NORTHFIELD -- Andy Berkvam has been asked the same one-word question numerous times since leaving his longtime position as the girls basketball coach at Lakeville North last summer to become the boys basketball coach at Northfield. Why?
Some of the people who ask why are only thinking of the numbers. Numbers like more than 400 career victories, 10 state tournament berths and three state championships, which is what Berkvam accomplished in 23 seasons as the girls coach at Lakeville and Lakeville North.
Those figures contrast with some pretty measly numbers in Northfield's boys basketball history: Two winning seasons since 2004-05, with an average record of 9-14 during that time. The Raiders have not only not won a section title in that span, they have not even played in a section title game. And getting to state? Northfield boys basketball teams have in fact played in three state tournaments ... in 1916, 1928 and 1932.
Why? For Berkvam, the answer is pretty simple. Why not? He's a Northfield native who graduated from Northfield High School in 1984, and he wants to 1) find a new challenge, and 2) give something back to his hometown.
"I think the job kind of parallels the situation when I took the job in Lakeville," said Berkvam, 51, who is a member of the Northfield Athletic Hall of Fame as well as the Minnesota Girls Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. "I look at it as a big challenge. When I took the Lakeville girls job, they had averaged three to five wins a year for a long period of time."
He had climbed every competitive mountain while in Lakeville, where he continues to work as a middle school physical education teacher. His wife, Marne Berkvam (also a Northfield native and NHS athletic hall of famer), is the principal at Lakeville North.
"It can be hard when you're expected to win 20 games and go to the state tournament every year," Andy Berkvam said. "Not that it's not fun. But it can wear on you. It's fun to do something new and build something new, and I want to give back to the community because I got so much from Northfield."
Berkvam thought about applying for the Northfield boys job two years ago, when Andy Jaynes was hired. Jaynes stepped down after last season because the job took too much time away from his young children.
"At that point (two years ago) Andy was interested," said Northfield activities director Tom Graupmann. "But it wasn't the right time for Andy. He had daughters in high school and he wanted to see them through."
The Berkvams' youngest child is in fifth grade, and the family built a new house in Northfield and moved after Andy changed coaching jobs.
"The timing was really good this time," Graupmann said. "When the job opened, Andy contacted me and said, 'This is something I really want to do. It's something I've always wanted to do.' He wanted to come back to Northfield, live here and coach here."
The only other time Berkvam has coached high school boys basketball was right after he finished his playing career at Mankato State University in 1986. He coached ninth-grade boys at Eden Prairie. When they were seniors in 1988-89, those players were the first Eden Prairie boys team to go to the state tournament.
"I had always planned to coach boys," Berkvam said. "I took (the Lakeville girls job) because it was a challenge."
He was a graduate assistant with the Mankato State men's team for one year after his playing career ended and was teaching in Lakeville when the girls basketball job opened up in 1990. He had previously applied to become the head boys coach; John Oxton was hired and remains the coach.
The Northfield boys team has won five games in each of the last three seasons. One of Berkvam's challenges is building the program from the ground up, and he has begun doing so with a strong focus on elementary players all the down to kindergarten. He had a program in Lakeville called "Adopt a Panther," which paired high school players with youth teams. A similar program has been started in Northfield.
"It's probably the best thing we did in Lakeville," he said. "They go to each other's games and spend time together. It connects younger players with older players, who are role models."
The Raiders are 1-2 this season, with a victory over Rochester Mayo and losses to Hastings and Rochester Century.
"He's very intense," Northfield senior captain Hunter Sannes said of Berkvam. "People look at him outside the basketball area, and he's a great guy. But when you get on the basketball court with him, it's hard, hard, hard. You better get going on defense. I love it. It's what Northfield needs for the basketball program."
With the Missota Conference disbanding after this school year, Northfield will become a member of the Big 9 Conference in 2014-15.
"I think it's a sleeping giant," Berkvam said of the Raiders basketball program. "It's the best of both worlds because we're in the metro but next year we'll be playing in the Big 9. I want to put a lot of time into it."
He doesn't, however, have any timetable for how long his coaching career will last. He's clearly in it for the long haul in his hometown.
"I can retire from teaching in six years," he said. "But I plan to coach for a long time. I want to put my stamp on this program, and there are a lot of good people helping me. Northfield is really hungry to win in basketball."
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 238
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,028
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
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