Former coach, wife killed in car accident: Staff, family, friends cope with loss

A CFHS coaching and teaching legend and his wife were killed in a car accident in Kansas on Tuesday Dec. 20.

Jerry Slykhuis, 73, and Jacqueline Slykhuis, 70, were killed when the SUV they were in was hit when a truck didn’t stop at a stop sign on Highway 54. The news spread through Cedar Falls, where Slykhuis touched many lives of athletes and students.

Slykhuis retired in 2008 after coaching the varsity basketball team for 32 years. He guided the Tigers to a 531-305 record throughout his career, which made him one of the top 20 most winningest coaches in Iowa history.

In 2008 he was named Midwest Coach of the Year, and he was later inducted into the Iowa High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame the following year.

Slykhuis also coached the boys’ golf team for 15 years and taught biology. He also helped run the Snow Valley basketball camp, which was recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the best teaching camps in the country.

After retiring, Slykhuis volunteered to help many individuals and coaches. Even after ending his career as a coach, his presence still shined bright at Cedar Falls High School.

Coaches Wrestle with Loss of Peer

“Coach Slykhuis had a passion for teaching kids and an unparalleled love for the game of basketball,” head basketball coach Ryan Schultz said. “His name will always be synonymous with Cedar Falls basketball, and we are grateful as a Tiger family for his years of dedication and leadership within our program,” Schultz said.

It’s safe to say that Slykhuis left a legacy on the program that will last forever because of his love and knowledge for the game. His caring passion to make an impact on every kid he coached was there every day.

“Many stories will abound in the coming days about past victories, games and practice sessions, but what stands out most in my memories and conversations with others was how generous he was to others, especially kids,” Schultz said.

Schultz played for Slykhuis for three years and had him as a teacher his sophomore year. He then became the head sophomore coach in Slykhuis’ system. “He was very driven to see kids excel, he didn’t give up on kids,” Schultz said.

“One thing most people probably wouldn’t know is how he wrote out his pregame routine on a chalkboard in the locker room before each game. The last thing he wrote at the bottom of each pregame routine was ‘HAVE FUN.’ He knew the most important thing for his players was to enjoy the game and have fun playing the game. He knew it was just a game along with an avenue for his players to grow as people,” Athletic Director Gary Koenen said.

Sophomore basketball coach and golf coach Dan Hensing taught and coached with Slykhuis for eight years. “The day he passed away, before I had heard the news, we had a basketball game that night, and I had referenced Coach Slykhuis in a story in our pregame talk. That night we won the game, yet our community lost two great people that we will all dearly miss,” Hensing said.

Slykhuis was much older than some of his co-workers and staff, but his friendships spanned the generations. “Even though he was 25 + years older than me, we still shared common interests in basketball and golf. Coach Slykhuis also enjoyed to tease and rib the people that he liked. Coach and I couldn’t have a conversation without that happening, which I always knew we both enjoyed,” Hensing said.

Jane Slykhuis also helped many people throughout her life. She worked as the disabled services coordinator at UNI. Before that, she worked as the director of nursing and health education at UNI as well.

She loved the challenges she faced and tried her best every day to assist each and every student and faculty member.

Both Jane and Jerry tried to connect with everyone and became close with many people outside of school, or coaching. “On a personal level, coach and I played in some four man, best shot golf tournaments, which was a great way to know each other away from school. I will miss those times the most,” Hensing said.

On Dec. 20, the Cedar Falls Community lost two influential people. “Whether it was spending extra time with a group of kids teaching the fundamentals of basketball, giving advice or guidance or giving a kid a basketball or T-shirt when they didn’t have the means,” Schultz said. “Coach Slykhuis gave up himself and touched so many lives. He will be greatly missed by his Tiger family and countless others.”

Sons React to Loss of Parents

Sitting in their parents home, surrounded by their belongings that trailed the hallway or were stored in boxes, brothers Steve and Matt Slykhuis sat next to each other cherishing fond childhood memories as a new beam of light shined through the window.

