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PC column

Dennis Oudenhoven, long-time teacher and coach

Column by Dan VanderPas, now retired.  It appeared in The Post-Crescent on 5-28-2009

Former Xavier track coach Dennis Oudenhoven battles cancer with dignity
Maybe it's because we go back several decades to when 6-foot-6 Dennis Oudenhoven was a basketball star and a member of a Holy Cross Men's Open championship team that my thoughts turn to the man today.

 

Maybe it's because it's late spring and the annual WIAA State Track Meet is at hand that I think of Oudenhoven.  He was a fixture in the sport as head boys' and girls' coach at Xavier High School for 11 years, and was involved in some capacity for 32 years, before Mike Campbell took over to start this [2009] season.

 

Or perhaps it's because I get tired of seeing bad things happen to good people that I want to pay tribute to Dennis and Carla Oudenhoven, who have been married for 27 years.  Oudenhoven represents all that is positive about teaching English and coaching. He prepares his kids for the business at hand, whether in the classroom or on the track.  Barring a miracle, Oudenhoven, 59, won't be watching the Xavier track teams at state on June 5-6 in La Crosse even as an interested spectator due to illness.

  

"We first learned that Denny had brain cancer on June 11, 2008," Carla said.  "We were told that if he didn't have treatment, he had five months to live, and it would be 14 months if he received treatment.  When I heard that, it was like someone sucked the air out of me.  But Denny has this confidence and tremendous faith. He kept telling me that we'd come through this and everything would be OK."

 

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Oudenhoven has always been a steadying influence. The former seminarian and St. Norbert College basketball star once was an assistant boys' hoops coach with Avitus Ripp at St. Mary Central under head coach Ralph McClone.cClone and Ripp were great coaches.  It didn't take much to get the two fired up. Oudenhoven stayed calm.  When he arrived at Xavier, he also was a steadying force as an assistant under Mike Heideman and Bob Biebel.

  

As a track coach, he commanded respect. Xavier senior Michael Stumpf appreciated Oudenhoven so much that he asked him to be his confirmation sponsor.  Unfortunately, Oudenhoven became ill and had to decline Stumpf's offer. But it's the thought that counts.

 

Last May 18, Stumpf dedicated his 1,600-meter event during the Eastern Valley Conference track meet at Ripon to "Coach O."  After placing first, Stumpf, who ordinarily doesn't show too much emotion, raised his hands to celebrate what he achieved in honor of his former coach.

 

"He had a lot of impact as head coach," Stumpf said. "He influenced me into going out for track in the first place. He's an excellent English teacher. Before the season, he'd always give us a nice big speech before practice. He'd quote a guy in literature, and that got us in the mood to race and get focused."

 

Oudenhoven told Carla the other day that he misses the interaction with student/athletes, watching them achieve their personal bests as well as learning the dynamics of being a team player.  "I miss my fellow coaches, too," he said. "As a teacher and coach, I always tried to recognize the potential of each student and help him or her to achieve their best."

 

Oudenhoven and XHS athletic director Kathy Bates have been colleagues for years.  "I have had the wonderful privilege of teaching and coaching with Dennis Oudenhoven since 1977," she said.  "We were both in the English department.  He was the department chair, and he was an excellent mentor, and I have been part of his track program for years.  A highly educated man, he leads with a quiet elegance and grace. He brought those same characteristics to his 'other' classrooms ? on the court coaching basketball, and on the field coaching track."

 

Bates added, "I have miles to go before I could ever meet the standards he has set."

 

The Oudenhovens are trying to stay focused as they face cancer together.  But it's tough staying positive with Dennis in and out of the hospital.  He receives a lot of medication, so there are days when he just wants to sleep.  There have been blood clots, memory lapses and seizures.  His speech is slurred at times.  That's especially tough on a man who eloquently addressed students in English class for more than three decades.

 

But there are positives, too.  The cards from well-wishers keep coming. There's a sense of satisfaction and humility for the Oudenhovens knowing that the man touched so many lives and hearts.   And there always is hope.  "The tumor isn't getting any bigger, but there are so many other setbacks that have happened as he fights cancer.  Right now, we're riding the line between realism and hope," Carla said.

 

"Maybe there will be a miracle and one day I'll be back in Room 125 doing what I love to do ? getting high school seniors ready for college and life beyond high school," he said.  "We are eternally grateful for the wonderful support we've had throughout this challenging journey."

 

It has been a tough, emotional run.  But as a coach and athlete, Oudenhoven has never been a quitter.  And he isn't about to be one now with the game of life on the line.

 

  

This media story is available via XavierHawksSports.com and its media archive services.