CLEARING HURDLES: KHS alumnus assistant coach for BYU
Thursday, July 30, 2009 8:40 AM
By Craig Hoffman
Life has thrown a lot of obstacles in the way of John Wardenburg. Because of persistence and a strong faith in God, there isn't any one obstacle that he hasn't been able to overcome.
Wardenburg is a 1976 graduate of Kiel High School where he was a multi-sport athlete. The road of life, namely his Mormon faith, has led Wardenburg to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, first as a student, and now as an assistant coach in one of the country's strongest NCAA Division 1 mens basketball programs.
THE EARLY YEARS
Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wardenburg was an only child of a single mother.
"My mother went to the University of Iowa to become a teacher and she eventually got a teaching job in Wisconsin at Sheboygan North High School," he recalls.
His family would soon get bigger.
"My mother married a gentleman from the Racine area and they bought a farm just outside of Cleveland, Wisconsin. That put me in the Kiel School District," he says.
"This was culture shock for me. My step-dad bought a couple of cows to put milk on the table. Before we knew it, we had 15 cows. I didn't know a bull from a steer from a heifer. I would learn pretty quick and I found out what hard work is all about."
His step-dad brought four children of his own into this new family.
Wardenburg can look back at those days with a smile.
"Back then, I couldn't wait to get off the farm. Now I tell my kids that I would return to the farm in a heartbeat."
His parents, Robert and Judy Anderson, now reside in Idaho.
He would attend Kiel High School all four years and oddly enough, it was football, not basketball, that Wardenburg excelled at.
At 5'11 and 175 pounds, he was the starting center for coach Tom Linnaberry. He would go on to earn All-Packerland Conference Second Team honors at the position.
On the basketball court, he played mainly on the wing for coach Mike Schroeder.
"I was a role player. But I had some wonderful mentors at Kiel. Coach Schroeder, coach Doebert and my junior high coach Terry Tobin," remembers Wardenburg.
"And I have fond memories of my Kiel teammates. Cal Zorn, Dennis Klaeser, Dave Seifert, Dave Felton.....and so many others."
He was asked to recall the final regular season game at New Holstein with the Packerland Conference championship at stake.
"I remember New Holstein made an incredible shot to win it. I guess it's one of those things you would just rather forget."
As a matter of fact, it was a three-quarters court shot by Ken Depies at the final buzzer that won it for New Holstein 61-60. This after Kiel had rallied from 16 points down after three quarters to take a 60-59 lead.
Also during this time, a tragic accident would result in a further extended family.
"The closest Mormon church was in Sheboygan and the closest LDS temple is in Chicago. Being Mormon caused a few struggles. "It was difficult, but I tried to do my best," added the Kiel alum.
LDS is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon church.
"A member of the clergy and his family were headed out to Utah to visit. They were involved a terrible car accident. The parents were killed and left four children. The kids were about to be split up. My parents came in and adopted all four!"
So now his extended family went from just mom and him, to a total of five after his mother's marriage, and now add four more.
Check that. Add one more on top of that.
"My mom and step-dad had a child themselves, in addition to all the others," adds Wardenburg.
FOLLOWING HIS FAITH
His deep faith was most important.
"I was accepted for college at Georgetown University and also at Brigham Young," he says.
"My parents told me that if they are paying the tuition, then they want me to go to BYU. I'm glad I did."
As is very common, Wardenburg did a two-year mission trip to The Netherlands. He went onto earn a bachelors degree in political science from BYU in 1986 and a masters degree in health, physical education and recreation from Utah State in 1992.
A LOVE FOR COACHING
Wardenburg knew coaching was in his blood.
"I would design uniforms and draw up plays just for fun. I knew that's what I wanted to do," he says.
Wardenburg had 13 years of coaching experience at the high school and junior college levels. He compiled a 105-62 record in seven years as a head coach at Payson, Utah, High School (1988-93) and Pine View High School (1999-01) while guiding his teams to five league titles and seven state tournament berths. In those seven years, his teams earned three fifth-place state tournament finishes, one third-place finish and a 3A Utah State Championship with his 2001 Pine View team.
After Wardenburg's Payson teams claimed three league titles and posted a 76-43 overall record, he served as an assistant coach from 1993-97 at Dixie State College under current BYU head coach Dave Rose and helped the Rebels to a 95-31 record and a national ranking as high as No. 2. Wardenburg left coaching for two years to serve as Dixie's Director of Athletics. He returned to coaching as the head coach at Pine View High School in St. George, Utah, where he recorded two highly successful seasons before joining BYU's staff in 2001.
Wardenburg joined the Cougar coaching staff as an assistant coach in May 2001 under former BYU coach Steve Cleveland before serving the past three seasons with current Cougar head coach Dave Rose. Wardenburg and Rose have a long coaching history together. Wardenburg served as an assistant to Rose at Dixie State College and later joined Rose as an assistant on Cleveland's staff at BYU.
On Rose's staff the past three seasons, Wardenburg has helped the Cougars earn three straight 20 wins seasons and a 72-26 overall record while recording back-to-back outright Mountain West Conference Championships--the program's first back-to-back outright titles since 1979 and 1980. BYU has also appeared in the national top-25 polls in each of the last two seasons while making consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. The last time the Cougars were ranked in back-to-back season was in 1981 and 1982 and the previous BYU team to be ranked was in 1993. During their first season with Rose at the helm in 2005-06, BYU became the nation's second-most improved team with a 20-9 overall record.
Wardenburg's primary responsibilities on the staff have included defensive skill development, game film preparation, defensive game plan preparation, summer basketball camp director and recruiting. His efforts on the defensive end helped the Cougars become the 11th-ranked team in the nation this past season in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to a combined 38.9 percent on the year.
Wardenburg and his wife Pam have four sons, Scott, Jonathan, Adam and Barrett, and two granddaughters.
"My youngest son has had five open-heart surgeries. They have been very trying times for my family, but our faith has pulled us through and he is doing just fine now," says Wardenburg.
"We have been truly blessed!"
(Kyle Chilton and the Brigham Young Sports Information Department, along with the BYU Photo Department, contributed to this story)