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Van Hecke

Muscatine High School's new gym will be named after Chuck Van Hecke.

MUSCATINE — The school board voted to name the new Muscatine High School gym facility in honor of Chuck Van Hecke for his service and impact on the school district.

Van Hecke retired in 2005 after a 22-year career with the district. He was the athletic director and later principal of Muscatine High School.

Assistant Principal Chris Nienhaus was one of the four who recommended Van Hecke at a previous board meeting. He summed up with an image from when he was a football player working with Van Hecke.

It was 1995. Muscatine was playing North Scott. The Muskies were down four points with six seconds on the clock and North Scott was shooting two free-throws. But as Nienhaus told it, the Muskies ended up winning. Nienhaus said that were it not for Van Hecke, he would not be starting in the game. 

Fast-forward to the previous day, Nienhaus had sprained his ankle. 

"There was no way I was playing on it," Nienhaus said. "My ankle was huge. It was big. Twice the size as normal."

Nienhaus said that Van Hecke saw how large it was and told him to come to school the morning of the game. Nienhaus showed up and Van Hecke trained on the ankle in the pool for four hours. 

"We got it to the point where I was walking on it again," Nienhaus said. "By the end of the day, it still hurt, but I was ready to go."

"Chuck was there to support me," Nienhaus said. "I would never have had that memory and been involved in that game if he did not spend that time with me, getting me ready to go."

Mike Morgan, the director of activities and athletics at the high school, agreed.

"He could just pull you aside and take the time to teach you," Morgan said. Morgan said he owes much of his career to Van Hecke. He said that it was Van Hecke who got him involved in coaching and eventually asked him to be the assistant athletic director. 

"I learned more in those two years than I have ever in any two years of my life," Morgan said. "That was probably the biggest learning curb."

Morgan said that the mentoring he received from Van Hecke informs the work he does today.

"When you walked in, you got his time," Morgan said. "You got his full effort. He just treated you as a full person. It makes you feel respected. And he still is that way. Even after he retired, he is still involved in our school system and the Community Foundation."

Jacob Mueller, head football coach for the high school, said he met Van Hecke as a newcomer to Muscatine, not as a student or coworker.

"I didn't really know too many people in the community," Mueller said. "But everyone kept saying, 'You need to reach out to Chuck Van Hecke.'"

But as he explained it, it was Van Hecke that reached out to Mueller. 

"He was not the athletic director. He was not the principal," Mueller said. "He was just somebody who really cared about Muscatine High School kids and athletes and wanted to see the programs be as successful as possible."

Mueller said he relied on Van Hecke as mentor. He said it helped him get to the position he has today.

"Chuck has always been someone who is trying to mentor and help young coaches or just coaches in general do better," Mueller said. "Ultimately, he wants what's best for our kids. And he has done that ever since I've been in Muscatine."

For Mueller, naming the facility honors the contributions Van Hecke continues to make in the community.

"(Van Hecke) has served Muscatine extremely well across his entire time he's been here," Mueller said. "I honestly can't think of a more deserving person for that facility to be named after. I'm excited and happy for Chuck to be honored in that way."

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Reporter