Brothers coaching biggest games of their careers on same day
BY PETER J. WALLNER, MICHIGAN LIVE
Andy and Luke Bronkema, brothers and college basketball head coaches who talk nearly every day, will really have something to discuss late night Tuesday.
The two, who grew up in McBain and played basketball together in high school and college, have national tournaments games Tuesday.
Andy Bronkema, with No.-1 seed Ferris State, is in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II Tournament where the Bulldogs face No. 8 Barry at 3:30 p.m. in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Luke Bronkema will lead Grand Rapids Community College in the opener of the NJCAA Division II National Tournament at 7:30 p.m. in Danville, Ill., against host Danville Area Community College.
It makes for a lot of phone time between brothers.
"We talk five, six times a week and, it's funny, most of our conversations wind up more about basketball and the sport psychology realm -- at least in-season," said Luke, who turns 32 next week.
The brothers have evolved from fiercely competing against each other as kids to helping each other as coaches.
"Luke and I are cut from the same cloth," said Andy, 34. "We are from a family that revolves around athletics and the coaches we played for are the same. So, we've both been blessed to have some great positive influences. It makes me smile every time I talk about it."
That began with their father, Joel, who was the athletic director at McBain from 1996-2013 and coached them one season, in football.
"They're both very competitive," said Bronkema, who is the principal at McBain. "Always have been from sports to board games to what have you; they really kind of fueled each other."
Said Luke: "I think what our dad did helped form the idea that we wanted to be coaches. It's fun just to bounce ideas off each other."
The Bronkemas, separated by two class years, played together one season in basketball, football and baseball at McBain, winning the 2002 Class C state basketball championship. They also played two seasons of basketball together at Cornerstone University.
As coaches, Andy Bronkema has engineered a remarkable turnaround for Ferris State, which won just 10 games his first season. This year, after winning the GLIAC Tournament a record fourth consecutive time, Bronkema's Bulldogs are 35-1 and in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1989.
His assent to head coach is fascinating. He moved to Big Rapids to be a teacher at Crossroads Charter Academy and, when coaching there didn't work out, he became a volunteer assistant at Ferris State. He served three years before he became a full-time assistant. Then, when coach Bill Sall left to become head coach at Northern Michigan, Bronkema was hired as head coach. He said he got the job after two others turned it down.
Luke Bronkema, meanwhile, took over at GRCC in October 2016, sliding into the role unexpectedly after the former head coach. Mike Spicer, resigned that summer. He had been an assistant for two seasons at Muskegon Community College.
Luke has the 24-8 Raiders in the national tournament a second consecutive year, and he was named District 9 coach of the year both seasons.
"What Andy has done at Ferris has just been amazing," said Cornerstone coach Kim Elders, who coached both. "And Luke, I mean he has them in the tournament for a second year in a row which shows you what he can do. Pretty amazing accomplishments for both of them."
Basketball, however, is not everything, as their father reminds them during an exciting yet time-consuming period.
"They're grown men but they're both workaholics," Joel said, noting both have families with young daughters. "From where I'm at, they have to balance family with profession. It's a family first thing and that's what I keep pushing.
"But I know how the two young men operate and that's wide open and they want to be successful and do the best they can."
The message is clear.
"He's a proud papa, but he keeps things in perspective," said Andy. "He's the leader in our family when it comes to faith, and now we are the leaders of our families in terms of faith.
"I can't tell you how many times he tells us (about balance). But he puts definition behind it, so we aren't wondering what it means."
Both hope they have discussions beyond Tuesday as the tournaments continue. The parents will head to Sioux Falls for the Ferris State game and then play it by ear where they head next.
"Both of my boys have made my schedule really unpredictable," he said. "We'll be flexible because it's a great problem to have."