After 28 years steering one of the best track programs in Arizona history, Valley Christian High School coach Dan Kuiper has stepped down from his position as the school’s track coach.
The 54-year-old Kuiper will take over as the school’s principal beginning this fall. He spent 28 years as a track coach for the Chandler private school prior to his departure and has worked at the school for 30 years in all.
“It’s always tough. There are some great aspects to coaching and track and field,” he said.
His transition into an administrative role completes a remarkable tenure as Valley Christian’s track coach. Under his guidance as a head coach, the Trojans’ girls and boys track teams won a combined 26 titles in either Class 2A or Division IV, and he added a 27th championship as the head coach of the boys cross country team in 2003. His last title came in 2012 when the boys track team defeated St. Johns and Phoenix Arizona Lutheran by six-and-a-half points.
His accolades include two National Coach of the Year awards handed out by the National High School Athletics Coaches Association, 16 recognitions as Arizona’s Coach of the Year and induction in to the Chandler Sports Hall of Fame.
His most impressive feat though is the 15-consecutive championships his girls squad won between 1996 and 2010, several of which came in dominating fashion. The championship streak, which ended with a second-place finish to Tempe Prep in 2011, set a national record for most consecutive state track titles.
Kuiper’s team came quite close to extending the record to 20 years in a row; the Trojans finished third in 1995 — Kuiper attributed the result to key injuries and high-quality competition — and came in second place in 1991 to St. Johns. The second defeat, which marked the first time Valley Christian finished in the top three in a state meet, was a rather tight loss, as Kuiper said the team essentially lost the title by just eight feet in a relay.
David Mehlhorn, a 2004 Valley Christian graduate and former athlete who was a member of four boys championship teams and the 2003 cross country championship, attributed his former coach’s success to the development of a strong track culture. Mehlhorn said the boys and girls track teams combined had between 80 to 90 students in his four years, which he said encompassed around a quarter of the school’s total enrollment.
“For a small school, our track team was pretty large,” he said.
The sheer size of the pool of athletes allowed Valley Christian to send three to four runners, throwers and jumpers in just about every state championship event and to tally points in those meets. It also offered protection in case of severe injuries to the higher-quality athletes.
But it’s not the championships that defines Kuiper’s legacy at Valley Christian; rather, Mehlhorn said it’s the coach’s humility, kindness and heart.
“Being at a Christian school he was always just a godly example,” he said.
The defining mark was how he treated the athletes on his team. Mehlhorn, who went on to compete at Arizona State University, said Kuiper never treated the more talented athletes with more regard than the other athletes. Kuiper said the intent of doing so was to evaluate his athletes by their character and not on their athletic ability, a message he made sure was shared among his staff.
“My mantra to my assistant coaches is every single athlete on the team is as important as any other,” Kuiper said.
He also offered credit for Valley Christian’s success to those assistance who stayed with the school for multiple years. Kuiper said it’s quite rare for that to happen, and it created a sense of continuity difficult to replicate.
Kuiper said he’ll continue to watch his former teams compete during the season, although this year might be a little melancholy once spring comes and he’s no longer organizing practices and getting his athletes prepped for the coming season.
“I’m not going to be doing that anymore. It kind of hurts my heart,” he said.