Dave Bechler Reflects on 22 Years of Coach; Alumni Join Homecoming Celebration
“Do one thing for me,” requested Dave Bechler to a packed Eastern Mennonite School gym. ”For the next two hours, this isn’t about me. It is all about our two volleyball seniors, and the Broadway and EMHS teams giving their all out here on the court.”
Minutes before the Homecoming Weekend varsity volleyball match began, the crowd had offered Bechler, athletic director and long-time coach, a standing ovation. But he needed the celebration of his 22 years as boys basketball coach to be placed on hold. After the match, he noted, “then we can go outside and talk basketball.”
The crowd included alumni – some from as far away as Colorado –, parents of former players, as well as those on site for the volleyball match.
Assistant Athletic Director Kendal Bauman shared stories from Bechler’s former colleagues and players. “Every team is a reflection of their coach” became a refrain as stories of Bechler’s honor, integrity, and passion filled the gym.
The Booster Club presented Bechler with a comforter made of practice t-shirts of his past teams and teams he follows, signed by past players. New basketball coach Chad Seibert presented a large white board playbook for the boys’ locker room dubbed the “Bechler Board,” purchased with alumni donations.
“I could talk to you all much better if you were on a locker room bench,” Bechler told the crowd sheepishly.
Bechler’s coaching career began in 1989 in his hometown Belleville, Pa., where he coached girls basketball for four years. This November will be Bechler’s first time not coaching since that ‘89 season.
“It’s weird,” he said in a recent interview, thinking of the upcoming season. Bechler does not regret his decision to retire, however. He feels less stressed without the preseason pressure. Bechler can watch games now without feeling like he has to pick apart every play. “I won’t miss all that,” he said. “It’s just different. I’m starting another chapter now.”
The coaching chapter of Bechler’s life was productive. Bechler believes life is like basketball: you win some and lose some, but “the goal is to win more than you lose,” he said. And Bechler reached that goal, with a coaching career record of 341-291 over 26 seasons.
In his 22 years at EMS, Bechler earned “Coach of the Year” nine times. New coach Chad Seibert put Bechler’s accomplishment in perspective: “Coach K has five in his division,” he said. “Tony Bennett has five. And this guy here has done it nine times in 22 years.”
Relational coaching and basketball’s teachable moments
Bechler’s coaching style has evolved. When he started, Bechler focused on getting scoreboard results, with clear expectations for his team to out-work their opponents. In the last half of his career, Bechler has understood that coaching is all about relationships and knowing the players. “Each guy is different,” he said, “and I coach them differently based on their personalities.”
Coaching involved more than just teaching about basketball. He also taught about life. The role gave him “lots of sons every year,” he said. Bechler holds an intense belief in hard work, expecting his players to grow their strengths in the course of a season. “Hard work was rewarded with respect,” he said.
Bechler realizes his coaching style may not have been comfortable for everyone. “I never have been easy on anyone I’ve loved,” he said.
Bechler sees many correlations between basketball and life. Every season, he had a “life day” for his players, a practice where they would discuss future employment. “Nothing is free in life,” he would say, encouraging his guys to work hard to reach their goals.
“You’ve got to treat life like a game,” Bechler said. “You’ve got to try to win, but you won’t every time.” If you fail in life, you have to get back up and make the next play anyway, he said. Bechler hopes this lesson sticks with his former players as they enter adulthood.
Deciding to retire
It was a long process to decide to retire. He had been asking himself for the past 10 years how long he could keep coaching. “Fighting burnout was the hardest part,” he said. “When you’re in the grind of coaching, you’re just going, going, going.”
It was hard to step down without knowing what would happen to the program after he left. However, having a pool of capable applicants made him feel at ease. “We found somebody who loves it,” he said. “I think Coach Seibert is going to do a great job. He has the energy. He has the drive.”
This year’s team will see a lot of returning players, which Bechler believes will help with the transition to a new coach.
Retiring has been emotional for Bechler. “Not coaching these seniors is hard,” Bechler said, tearing up, but he feels happy for his players and the opportunities they will have this upcoming season.
Bechler will continue in his role as Athletic Director for EMS. Aside from that, he said, “I’m still in the winging it stage.” Many people have asked Bechler about refereeing basketball, but Bechler wants a year off “cold turkey.”
He looks forward to watching his son, Brett, play basketball at Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Bible College and his daughter, Shay, play basketball here at EMS.