Energy, Competition, Moments & More Continue to Spark Unity Coach Soodsma

By Steve Vedder
Special for

February 15, 2023

HUDSONVILLE – The pep band is blaring the school fight song, the boisterous crowd of a couple of thousand fans has long grown weary waiting for the opening tip-off, and the antsy players are crowded behind the locker room doors ready to spring like a pack of lions.

It's like the scene from the epic basketball movie "Hoosiers" where coach Norman Dale pauses before entering a rollicking and packed Friday night gymnasium to mutter to himself, "Welcome to Indiana basketball."

Scott Soodsma not only grasps the significance of that scene firsthand, it's why after four decades he still loves coaching.

"The fierce competition, the band, your heart pounding like a dog – it's still like it was 30 years ago," said Soodsma, the Hudsonville Unity Christian coach and dean of West Michigan basketball coaches in his 41st season of a run that’s included two states and three schools.

"How does it get any better than that? I'm always telling the kids to live for the moment. You can't replace all that; I still get the shivers. I've had so many moments like that."

Among those highlight moments are being one of just two Michigan coaches to win both girls and boys MHSAA Finals championships (Paul Cook of Lansing Eastern was the other), and the moment he claims is easily No. 1 on his all-time personal list: coaching his daughter Amber as part of the 2006 Class B champ. Unity Christian also won a 2019 boys state title. He also won a third Finals championship with the boys at McBain Northern Michigan Christian.

Soodsma, 63, admits there have been myriad changes in coaching basketball since his first season at North Dakota's James Valley Christian High School in 1983 and coming to Unity Christian in 1993. For starters, players are bigger and stronger and are more schooled in the game through AAU and offseason programs. In addition, the influence of parents – for better or worse – has increased dramatically. As for the on-court game, Soodsma unabashedly admits he at first fought the institution of the 3-point shot. And the emphasis on winning has definitely only increased pressure on many coaches.

Soodsma, a member of the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Hall of Fame who ranks ninth on the state's all-time boys wins list with 635, said he's adapted to the times. He wants to win as much as he ever has, still broods for days after losses and still considers himself receptive to the changing Xs and Os aspect of coaching.

But where his booming voice routinely used to resonate loudly into the middle sections of the Unity Christian bleachers, most of those comments now are only audible to fans perched in the first couple rows of the stands. Which is probably a good thing, Soodsma adds sheepishly.

Soodsma and daughter Amber embrace during their team’s 2006 Class B Final victory.Coaching, he readily contends, is still coaching – and winning still heads the list of priorities. He does add one disclaimer, however, in terms of winning. Whereas it used to be about a young coach building a resume through wins, it's now about what winning can do for today's teenager athlete. An old-school coach? Yeah, probably. But one who has learned much about himself, players and parents after 41 years.

"I've learned to enjoy the kids more; I'm definitely a different kind of person in the ’90s as opposed to now in the 2000s," he said. "I am a stubborn man, and it took a long time (to change). But winning? Oh, yeah. I've never backed down. The winning and losing hasn't changed, and I make no excuses that I still want to win."

Which is then strange, perhaps, that he doesn't list being just one of two coaches to win Finals titles in both girls and boys basketball as the zenith of coaching for 41 seasons. That honor goes to having his daughter, who went on to a stellar career at Dort College, on the state championship club.

"It's not that big of a deal," he said of being on the bench for what likely will never happen again as boys and girls basketball are now in the same season. "To me it's not an accomplishment I would rank (at the top). I'm just being honest. Winning a state title with Amber, and the picture I have of her and me in my office, that's the best."

How well has Soodsma adapted his coaching style over the years? Two people in a position to know offer their own opinions on the topic, including 22-year assistant Bruce Capel and Randy Oosterheert, who with son Rylan are the only father/son combination that Soodsma has coached.

"Scott has always been vocal on the sidelines as a coach. As I sit in the stands and watch as a spectator, same Scott," said Randy Oosterheert who played for Soodsma in 1992-93 and 1993-94 and whose son is a current Unity Christian player. "I will say that my son and I agree, if you do something wrong on the floor, he is the first person to greet you on the sidelines and point out your failure. However, if you do good, he is the first person to greet you on the sidelines and tell you good job.

"The latter is done at a little lower decibel level than the offense, and those with a watchful eye from up in the stands unfortunately (don’t) get to hear the praise, only the punishment. Scott is obviously very competitive, then and now. He expects a lot but gives a lot."

As far as the competitive side, Capel hasn’t seen much of a difference over their two decades together.

"Certainly, coaching is a lot different in how you approach kids from more than 20 years ago," he said. "There's a difference in society and you have to change with it, and he's done that. I don't think it's as much life and death with Scott anymore. But in terms of winning, I haven't seen that go away."