“I guess growing up I knew that I had really great parents, very accepting, but it’s sort of something like this, you realize just how great they were and how many people they touched,” said Steve, the oldest son of Jerry and Jane Slykhuis.

Both brothers described their parents as wonderful people who would go above and beyond but truly thought that was normal. It was normal to help people in need. It was normal to stay a few extra minutes and help a player out in the gym. It was normal to be a genuine, helping peron.

“My mom was always known by all of my friends as just the sweetest lady. She did everything for us. She was always looking for ways to serve us and take care of us,” younger brother, Matt, said.

Steve said he always knew his parents as people who were always reaching out and giving toward others, never expecting anything in return.

His dad, whether it was in the gym or teaching in a classroom, was always trying to go the extra mile to lend a helping hand.

“I didn’t realize but when I was three years old, there was a student he had in high school that went to UNI, and he didn’t have a place to live, so they had him move into the basement for four months while he worked in order to find a place to live,” Steve said.

Matt said he had a very unique and enjoyable opportunity to play high school basketball for his father.

“I really enjoyed playing for my dad. He cared so much about what he was doing and coaching that he never let me being his son get in the way of his duty as a coach. We had a great relationship before I played for him and even better after.”

Both brothers said one thing their father always had in the back of his head and written out below his meticulous preparation and detailed warm ups was ‘Play hard. Have fun!’

“That really sums of his whole philosophy on coaching and life too: work hard, play hard and have fun,” Steve said.

Steve also shared that even though Jerry would have a regimented game plan mapped out before any player would go out to the court and play, he wanted them to know to have fun.

“That was his lesson for them to take home.”

Devastation is the only word that had come to mind when thinking of their parents terrible car accident.

“For me, Matt will always be my baby brother, and to have to call my baby brother and tell him mom and dad were both killed in a car accident was the hardest call I would ever have to make.”

Steve and Matt are four hours apart in time difference, with Steve living in New York and Matt living in Alaska.

“It’s nothing I had ever prepared for and certainly nothing I had ever considered or thought about,” Matt said. “Right away I knew something wasn’t right. He said, mom and dad were in a car accident, and I said, tell me they’re OK and he’s like, they’re both dead.”

Immediately after getting the news, Matt said he called to his wife to hold his three month old baby and take the phone, and he broke down.

“I don’t think there is a better word than devastating,” Matt said.

Close friend of coach Slykhuis, Keith Sandvold, said he would have to agree that losing his church buddy, basketball fanatic friend and golf partner left him without a breath.

“It sucks everything out of you when they are tragically killed. You would think as you get older that you would get used to passing, but you don’t. ”

Longtime Friend Reflects on Tragedy

Sandvold had first met Slykhuis in 1975 when Slykhuis started coaching at Cedar Falls High School. Over the years of watching his kids growing up throughout the basketball program, Slykhuis encouraged Sandvold to start the Junior Tiger basketball program in 1982, and they became fast friends from then on.

“He was a very intense coach and a very hardworking person,” Sandvold said.

Coach Slykhuis was very invested in the Cedar Falls basketball department.

He had spent time coaching high school players after retirement such as sophomore Logan Wolf and others. Slykhuis worked very hard at Snow Valley with many local basketball players and put in his own time to put in extra work with anyone who wanted it.

Sandvold said it was fun for him to call Slykhuis a friend. He felt appreciated and respected by him and said he had learned a lot from him.

“He left a legacy of being a straightforward, honest, Christian person. He gave a lot both spiritually and mentally.”

Sandvold, close friend Jon Martin and others are helping to bring up a basketball showcase in honor of their friend, Coach Slykhuis.

“As I brought up to people, all the guys, they just said, ‘Whatever it takes.’”

The showcase and date was approved Jan. 6 by the high school and is set to be Dec. 15-16, 2017.

“One of my ways to fill the hole in my heart and to honor him is to put on a Jerry Slykhuis Basketball Showcase,” Sandvold said.

But his friends and family agree that beyond the tributes and the showcase for Jerry and Jane Slykhuis, their light will always be shining down on the Cedar Valley.

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