Striving and Serving: Tanner’s Story

I grew up in a household of three: mom, brother and me. My dad wasn’t really around. My brother is in a wheelchair, so at an early age I had to step up and become the man of the house.

In 3rd grade, my elementary school actually closed down, so I had to switch to a new school for 4th grade. I really couldn’t find my footing there. I felt like a fish out of water. Word got around in my church that I wasn’t having a good experience at this school, and someone recommended The Potter’s House to my mom. I came and toured and thought the school was interesting, but what really compelled me was that I had never had a male teacher before, and Mr. VanZanten had a spot available in his class.

I remember at recess all the students played together; they weren’t in separate groups. That was really fun. I loved the computer lab; I’ve always been a fan of technology. I also had a great experience at The Potter’s House High School. In high school, you are going through so much and really growing into your own and developing personality traits that are going to stay with you, probably the rest of your life. The Potter’s House allowed me to embrace my individuality and encouraged me to explore what my passions are

After graduating, I went to Grand Valley State University. Within the first month of college, my dad passed away. I had not seen him for many years, but it was tough on my family just to know that he was gone. Shortly after that my uncle, my dad’s brother, passed away. Going through tragedy really shaped and strengthened the family relationships between my brother, my mom and me. One thing that TPH did really well was to teach me about daily devotions and bringing my worries to God, because He can strengthen you through situations like that. 

Because freshman year of college was pretty tough, I took a break from school. I had various jobs and eventually started working at Thornapple-Kellogg Schools. Shortly after that, I was promoted to Groundskeeper, which is my current job. They said that they were very impressed with my persistent work ethic, which I think The Potter’s House really helped develop. They also said I have a very upbeat and positive attitude. I can’t help but attest that to the teachers and guidance counselors at TPH who taught me how to embrace adversity, how it can help build you up and not tear you down.

I’ve been a volunteer at The Potter’s House for a couple of years now. Several years ago, I started as an assistant coach of the High School basketball program with Mr. Kuipers and Mr. Clark. I was on the basketball team all four years of high school. I really liked the brotherhood; it was important for me to play basketball with my friends. I think basketball is a way to teach life lessons to young men. Two years after graduating high school, I was still going to a ton of TPH basketball games and I still felt like I was part of the program. I was there when they won their District championship in 2014, and I was practically celebrating with them. Then I asked Mr. Kuipers if I could join the coaching staff and help any way I could. 

The first year of coaching went great, and I felt that I was called to do it. Coaching is one of my life’s greatest joys. It’s cool to see these kids grow and to be able to tell them my experience of high school and my experience of playing maybe they can learn from me and I from them. I hear their stories and I listen to them and see what they are going through. 

Over the holidays, [High School Assistant Principal] Kevin Kuipers asked me if I would like to become the Head Coach of the JV Basketball Team. I dove in and committed myself completely to the team. It’s hard to balance my job with the responsibilities of coaching, but I love doing it. As a coach, I need to know all my players, their strengths and weaknesses, and encourage all of them to get better. The players rely on me to encourage and lead them. Being a coach has broadened my horizons even more. 

Volunteering gives me that sense of purpose and it also keeps me in check, because I am a role model. If you are an alumnus of TPH, that means that students are going to look at you and think, “What have they accomplished and how can I get there?” I like to be that big brother for the players on my team because I know the way I look at my big brother. In the same way, if they are looking at me, then I know that I need to keep myself accountable, to continue to strive for greatness and to follow God’s footsteps.

This story is adapted from interviews with Tanner Dykema (‘13) 

Tanner (far right) during the first JV basketball game of the 2020 season.