April 22, 2004
Journal and Courier
If ever a man was born to thrive in the athletic arena, it was Mitch Terpstra.
Player. Coach. Official. Advisor. Father.
Pick one, and the former Benton Central High School teacher/coach was a champion. Unfortunately, the Indiana High School Athletic Association, specifically the Greater Lafayette Area, lost that champion Tuesday night when Terpstra passed away after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis. He was 49.
While Terpstra was denied 21st century life expectancy, no one could argue that this kind-hearted, giving man packed more living into his 49 years than most of us could hope to include in a century.
Up before dawn. Early to school. Inspire in the classroom. Continue the teaching experience on the football practice field or in the steamy wrestling room. Prepare a family meal -- Mitch loved to cook -- spend quality time with sons Brodie and Blair. Watch football game film. Catch a few hours of sleep. Begin again.
From the time he began teaching and coaching at BC in 1976, Mitch's daily script rarely varied from the above paragraph. And as his ex-wife Susan White reminded me Wednesday morning, Terpstra moved from task to task with a smile. Always a smile.
"Glow" is the appropriate word to afix to Terpstra's love of athletic settings. He played football at Kankakee Valley High School near Wheatfield and football and rugby at Hanover College, from which he earned an undergraduate degree.
But Terpstra truly found his niche teaching, coaching and officiating athletics. Before MS began to sap his once-strong, athletic body, this man never could say "no" to a sports-related request.
Coach a Little League team? Sure. Umpire a rescheduled junior varsity baseball game on a cold and dreary April night? You bet. Spend an additional 15 minutes after practice teaching a fuzzy-cheeked offensive lineman a pass-blocking technique? Bring it on.
And while many of us in Terpstra's age bracket look forward to sleeping in on Sunday before sliding onto the couch for an afternoon of NFL action, Mitch taught bible school, then graded football game film and played ball in the yard with his sons.
For eight seasons, he was Benton Central's varsity football coach, and for four years, he was the Bison wrestling coach, earning Hoosier Conference coach of the year honors in 1983. In my book, Mitch was somebody's coach of the year ever since he graduated from college.
The good people of Fowler, Oxford, Otterbein and Earl Park will tell you that in addition to fertile farmland, their county's strengths are basketball and baseball. Those who wear green and gold once viewed football and wrestling with scowls on their faces.
But Terpstra took sagging football and wrestling programs and willed them to immediate improvement. With lots of help from John Koehler and now Dave Black, Benton Central's football and wrestling teams are forces with which to be reckoned.
When reminded in recent years that his tireless work on the football field and in the wrestling room paid huge dividends, Terpstra credited his student-athletes.
While sitting next to Mitch in the press box during a BC football game several years ago, I was reminded -- in no uncertain terms -- that he only pointed athletes in the right direction.
"They did all the work," Terpstra told me, struggling to locate just the right words as he fought a crippling disease. Then he smiled. I'm certain Mitch was thinking about a specific football game he coached.
He was the perfect man to coach Bison football. Mitch always believed BC had an opportunity to win. Harrison, West Lafayette and Twin Lakes usually were packed with talent during Terpstra's tenure as the Bison football coach.
But the Bison often played beyond their ability. Usually, they lost, but Terpstra found victory in effort, pride and dedication to detail. I believe Mitch could love an 0-10 team every bit as much as a 10-0 squad.
This past fall, I visited Mitch in the Fowler nursing facility in which he spent his final months. I was writing a piece about Bison football standouts Brodie and Blair Terpstra and their passion for watching game film with their dad each Sunday afternoon.
It was obvious that while Mitch had fought a champion's fight, MS was a foe not even Terpstra could defeat. I spoke slowly as I asked a question about his sons. Again, words did not come easily for him, but I understood the pride and love he felt.
Through the illness, Terpstra glowed, just as he did each time he entered
an athletic arena. He was a champion's champion.
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