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A Delicious Dutch Treat
Note: This is an article written for the September/October, 1997 edition of Michigan History Magazine by Tom Renner, Director of Public Relations at Hope College.
It was probably either (most likely both) an alumnus of Hope College or Calvin College in describing a spirited decades-old tradition that has been described as the best small college basketball rivalry in the country.
Forget Michigan vs. Michigan State, Syracuse vs. Georgetown, or Army vs. Navy, this rivalry is BIG.
The statistics of the 138 games covering the past eight decades underscore the intensity and closeness of a rivalry between these two Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) schools.
Calvin has a slim two-game advantage (70-68) in the series although Hope has won the last eight meetings of the teams. Hope fans are quick to point out that their Flying Dutchmen have outscored Calvin over the years by five points (9,017 to 9,013). Just four points over 138 games!
These schools have highly regarded NCAA Division III men's basketball programs. Since 1982 the champion of the MIAA --America's oldest collegiate conference -- has been either Hope or Calvin and only once in the last 25 years has another school brought home the championship trophy. Hope, which has won the last three championships, tops the MIAA with 28 titles and Calvin has won 21. Calvin won the 1992 NCAA Division III championship and Hope was the national runnerup in 1996.
This is a rivalry born out of a shared history. It is fueled to some degree more by theological differences than athletic prowess.
Each college is rooted in the Reformed tradition and historically steeped in Dutch Calvinism. Hope College is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America (RCA), the oldest Protestant denomination in North America. Calvin College is owned by the Christian Reformed Church, a denomination formed in the 1850s by conservative reformists who broke away from the RCA. Many of those differences are indistinguishable today; until you start talking about the Hope-Calvin basketball rivalry.
Both are respected liberal arts colleges, Hope with an enrollment of 2,850 and Calvin with a student body of 4,050. The campuses are only 27 miles apart, Hope in Holland and Calvin in Grand Rapids. Alumni and fans of these colleges see each other more than just on game day. They work together. They worship together. They send their children to the same schools.
These are two colleges that have also demonstrated an ability to work together and be of encouragement and assistance to one another -- except on the basketball court. The colleges jointly operate a nursing program and together own a dining service.
Even those who might not get involved in the intensity of this rivalry have been sized-up. A former Hope College president once defined an atheist as "someone who goes to the Hope-Calvin basketball game and doesn't care who wins."
The beginning of this rivalry remains in dispute. On December 7, 1917 Hope beat Calvin, 55-8, in the first recorded game. However, over the years Calvin has maintained it wasn't an official game because their team was comprised of a group of students, who labeled themselves "The Rivals," who acted on their own in agreeing to play the game. This act so infuriated the Calvin faculty that the students were denied the right to take their final examinations and the seniors barred from commencement.
The outcome of the first "official" game, played during the 1920-21 season, was also won by Hope, 31-13. The teams played four more times -- all Hope victories -- before the series was halted for reasons officially shrouded in mystery but unofficially attributed to an escalating case of bad blood between members of the respective student bodies. They resumed playing in 1928 and continued until 1936, but the games were again suspended, this time in response to tensions between the school's coaches. The series has been played uninterrupted since 1945.
Hope had joined the MIAA in 1926, but it wasn't until the 1953-54 school year that Calvin was considered for league membership. In fact, Calvin's application to the MIAA was sponsored by Hope with a strong endorsement from their basketball coach.
As much as the games, the character of the coaches at each school has defined this series. Barney Steen coached Calvin from 1953 to 1966 while Russ DeVette's coaching career at Hope spanned 25 seasons between 1948 and 1977. Today each describes the other as a friend; in fact, in retirement they winter in Arizona only two miles from each other.
"Russ was a great coach and a man of great integrity," says Steen. "In fact, when I retired as Calvin's head basketball coach, I offered my job to Russ. I understand that created a furor in Holland, and he declined the offer, but he would have been an outstanding coach for our school."
The games between the schools have always filled gymnasiums. Accounts of the "unofficial" 1917 game indicate there were 350 fans in attendance. Over the years arenas ranging from the Grand Rapids Civic Auditorium to the Holland Armory to Knollcrest Fieldhouse to the Holland Civic Center have been filled on the day of the Hope-Calvin game.
