There have been many changes in the health, physical education, recreation, dance and sport (HPERDS) department during the last 50 years: the list of class offerings—from racquetball, archery and gymnastics to rock climbing, creative dance and self-defense; the venue—from the Knollcrest Fieldhouse to the Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex; even the name from the original physical education department to the current acronym. Yet one constant has remained throughout the last half century: the role of physical education as it is ensconced in Calvin’s core curriculum.
A sizable amount of the credit for that goes to Marvin Zuidema, Calvin HPERDS professor emeritus and director of the core program for many years, who helped to develop a philosophy of physical education that demonstrated that the discipline deserved a spot among Calvin’s requisite classes.
Zuidema believed that especially at a Reformed Christian college, physical education had a necessary place: “If we are applying the lordship of Christ to all things, we should definitely be applying it to our creative nature. We are wonderfully made, and fitness is carekeeping, and movement is an important part of our being.”
This perspective permeated his teaching at Calvin, where he served as a professor for more than 40 years. It also has been adopted by hundreds of his students who have gone on to teach around the country.
“Thanks for teaching us how to make PE a legitimate and integral part of the curriculum. There are many of us who are carrying on that mission,” wrote a former student in tribute to Zuidema.
It wasn’t only through example that Zuidema was able to reach so many future teachers, however. It was also through his work for Christian Schools International (CSI). For many of the years that Zuidema taught at Calvin, he also served as a curriculum-compiling writer producing a series of teacher education guidebooks for grades K–12.
The widely used texts emphasize a faith perspective that highlights some key elements of Zuidema’s own teaching philosophy. He also incorporated input from more than 30 physical education teachers who served as co-writers with Zuidema.
He integrated Christian principles into the texts: expressive play is a cultural entity where we use human movement to serve God, others and our creative nature; understanding of the human organism should lead to thankfulness to God and the correct use of wonderfully made body; special values and virtues are necessary if we are to live life to God’s glory (fairness, responsibility, fitness).
Zuidema’s curriculum has been influential in schools across North America as this 1974 alum attested: “Your writings on physical education, especially in materials produced for CSI had a lot of impact on the programs of the schools with which I worked. [You are recognized] as a colleague concerned with the development of people who see their bodies as a gift from God and are committed to their maintenance. Thank you for your work. It has had an impact far greater than you know.”
Beyond the classroom, Zuidema also applied many of his own principles on the field as a coach. For 34 years, he was on the soccer field sidelines, serving as Calvin’s men’s coach.
In 1961, when Zuidema was hired, soccer was an up-and-coming sport. “When I was interviewed at Calvin, I was told that they really needed me to coach soccer. I told them, ‘I don’t know much about soccer,’ and they said, ‘You can learn.’”
Zuidema quickly became knowledgeable and in 1998 was presented with the Bill Jeffrey Award, bestowed annually by the National Soccer Coaches Association to an individual who has raised intercollegiate soccer to new heights through his or her long-term dedication to the game. He also enjoyed coaching stints in men’s tennis and baseball.
For the long-time coach, competition and skill training were just a part of that role, though. “I enjoyed getting to know students not just as athletes, but as learners,” said Zuidema. “As a coach you get into dealing with their life. The interaction leads in so many ways to important values and virtues.
“Players need to be trained to have great skill patterns and understand personal and team tactics … but all of this needs to be surrounded in responsible choices dealing with sportsmanship, ethical play, respect for opponents, teamwork and like characteristics,” he said.
And that message was not lost on his players, one of whom wrote: “Coach Marv Zuidema was a coach whose leadership, influence and speech, on and off the field clearly portrayed a Christian lifestyle and witness that positively influenced us during our tenure at Calvin.”
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