Curt Kramme is still a very large part of the football program at Lynden High School.
Sure, it’s easy to say that of a man that led the program for 26 seasons, coached it to 248 victories and seven state titles and served as a father figure to a mile-long list of Lion students and athletes before succumbing to cancer following a year-long battle in April.
Though Kramme may not have physically been with the team when it opened practice for the 2017 high school football season Wednesday, the coaching staff believes he’s finding little ways to help them through the most difficult transition the program has ever had to make.
Coach Blake VanDalen, who spent 20 seasons on Kramme’s staff before being named his successor, likes to call them “gifts” or “Easter eggs.”
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“It started early on in the spring – a set of helmets that he had ordered arrived,” VanDalen said following Wednesday’s practice session. “Then a set of jerseys showed up that he ordered.”
VanDalen then found a design for a helmet decal that Kramme had made for the 2017 team – continuing a tradition of creating a unique look for each year’s team that Kramme started when he first arrived in 1991, sometimes asking his players for advice on the look of the decal and sometimes just designing it himself. This one had a Lion’s head and the words “Excellence” and “2017” on a green shield – a design VanDalen added a yellow “C” and “K” to as a tribute to the former coach.
“It’s going to be awesome being out there to represent him every Friday night like that,” Lynden senior lineman Trey LaBounty said of the logo, which the coaching staff also wears on shirts.
The Easter eggs continued to come at the Tony Wilson Kickoff Classic golf tournament last week, when coach Scott Noteboom, whom VanDalen said “is not the best golfer,” hit a hole-in-one. Even at a state rules clinic, VanDalen learned that a rule Kramme had complained about for years had finally been taken off the books.
“It’s little things that we’re probably seeing into it a little bit, but it sure makes it fun to get a little gift here and there – a little pat on the back from him,” VanDalen said.
It’s going to be awesome being out there to represent him every Friday night like that.
Lynden senior Trey LaBounty
And as Kramme would have wanted, the Lions got back to the business of football on Wednesday – the first day the WIAA allows teams in the state to practice.
“It was obviously different not having him here,” senior running back/linebacker Gage Bates said. “Blake did an awesome job of keeping it all simple. ... Everyone misses him, so it’s hard to deal with sometimes.”
But together, the Lions have found a way to get past the difficulties.
“In many ways it’s unified the boys,” VanDalen said. “They want to play for Coach Kramme. They want to play for Lynden.”
Having a familiar face – a member of the family – leading the way with VanDalen, also has been reassuring, and he did a good job of bringing in new assistant coaches that are part of the family, such as former players Zach Vis and Jaremy Martin – guys that can take all the little sayings and advice Kramme was known for and pass them on to the next generation of Lions.
In many ways it’s unified the boys. They want to play for Coach Kramme. They want to play for Lynden.
Lynden coach Blake VanDalen
“We didn’t have to put a whole new system in,” Bates said. “It was nice. ... He had these little sayings, though – it was hard not to have those around.”
VanDalen said he’s not planning on making any major changes to what Kramme built, keeping things that made Lynden football one of the most successful programs in the state the past two and a half decades. But VanDalen admitted he will make some minor tweaks to fit his own personality.
“It feels a little different, obviously, with Kramme being gone,” LaBounty said, “but I think we have a great future with VanDalen coming in as coach. I think he’s a great coach, and it’s a great system. I think we’re poised to have a great year.”
This season, all the seniors at least, we’re doing it for Coach Kramme and Blake, too, obviously.
Lynden senior Gage Bates
Now it’s time to “snap it up” – a phrase Bates said Kramme often used.
“This season, all the seniors at least, we’re doing it for Coach Kramme and Blake, too, obviously,” Bates said.