South Christian girls golf team to tee off in state championship in honor of fallen coach

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.--The South Christian High School girl's golf team is just hours away from teeing off in the Division 3 state championship tournament.

While making it this far never comes easy for any team, the Sailors are showing they can overcome a tragic loss with courage and grace, all while leaning on each other.

"Tuesday, when we found out we were all kind of in a state of shock," said Marissa Smits, a member of the golf team. "We were kind of crying at school and stuff but hadn't really had time to process it."

Their coach, Rod Van Dyke, was hit by a car and killed while riding his bike just one day before the team won the regional championship.

"We knew that he was out there with us even though he wasn't physically there," team member Hannah DeVries said. "Each one of us has a part of him. We show that side by golfing."

DeVries and the rest of her teammates gathered Wednesday to share memories of Van Dyke before hitting the green again on Friday.

They talked about his light sense of humor, funny pants, and the thing he encouraged them to never do: three-putting.

"He would yell at us for putting all the time," DeVries said, while her teammates laughed. "He made it sound like he was the most expert putter in the world, and he's really not."

Van Dyke even made sure the girls always had a reminder: he put a picture of his smiling face on every ball marker.

Shari Cashem, interim assistant coach for the girls junior varsity golf, said it's that smile seen on every marker that Van Dyke did so well. She said even when the girls would mess up, he never lost his sense of humor.

"A big part of them staying strong is actually the personality that Ron was so full of," Cashem said. "Life and funniness and he had his priorities straight."

As the girls prepare to hit the course, it's the confidence that only a once in a lifetime coach can give his team that has them ready.

"Coach has taught us what we need to know and we have these abilities that he's given us and coached us on. So, we're capable of doing it," Smits said. "Coach Van Dyke has a state championship from a few years ago, and it would be absolutely amazing to win the state championship to honor him."

Win or lose, just like their coach, the Sailors also have their priorities straight, knowing that even if the trophy doesn't come home, the important things in life are already with them.

"We're all emotionally a rock for each other, and we're always here for each other," DeVries aid. "Even after the season, I think we will still be really good friends."

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