Fans would go to any extreme to get to a Hope-Calvin game. In 1943, for example, Holland townspeople offered their gasoline ration so that a car caravan of Hope fans could make its way to Grand Rapids for "the" game.
It isn't unusual for fans -- particularly students -- to line up outside their respective gym hours before tipoff in order to assure a courtside seat.
The home court advantage is a significant factor in this series. Calvin owns a 26- 9 edge in victories on its current home floor (Knollcrest Fieldhouse) since 1965-66 and Hope owns has a 26-21 advantage on its floor (Holland Civic Center) going back to 1954-55. There have been times when the game had to be moved to a neutral site. Such a game occurred in 1981 when Calvin defeated Hope 69-67 at the Middleville High School to determine who would advance to the NCAA tournament.
There are even ticket problems when you book the largest arena in western Michigan for the Hope-Calvin game. That's what faced Calvin officials when they scheduled their January 29, 1997 game with Hope at the new Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids. Eight weeks before tipoff every ticket was sold. The result was an NCAA Division III record crowd of 11,442 fans. And Hope prevailed, 70-56.
The series has been filled with pranks. In 1963, on the morning of the Hope- Calvin game, the Hope College librarian arrived to find all of the library's furniture removed. Another year, pigeons adorned with orange and blue paint fluttered over a game at the Grand Rapids Civic Auditorium. Several times over the years the decorative anchor on Hope's campus was painted in the maroon and gold colors of Calvin on game day.
This series has not escaped the media's attention. Games between the schools have been televised since 1960 and featured in Sports Illustrated and other national publications. In 1986, the Hope-Calvin game was one of several featured by The Dallas Morning News which described the rivalry as "a delicious Dutch treat."
All of this still comes down to the players. Roy Anker had the opportunity to view it from both sides, first as a center at Hope in the 1960s and now an English professor at Calvin. "The players realize there is much more to life than sports," he says.
Mark Veenstra turned down full-ride scholarship offers from NCAA Division I universities to play at Calvin in the mid 70s. He became first team All-American and today is an orthopedic surgeon in Kalamazoo, Mich. His last college game was played against Hope at the Holland Civic Center. When he left the floor, the 2,500 fans in attendance -- most of them Hope partisans -- rose to give him a standing ovation. "That sticks in my memory," Veenstra says. "There really is a lot of respect in the rivalry, along with all the intensity and tradition."
Few have had as long an association with the rivalry as current Hope coach Glenn Van Wieren. It spans four decades, beginning in the 60s as a Hope player and for the past 20 seasons as head coach of the Flying Dutchmen.
"During the game, there is that sense of urgency and the heated competition, but when the game's over, it's over," says Van Wieren. "The friendship and the mutual respect between the two schools is still there."
"Before you even get a chance to play in one, people are always talking about the Hope-Calvin games," says Calvin graduate Todd Hennink, who sank a 30-foot shot at the buzzer to beat Hope 81-78 in the final game of the 1990 season.
Even after graduation, the connection remains for the players. Steve Honderd of Calvin and Wade Gugino of Hope battled shoulder-against-shoulder for four seasons at the dawn of the 1990s. They remain opponents while playing professional basketball on different teams in Europe. Last Thanksgiving, Honderd and Gugino celebrated the holiday together in Paris. "I didn't really know Wade that well when we were in college," says Honderd. "Of course, he was someone you would never forget. Then, we hooked up in Europe, it was something great. We had that connection of Calvin-Hope. It was almost like we had gone to the same college."
When the results are added together, Hope has outscored Calvin by three one- hundredths of a point per game, 64.61 to 64.58. Several of the games had gone to the wire. Few have been an exciting as Hope's double overtime victory at the Holland Civic Center in 1965. The teams were tied 102-all when Hope freshman Don Kronemeyer was fouled at the buzzer. He made the first free throw and was carried off the floor by celebrating Hope fans. The referees ordered a halt to the celebration and brought the Hope player back to the free throw where he sank the second for the 104-102 victory. For the second time, the Hope player was carried off the floor.
For the thousands of fans of both colleges, the pulse will quicken again in 1997-98 with images of more classic Hope-Calvin games.
(This article is based on materials from several sources, including an article written by Bruce Buursma for the Calvin College basketball program on January 29, 1997.)