PAULLINA, Iowa | Derrick Rensink and Jayme Rozeboom were high school rivals turned college teammates and immediately became best friends.
Rozeboom and Rensink, who was a year older, spent three years together as members of the Northwestern football team.
Rozeboom threw for 1,222 yards in his Red Raider career while Rensink caught 36 passes for 347 yards.
“We were best buds in college,” said Rozeboom. “We lived in the same wing, pretty much roommates, I played quarterback and he played tight end, we were brothers.”
Both entered the education field and found teaching jobs following graduation in the South O’Brien Community School District.
“It was a great experience (college) for both of us,” said Rozeboom. “We took a lot of education classes together.
“It was great to have a familiar face (at South O’Brien) where neither of us knew what to expect. Great to have someone to lean on and fight through that first year (of teaching).”
Rensink made an immediate impact throughout the school district, but most notably as head girls basketball coach.
In his first and only season as head coach Rensink saw a big turnaround in the girls program going from seven wins before he got there to a 15-8 record in the 2012-13 season.
“His (Rensink) attitude toward us and toward the sport was different than our past experiences through junior high and the previous two years,” said senior Rachel Struve, the team’s current leading scorer at 16.7 points a game. “He was enthusiastic and wanted to win just as bad as we did.
“He wanted to accomplish something with us, it made us want it too. It’s special when a coach wants to win and for us to feel successful as much as we did as well.”
Unfortunately, Rensink didn’t get an opportunity at a second season and to see a group of five seniors lead South O’Brien to heights that haven’t been reached since a school-record 22-2 team in 1998-99 led by standout Allison Kruger, now the head women’s coach at Southwest Minnesota State.
Rensink lost his life at the young age of 24 on May 24, 2013 in an automobile accident.
“The impact that Derrick had on the South O’Brien community went far beyond basketball,” said activities director Heath Reichle. “In only one year, Coach Rensink literally impacted every student in the South O’Brien school district. As a fourth grade teacher, the high school girls head basketball coach, the junior high baseball coach and an assistant high school baseball coach, there wasn’t one student in the school district that he didn’t know."
Rozeboom now had to forge on this school year without his close friend and the girls basketball team was again in need of a head coach. After being approached by school officials about taking over the girls basketball team, Rozeboom thought it over before deciding to take on the challenge in his friend's honor.
“They asked pretty early in the summer,” said Rozeboom. “I took some time to think and pray, about mid-summer I decided to take on the position.”
After a brief feeling out process, South O’Brien has picked up where it left off last season, sitting at 16-3 and 7-2 in the War Eagle Conference, and the Wolverines have won all 10 of their games after Christmas.
“They’re an experienced group, that has helped my transition,” said Rozeboom. “The five senior starters all have two-plus years of experience. They have been through a lot together, it’s just another set of coaches on the court.
“It’s been extremely helpful for me. You can’t coach experience, it’s something you have to learn and acquire.”
Struve, a 5-foot-11 post player, is averaging 10.9 rebounds a game while classmates Mikayla Hintz, a 5-7 guard and Hannah Schueder, a 5-5 guard, average 11.1 and 11.7 points, respectively.
“Coach Rozeboom has been a real blessing for us, he inspired us to stay true to who we are,” said Struve. “Ever since junior high we told each other we were going to stay out, we’re going to do something together and here we are doing it.”
Emma Sweeney (6.3), a 5-5 guard, and Leta Wester (6.1), a 5-2 guard, round out an all-senior starting five that helps South O’Brien average 57.9 points a game.
“Jayme had some awfully large shoes to fill this season and he has certainly stepped up to the challenge,” said Reichle. “He has picked up right where Derrick left off and has done an incredible job with the girls.
“Jayme’s a great coach, but I think what has really helped him take this team to the next level is the fact that the girls have really bought into Jayme because they know how close he was with Derrick. They understand that he is going through the exact same pain and heartache as they are. They have really helped each other through the healing process.”
Thursday night marked the final regular season home game for the five-member senior class that has been the strength behind the resurgence in the South O’Brien girls basketball program.
“The community couldn’t be more proud of Jayme and these girls,” said Reichle. “They’re proud of the way they play, the way they conduct themselves, and the way they are continuing Coach Rensink’s legacy.”