It's a coin flip as for how much longer Soodsma will be directing traffic from the sidelines. He broke into the top 10 among the all-time winningest boys coaches in Michigan history by passing Warren De La Salle's Bernie Holowicki and Ray Lauwers of Morley Stanwood last season. Next on the list is Big Rapids' Kent Ingles (644). When you factor in Soodsma's win total as both boys and girls coach, the 742-and-counting combined wins rank eighth in state history.

He does admit the desire to spend more time with wife Mary, the longtime away scorekeeper for the program, and 11 grandkids scattered from Denver to Seattle to San Diego. Retirement could strike when this season ends in March, or it could still be several Marches away. But when the end comes he anticipates making a contented transition from arguing with officials, coming to an "understanding" with parents and devising new Xs and Os. Soon, he mused, will come time for much-anticipated passions such as hunting, fishing and pickleball.

"For the first time I've contemplated it," he said. "There are a lot of things I'd like to do. I'm not a basketball junkie."

That may be true. But it'll still be tough to surrender those noisy pep bands, bright gymnasium lights and the din of Friday night crowds.

PHOTOS (Top) Hudsonville Unity Christian boys basketball coach Scott Soodsma stands in front of a portion of the school’s trophy case, which he’s helped fill over decades coaching basketball. (Middle) Soodsma and daughter Amber embrace during their team’s 2006 Class B Final victory. (Top photo by Steve Vedder. Middle photo courtesy of the Soodsma family.)

St. George's Senior Season Filled with Historic Trip, Sizzling 3-Point Shooting

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 21, 2024

Delaney St. George helped Kingston reach its first MHSAA Girls Basketball Final this winter – and along the way finished her high school career among the most prolific 3-point shooters in state history.

The four-year varsity senior made 87 3-pointers this season for the Division 4 runner-up Cardinals, good to tie for 10th on the single-season list after she made 93 as a junior to rank fourth all-time.

She finished her Kingston career with 290 3-pointers in 793 attempts over 94 games – good for second on the career 3-pointers list.

See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA girls basketball record book, and click on the heading to see the record book in full.

Girls Basketball

Hemlock’s 18-6 run this season was fueled in part by more successful 3-point shooting. The Huskies made single-season lists with 170 3-pointers and 552 attempts, and also for making 14 3-pointers Jan. 5 against St. Louis.

Senior Mia McLaughlin made nine of 15 3-point shots for Frankenmuth in a Feb. 6 win over Birch Run as the Eagles made the team record book list with 15 3-pointers total. They also were added for 14 3-pointers in a Feb. 20 win over Bay City John Glenn. McLaughlin will continue her career at Ferris State.

McBain sophomore Peyton Grant scored all 27 of her points Jan. 17 against Houghton Lake on nine 3-pointers to make the single-game list in that category.

Seniors Autumn Tremblay and Ceara LeBlanc earned Brimley’s first girls basketball record book listings this season. Both made single-game lists in a Feb. 27 win over Harbor Springs Harbor Light Christian – Tremblay scored 21 points during the first quarter and LeBlanc had 16 steals for the game – and LeBlanc also was added for 141 steals total over 25 games this past winter.

Reed City’s run at the Central State Activities Association title this winter was fueled in part by 3-point shooting. The Coyotes finished one game out of first, but made the records with 517 3-point attempts over 24 games – and just missed the made 3-pointers list connecting on 143.

Howell sophomore Gabrielle Piepho added her third record book listing over her first two seasons this winter making 89.2 percent of her free throw attempts to rank eighth on that single-season list. Howell as a team also made the 3-point attempts list with 536 over 25 games, and also just missed the 3-pointers made list with 146.

Saline finished the 2023-24 season among the all-time leading 3-point shooters again, this time with 192 – 14th-most for one season – in 587 attempts over 24 games. Sophomore Keira Roehm led the way with 78 3-pointers, tying for 21st on that list.

Junior Tamerah Peterson led Sterling Heights Parkway Christian to a District title this season, providing a record-setting defensive boost in addition to her offensive skills. She finished with 173 steals – eighth-most for one season – over 21 games.

Niles Brandywine reached Breslin Center this season with another stellar distance shooting display, making the record book with both 186 3-pointers and 610 attempts from beyond the arc in finishing Division 3 runner-up.

Alie Bisballe capped her career at Lake City this winter by helping her team reach the Division 3 Semifinal at Breslin Center – and by reaching the MHSAA girls basketball record book in two categories. The 6-foot-4 post player made the lists with 329 rebounds and 188 blocked shots, both in 28 games as Lake City finished 25-3. She will continue her career at Wisconsin.

Ironwood junior Hanna Vaughn will enter her final season next winter already on the career 3-pointers list. She’s made 155 3-pointers over her first three seasons and 70 games on varsity.

PHOTO Kingston’s Delaney St. George (10) pulls up for a shot during the Division 4 Final against Ishpeming.