NORTH SIOUX CITY | Eight years ago this week I proposed a weekly assignment to Larry Myhre, then the editor of the Sioux City Journal: Send me to a Siouxland high school football game each Friday, I said, and I'll find a human interest story.
I wouldn't cover the game strictly for the Sports section. I'd find a feature, one that rose with the action. A columnist's cold call, maybe.
I knew I was on to something the night that 2005 season kicked off. It happened as the second half of the Dakota Valley Panthers' season opener versus Akron-Westfield began on Aug. 26. Jeff Van Den Hul, an assistant coach for the Panthers, sprinted from the parking lot at Dakota Valley High School to the sideline.
That's odd, I thought. Why would an assistant coach show up now? The game was half-over.
I asked. The answer: Coach Van Den Hul and his wife, Lorynda Van Den Hul, just had a baby.
The assistant coach sped from St. Luke's Regional Medical Center after Lorynda gave birth to a boy they hadn't yet named.
What's more? He was born at 8:12 p.m., about the same time (maybe the same minute) the newborn's older brother, Josh Van Den Hul weaved and dodged through a host of Akron-Westfield defenders on his way to a touchdown, first of his varsity career.
I had my story. Today? A follow-up.
After a three-year break from coaching Dakota Valley gridders, Jeff Van Den Hul is back patrolling the sidelines as head coach. He's joined by a new assistant coach, Josh Van Den Hul. The younger Van Den Hul starred at Dakota Valley High and then as an all-conference defensive back at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. He taught physical education and coached football last year at Forest City High School in Forest City, Iowa.
Wanting to be closer to family, Josh Van Den Hul secured a physical education teaching position at West High in Sioux City, where he started work last week. Sioux City school administrators, who also tabbed him to coach softball at West, allowed Josh to help his father coach football at Dakota Valley.
The Van Den Hul connection doesn't end there. This family gives Panther fans a triple-option as son Grant, the boy who was born on that football Friday night eight years ago, now serves as the team's ball boy.
"I'm playing flag football at the Y this year," says Grant, who weighed 8 pounds, 12 ounces at his 8:12 p.m. birth on Aug. 26, 2005. "I might play running back when I'm older. I won't play defense."
The comment gets a laugh from Jeff, the former defensive coordinator, and Josh, the current defensive coordinator, as they watch Grant run and toss his football toward the sky.
"Grant is all about sports," Lorynda says.
How could he not be? Lorynda recalls having labor pains eight years ago while driving home from her teaching post at East Middle School. The trouble? It was a Friday night, the season opener, and Parents Night to boot. She wanted to help recognize Josh and Jeff during an important occasion in every prep football season.
The baby of the family, obviously, called a different play.
"When Josh left home for the game that day, I told him to have his dad call me," Lorynda says. "I was out walking on the driveway and the contractions got to be four or five minutes apart."
Jeff showed up as a particularly strong contraction convinced his wife it was time. They left for the hospital at about 6:45 p.m., leaving daughters Gracyn, then 2, and Jorja, then 1, with friend Brenda Mahnke, a nurse. Mahnke took the girls to the game to watch their brother.
Dr. Kevin Hamburger talked some football with the couple as the baby boy made his delivery room debut. When Jeff called Mahnke to share the news about the baby, she told Jeff his son had, minutes before, scored on a spectacular punt return.
The emotional impact of both developments hit Jeff at once, leaving him in tears.
"That's when I told Jeff he could go to the game," Lorynda says. "Had it been our first baby, it might have been different. I knew he wanted to be at the game."
Jeff hustled to Dakota Valley and sprinted to hug his oldest son. "Josh," he said, "you've got a baby brother."
Eight years later, they'll huddle on that sideline, a football Friday family.