By Travis Mounts
On Saturday, Gina Clark and her daughter, Kaylie Bergkamp, were unable to be together to support each other at State volleyball.
That’s because each was leading a Renwick School District volleyball team at a different State tournament location. Clark was at the 2A State tournament in Hays with the Garden Plain Owls, who won their third State volleyball championship under Clark and their fourth in school history. Meanwhile Bergkamp, Andale’s first-year coach, was leading the Andale Indians to a third-place finish at the 4A State tournament in Hutchinson. It was the first time since 1984 that an Andale Indians volleyball team advanced to the final four of a State volleyball tournament.
There is a certain symmetry to Garden Plain’s State title. In 2008, Clark won her first title for Garden Plain. One of the juniors on her team was her daughter, Kaylie. Ten years later, Claire Clark – Gina’s youngest daughter and Kaylie’s younger sister – was a junior on the Owls’ championship team.
“It’s a pretty remarkable experience,” Gina Clark said. “They are two entirely different kids to coach. I was so much harder on Kaylie….I was harder on her than I probably needed to be. But she’s a high achiever. Claire’s a different kid. She responds better when I coach her up.”
“She probably hit that one on the head,” Bergkamp said laughing, responding to her mom’s assessment about being hard on her. “You change over time because you gain knowledge over time. When we moved to Garden Plain, there were some high expectations.
“I probably gave it back to her. I’m sure I fired back.”
In the end, it was worth it.
“She was tough on me all four years. I think it paid off,” Bergkamp said. “It is interesting to see how she changed and how she coaches my sister.
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Bergkamp graduated from Garden Plain and signed with the University of Minnesota-Morris to play volleyball and participate in track and field. In addition to the 2008 State volleyball title, Bergkamp was a State champion in javelin. Her javelin coach played a big role in that, but she said her State experience in volleyball and the expectations set by her mom also pushed her to be the best in the state.
Bergkamp earned a degree in sports management and was interested in being a college coach. She worked at Andover Parks and Rec for a couple of years, but realized that wasn’t the career she wanted. She spent a year as an assistant coach at Hutchinson Community College. During that stretch, she realized she wanted to get into education.
Next came a year as head coach at Pratt Community College. Bergkamp also entered a Fort Hays State University “transition to teach” program that helps college graduates who majored in something other than education become teachers.
Bergkamp landed a job at Andale High School and took on the role of eighth grade volleyball coach at Garden Plain Middle School. She did that for two years before becoming Andale’s head coach this season. She helped coach some of the players on Garden Plain’s championship team this season.
For Clark, volleyball is a family affair and having her daughter be part of the Garden Plain program was wonderful.
“Selfishly, I was a little said when she went to Andale. You want your assistants to succeed,” Clark said. She said Bergkamp is incorporating many of the aspects of Garden Plain’s program into Andale’s program. “It makes me super proud. She understood from watching that it works. You mimic what works and you use it as your own.”
Clark said much of what she learned came from others in her life. That includes her own coach at Attica High School, Tom Tucker, and longtime Clearwater High coach Ernie Beachey, who has been a mentor to Clark.
“I’ve stolen so much stuff from Ernie.”
Clark has been with Garden Plain for 11 years, and she coached at Chaparral for 11 years before that. She was never able to take the Roadrunners to State. As a player at Attica, the Bulldogs did as well as third-place at the 1A State tournament. The year after she graduated, Attica won the 2A title.
She said playing at Attica was a great experience.
“I loved it. Coach Tucker was amazing. You want to pass it on to others,” Clark said.
She’s still in regular contact with her Attica teammates. She talked to Tucker for about an hour the Sunday before State, and he was one of the first to call and congratulate her after winning the title. She continues to visit with and seek advice from Beachey.
Last week on the way to State, Clark and her players Facetimed with Bergkamp, who was on a bus to Hutchinson with her players.
Bergkamp recalled fondly the 2008 championship.
“It was pretty special. It was my first State championship,” she said. Being a coach’s daughter, she saw what happens behind the scenes.
Family and volleyball continue to go hand-in-hand for the Clark family, but there have been challenges. The family patriarch, Alan, died Feb. 21, 2016. He played a key role, especially during volleyball season.
“People don’t realize – my dad cooked and did the laundry and paid the bills so my mom could focus 100 percent on that program,” Bergkamp said.
Being closer to home the past few years has allowed her to help with that. Her husband, Will, now plays a role. He and Kaylie went to school together at Garden Plain, and he is an assistant football coach for the Owls.
“It has taken all of us to make things work,” Bergkamp said.
Every Wednesday in the fall, she makes supper and the family gathers to eat together.
“My brother, Dylan, has been a big help with little things like mowing the lawn. People forget how far we’ve come in three years. My husband has been a big part of it and helped a lot,” Bergkamp said.
She realizes that her mom’s influence extends far beyond the immediate family, however.
“She’s a good role model for the profession,” Bergkamp said.
As for Kaylie and Will, they currently live between Andale and Garden Plain. She heads north each work day while he heads south.
“There’s been a joke about where our kids will go to school,” she said. They don’t have children yet, so for now that argument is strictly theoretical.
For Clark and Bergkamp, the similarities in their careers go beyond coaching volleyball for Renwick’s two high schools. They also hold the same position, serving as college and career advocate for their respective schools. It’s just one more way for the mother-daughter team to help young people develop and find their way in the world.