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Calvin Sports News
  Love of soccer continues for Calvin's men's soccer coach
By Jeff Febus
 

During the fall semester of his freshman year at Calvin, Dave VerMerris made a decision that would forever affect his life. A three-sport athlete in high school in cross country, swimming & track, VerMerris was wary of running cross country at the collegiate level with the two-mile increase in racing distance along with its training demands. "I was more of a quarter-miler in track and I did not think that the long cross country miles at the collegiate level were for me," said VerMerris with a smile. "I was looking for something to do though and when (men's soccer coach) Marv Zuidema approached me about trying soccer, I decided to give it a shot. I had never played soccer before and I remember playing in my first game really not knowing all of the rules but over the next four years I really fell in love with the game."

Thirty-five years later, the love affair continues. This past fall, the 1968 Calvin graduate led his alma mater to its first MIAA title in men's soccer since 1991 and the 15th in program history as the Knights posted a 16-3-1 overall record, recording the second-highest victory total in school-history.

In league play, Calvin finished tied for the league title with Alma, recording an 11-2-1 conference record with the Knights ripping off a 10-game winning streak to end the season. VerMerris lettered four years for the Knights, serving as captain his junior and senior year. In addition, he was an All-American and a two-time All-MIAA honoree on the Calvin track and field team, setting a record time of 48.1 in the 400-meter run in 1967 that stood until the spring of 1999.

After graduating from Calvin with a degree in education, mathematics and chemistry, VerMerris accepted a teaching and coaching position at Western Michigan Christian High School in Muskegon where he remained over the next 30 years. One of his first tasks was to build a high school boys soccer program from scratch as the first coach at the high school. "I look back on those early years and remember not knowing a lot of things about coaching soccer," he said. "Initially, I worked mostly on enthusiasm. Soccer was new for the kids at that point too so their enthusiasm was high." Over the years, VerMerris helped create an excitement for the game among the local Muskegon community, by holding camps for children. "The Muskegon area had been dominated for basketball for so long that kids were ready for something else," said VerMerris. "There were a lot of kids who couldn't make it in basketball but were good athletes and found their niche in soccer. After awhile, the younger kids who were coming to the camps started talking about playing soccer when they got to high school. At that point, the program really took off." In 30 years as boys soccer coach at Western Michigan Christian High School, VerMerris would compile a won-loss record of 333-154-40 that included a pair of Class D State titles.

"There aren't many coaching positions at the college level so to have the opportunity to coach at my alma mater was a dream come true," said VerMerris. "This program is established and has so much tradition. I am sure there are a lot of former Calvin soccer players now coaching who envy me. I feel very fortunate to be in the position I am in today."

During his first year at Calvin, VerMerris helped lead the Knights to an 11-8-1 overall record and a third-place finish in the MIAA. This fall, the program took another step forward with its 16-win season, narrowly missing an NCAA III Tournament berth. "In my heart, I knew that we would improve on last year's season but you never want to go out and make predictions," said VerMerris. "We had a wonderful season and just missed meeting some of our highest goals by inches."

As a team, Calvin finished the year with 55 goals, a 10-goal improvement over the year before while on defense, the Knights allowed just 16 goals, 20 goals less than the year before. A key to the season was sound chemistry between the players and improved depth according to VerMerris.

"We had a lot more depth on the team which was a big key because we ran into a few more injuries this season," he said. "I tried to impress upon the subs that when they went into the game, I expected the level of the game to go up with their fresh legs and the kids really stepped up to that challenge.'

"We really developed a solid chemistry as the year went along and the enthusiasm continued to build, " he continued. "During the first half of the year, some of the teams in our league gave us close games but by the second half of the year, we were winning by bigger scores, partly because our level of enthusiasm was higher."

With eight starters and five all-conference performers returning next fall, VerMerris anticipates the enthusiasm in the program to continue. As part of his position at Calvin, VerMerris also works in the Calvin admissions department, assisting in the recruitment of student-athletes.

VerMerris sent three of his children on to Calvin with his son, Mark, graduating in 1996 and his daughter, Kristen, graduating in 1997. His youngest child, Jon, is currently a junior at Calvin and a two-time All-MIAA second team selection on the men's soccer team. "I've been very pleased with the education that my children have received at Calvin including the social and spiritual atmosphere that they have grown up in," said VerMerris. "In working in the admissions department I can talk to parents as a satisfied customer. I've made a big investment in my children's education and I'm very happy and pleased with what I have seen in their own development. That makes it easier for me to sell the college to parents who are looking at a college for their own children."

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