NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For Gerry Sieber, coaching and teaching have been more than a job. He considers them his ministry.
After 13 years coaching – in recent years, only men’s soccer but at one time women’s soccer as well – and teaching health and physical education at Bethel College and nearly four decades working within Mennonite institutions of higher education, Sieber announced recently that he will retire. Sieber has an associate of arts degree from Hesston College, a bachelor’s degree from Goshen (Ind.) College and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois, and has also taught and coached soccer, cross-country, tennis, basketball, and track and field at Tabor College and Hesston College as well as Bethel.
Sieber says he has been intrigued with sports his whole life. His mother was reported to have once said that “Gerry never learned to walk – his first steps were running and he has been running ever since.”
Sieber began college as a pre-med student, but because he had such a great need for physical activity, he switched from biology to health and physical education as a major.
Sieber describes himself as “a very competitive person who enjoys the challenge of out-playing or outdoing others. But it’s also gratifying to see the results of hard work and cooperation. The reward of coaching is the satisfaction of seeing young, immature students grow and blossom into mature adults.”
Sieber first remembers coming to Bethel in 1994 for breakfast with then-president John Zehr, who invited him to take over the men’s soccer team and start up a women’s soccer program. Men’s soccer was nine years old at the time, with only 21 wins. In the three seasons following, Sieber took Thresher men’s soccer from third to second to first (in 1996) in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC). Including all sports, Sieber figures he has coached 946 games or matches for 63 teams – including, at Bethel, 13 men’s soccer teams and three women’s soccer teams – in 38 years.
In teaching, Sieber says he has particularly enjoyed Concepts in Health and Fitness, in which he can “inform, challenge and motivate students to consider their lifestyle choices.”
Spending so much time with sometimes loud and rambunctious young adults almost guarantees great memories. Some of Sieber’s favorites, he says, include the jokes and singing among players on road trips and once when a bus driver thought that a player’s maté leaves (used to brew a popular South American hot drink) were something else entirely. He also likes to remember winning the first round of regionals in 1996 against a nationally ranked team, National American University in Rapid City, S.D.
Counting his four years as an undergraduate, Sieber has spent most of the last 45 years of his life affiliated with Mennonite higher education. “Guess you could say I’m a die-hard Mennonite,” he says. “For me, teaching and coaching have been more than a job – but rather a ministry and service for the Mennonite Church with young adults.”
He continues, “Obviously, retiring from something you’ve done for 38 years is a monumental and difficult decision, one done with mixed emotions. I take from my love affair with the game of soccer a ton of unforgettable, wonderful memories and experiences. I had the privilege of sharing this soccer journey with hundreds of special people and friends, and I sincerely thank those people for the many great memories I’ll fondly treasure. I wish future BC soccer teams all the best.”
“Gerry has touched the lives of many, many young people through sport and he is loved and respected by his former players and his colleagues,” says Bethel athletic director Diane Flickner. “It has been a privilege to work with Gerry over the past 13 years.” She added that a search is currently underway for a new men’s soccer coach.
As far as his own future plans, Sieber says they are “uncertain” at the moment, since his wife, Vonnie, is younger than he is and not ready to retire. The Siebers have two daughters and three grandchildren. Since one daughter and her two children live in Italy, chances are there is some travel ahead.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.