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Farewell to a fine Johnnie

The St. John’s community suffered a tragic loss this summer when former Assistant Coach and Equipment Manager Roger “Dutch” Ouderkirk, died after suffering a severe stroke. Ouderkirk was a veteran coach whose loyalty and dedication to the University is something the St. John’s community greatly admired.

“His word was as solid as a rock,” is the compliment football Head Coach Bob Ricca commonly bestowed upon Ouderkirk, his long-time friend and employee. “People often speak about good values, but when you actually see it, it’s a terrific example to the players, and with Dutch that was apparent,” Ricca said.

As a coach with tremendous experience, Ouderkirk came to St. John’s in 1978 after amassing three Suffolk County Coach of the Year awards. Ouderkirk began his coaching career with the Smithtown Public Schools in 1950.

By 1952, his expertise led to his hiring as administrative assistant to the athletic director and assistant football coach at Temple University. During his three year stay in Philadelphia, Ouderkirk coached future National Football League stars, such as Kurt Sohn and Joe Klecko, who both played for the New York Jets.

In addition, he also tutored running back and fellow St. John’s Hall of Famer, Dennis Bligen, who went on to play professionally for Tampa Bay and the Jets, during his coaching days at St. John’s.

“Dutch was of the building blocks that gave the program instant credibility,” Ricca said. “We were able to recruit the cream of the crop in New York City and throughout the state because of Dutch’s recognition in the high school and college coaching ranks.”

Aside from being dilligent in his calling as a football coach, Ouderkirk’s personality was also known to leave an impression. Often described as being from the “old school,” Dutch had a nickname for everyone. Ricca spoke of how unique his personality often kept players off balance. “He was unique in that his bark was loud but at the same time his heart was as soft as a marshmellow,” Ricca said. Director of Athletics Ed Manetta, added “Dutch had a unique personality reminiscent of the old Sinatra song, he did things his way.”

Such was the case 10 years ago when Ricca and Ouderkirk worked the sidelines in what was a rough outing for the St. John’s football team. As if the ordinary pressures of coaching a difficult game were not enough, on this day the coaching staff had to contend with an overly-aggressive television crew. Although college regulations stipulate that the press is not permitted beyond the 25-yard lines, this particular crew was adamant about taking their cameras past the markers. They continued to ignore Ricca’s repeated requests for them to retreat and grant the team some space.

About 10 minutes later, a fuming television producer approached Ricca to ask what the problem was and after a brief discussion, Ricca had one less problem to worry about and one more fond memory about his buddy Dutch. The television crews wires had been cut and Ricca had a pretty good idea of who cut them. It was later known that Ouderkirk had been the culprit, which was a classic example of how Dutch didn’t have to say a word to get his point across.

After leaving his position as assistant coach in 1990, Ouderkirk spent his last 10 years as equipment manager, making him one of the longest tenured athletic department members at the university.

Ouderkirk also worked with Manetta to increase the base of the football alumni’s participation at university functions. This venture proved to be productive. Manetta said of Dutch,”He was a valuable member of our staff that helped us to grow as an athletic department, plus he had been a key contributor to our football program.”

All the proceeds from the St. John’s football game against Albany on October 13th went to establish a scholarship fund in Ouderkirk’s name.

In memory of him, all SJU athletic teams will be wearing a patch enscribed with the letter “D” on the breast of their uniforms to remember the legacy of Dutch.

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