's love of the game was passed down to the kids," Skamser said. "All of them love competition and working the long hours in the summer and spring to get better for basketball season."

While he is busy campaigning all over the state in order to win a crucial June 6 primary, Vander Plaats tries to attend as many Hinton games as he can. Skamser said Vander Plaats sits in the front row at most home games, but he's not a wild man.

"As a former coach, I'm sure he is analyzing the game and the play of his son," Skamser said. "The times I have heard him, it is pointing out the positives that the guys are doing on the floor. He has been a very positive parent in our program. Having parents that have great things to say to not only the coaches but the players makes a world of difference."

Douma said he's watched Vander Plaats career as a basketball coach, teacher and administrator at Boone, Sheldon and Marcus. "He did a lot of the right things as a growing leader," Douma said.

"I don't know you envision Plaats or anybody (former NW players) running for the governor, but certainly the skills he exhibits now were evident back then," Douma said, mentioning "the ability to get things done now through others."

Will Sieperda vote for Vander Plaats? "You bet, I am a Republican," Sieperda said. "When he comes to town to campaign, I always see him."

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