Great Coach On and Off Court

Dwight Gingerich ’81: Alumnus of the Year

By Larry Swartzendruber ’83

Dwight Gingerich, EMU Alumnus of the YearDwight Gingerich has coached at Iowa Mennonite School (IMS) for 28 years, compiling an amazing record: 509 wins to 139 losses as of Feb. 2, 2010; 10 state tournament appearances; five sportsmanship awards at state tournament; one state championship (1992); four state runner-up finishes; one state third-place finish; conference coach of the year 12 times; district coach of the year four times; sub-state coach of the year two times; state coach of the year one time.

His 10 state tournament appearances rank third among active coaches in Iowa (seventh among Iowa coaches all-time). His 509-139 win-loss records puts him ninth among active coaches in Iowa; his .786 winning percentage ranks third among active coaches. He has averaged 18 wins per season (third among active coaches with 500 wins). He was Iowa’s nominee for National Coach of the Year 2010 and was among the eight finalists nationwide for this award. In the service and volunteer arena, Dwight serves on the Iowa Basketball Coaches Association board of directors and has been active in the coaching fraternity. He is active in Coaches vs. Cancer efforts.

Since being at Iowa Mennonite School in various roles including vice principal, guidance counselor and coach, Dwight has led numerous interterm groups (week-long experiences), both on campus and off. He has served on multiple committees at First Mennonite Church of Iowa City and as a youth coach in basketball, soccer, and baseball.

Dwight actively cares for students. He has opened his home to students during transition periods, most often to boarding students and to students experiencing difficulties in their home lives.

I have had the pleasure of working with this outstanding person for 23 years. His commitment to the students and the community in general is unsurpassed. I have heard him speak of athletics on numerous occasions, and one thing strikes me each time – that athletics is no higher than fifth on his list of priorities, with these coming before: (1) God, (2) church, (3) family, (4) academics.

All of our coaches coach to win, but more importantly teach more than the sport itself. It is a testament to Dwight’s influence and respect among his players/students that many former players have entered the coaching ranks and have chosen to model their on-court behavior after him.

Many people speak to the “Dwight way” of coaching: fundamentals, hard work ethic, respect for one another, and working as a team. Our school has had some outstanding players over the years, ones who have gone on to play college ball (including two at the Division I level), but while a part of the IMS program, their egos get checked at the door.

One of our local schools runs an out-of-bounds play called “IMS.” Usually plays are named after well-known colleges, such as a play called “Duke” or “Kansas” or “Iowa.” For little IMS to have a play named after it is a sign of the type of respect rival schools feel for the IMS program, which Dwight has played the leading role in crafting.

There is always tension between athletics and academics, or athletics and the arts. The role of athletics, of course, has increased over time, and the emphasis on sports can be excessive, even at the high school level. Dwight is a master at bridging those differences and alleviating some of that tension. He has successfully included the community in the appreciation of the role of sports in the lives of our youth.

Beyond all of his coaching accolades and his success in that area, Dwight has remained grounded and humble. I’ve heard our athletic director talk about going to coaching clinics where the majority of other attendees “couldn’t hold a candle to Dwight coaching-wise,” yet Dwight is furiously taking notes and trying to better himself as a coach. He is constantly learning and is constantly placing the students, the athletes, and the game above himself as an individual. I mentioned the coaching boards he’s been on. Dwight detests playing the “political game.”

He will not put himself in position to serve on boards simply to gain recognition for himself. If asked, he will be involved, but he does not actively seek such positions. All of us have experienced sports events at which coaches routinely yell, swear, and berate players and officials. Dwight simply does not do that. Officials will many times talk about enjoying refereeing ballgames at IMS for that very reason, not only from the coaching standpoint but for the atmosphere in general. This tone is set by Dwight himself.

Dwight has had opportunity to move on to bigger programs, but has chosen to remain at IMS, where he feels he can make a difference at this level, in this community, at this time.

Larry Swartzendruber ’83 is director of development at Iowa Mennonite School. This piece was his nomination essay. Dwight was the first in his family to go to EMU. He was followed by his brother Ken ’82 (deceased) and his sister Jewel Gingerich Longenecker ’88.