Dordt College News

Syne Altena Retires after 39 Years at Dordt College

May 25, 2007

Syne Altena

By Luke Ruter, Staff Writer
Reprinted w/permission from Sioux Center News

Many things change in the span of four decades. But one thing has remained constant at Dordt College over the past 39 years. That is the presence of Dordt's coach Syne Altena. In the fall of 1968, Altena, a member of the Dordt College class of 1960, left Northern Christian High School in McBain, Michigan, and headed to Sioux Center to teach in the physical education department, which at the time was just beginning. Little did Altena know that he would coach 86 different athletic teams in his tenure at Dordt College.

"Dordt needed a physical education teacher, actually," said Altena, "so that was the reason I came here. Not for coaching, but I had a master's in physical education."

But when Altena arrived he immediately began what has now become a long and lustrous career in coaching. Altena began coaching cross country and baseball when he first arrived, but has also coached junior-varsity basketball and is currently the head coach of the men's and women's track teams. Altena was the head coach of the cross-country team from for the first two years he was at Dordt. He stayed busy as the baseball coach during that time as well, and continued to coach baseball through 1979.

In the winter, from 1969-1993, Altena served as the junior-varsity basketball coach. And, since 1983, Altena has also served as the head track coach. While many memories such as going undefeated one season in basketball and producing All-Americans in track stand out to Altena, his greatest memories remain the relationships he has made.

"People I've worked with are outstanding," said Altena. "I always say that the kids keep you young. A lot of the kids you remember-good memories. Winning and losing doesn't seem as important at all after it's all over."

Specifically Altena recalls the several track teams he has taken on spring break trips. "I've taken them (track teams) on spring break trips where they really develop as young Christians," Altena recalled. "We have Bible studies, service projects and singing. Those three things I think really knit your team together. I have good memories of those."

Being involved as a coach in so many different sports requires time and dedication, and a family that is willing to be supportive. Altena feels fortunate that his wife, Judy, and the rest of his family have provided him with the support needed to succeed as a college coach. "My wife actually is a big part," Altena said. "I get a lot of notes from former athletes and they always say 'dear coach and your wife.' They remember my wife as much as me in some instances because we have them over. It's good to make your family a part of it. You still have time for your family, that you make them a part of the athletic experience is important."

One of the keys to Altena's long career has been his ability to interact with individuals as both students and athletes. "I've always felt that it's good to be both a teacher and a coach because you understand the academics and what they are going through, and you understand the athlete," commented Altena. "I think it's a great balance that we should try and keep."

According to Altena, the most enjoyable part of teaching and coaching at Dordt has been working with outstanding people. "[I enjoy] the camaraderie with the staff, we really cooperate as coaches and as P.E. teachers," Altena noted, "so that's been a real joy. I think the facilities have been outstanding, you know, since I've been here, and then the quality of athlete I think is, when I look at other schools, our athletes are good people, good Christian young men and women."

Through his 39 years of service, Altena hopes his greatest contribution to Dordt College students has been in regard to the character of individuals, rather than just their athletic achievements. "I want them (students) to be well rounded," he said. "I really emphasize academics, athletics, the spiritual side and the social side. I want students to be involved in other activities, like even music. I like them not to become a one, tunnel-vision person that they're all athletics or all academics. I like to have balance, I think that's something I have tried to do."

There have been several changes while Altena has been at Dordt. Facilities have been updated and improved and new facilities have gone up. Another major change Altena cited was in recruiting. When he first started, recruiting was almost nonexistent, now it has become a huge duty for any college coach. "I didn't recruit, you didn't have to recruit when I first started," Altena said. "You just took the people on campus and you had a team. Gradually that got more and more and its even increasing today yet. That's been a big change."

Now a big change at Dordt will be the absence of Altena, who will be retiring following the current school year. So what's next? Altena plans to spend his free time doing things he hasn't been able to do while being a teacher and a coach for Dordt College. "Coaching has given me a lot of experiences I never would have had," stated Altena. "But I think because I am healthy and I always wanted to try new experiences yet in my life, it's time. I'd like to do something different yet in my life that I've never had an opportunity to do."

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