Southeast Polk officials searched near and far throughout the past month as they looked to fill two vacancies in their athletic department.
In the end, the Rams found an activities director beyond state borders and an in-house candidate to take over their boys’ basketball program.
Southeast Polk principal Steve Pettit said Monday the school has hired Scott VanDerMillen as its activities director and sophomore coach Matt Carter has been promoted to the varsity position. Both jobs opened up in late April when activities director Kent Horstmann accepted a teaching position in Arizona and basketball coach Gary Belger resigned to rejoin his family in Florida.
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VanDerMillen, an Iowa native who served in recent years as the activities director at Harrisburg High School near Sioux Falls, S.D., inherits an athletic department that became highly successful during Horstmann’s seven-year watch.
“I’m excited to work with him,” Pettit said. “He’s a very level-headed guy, very smart, a good thinker, has an appreciation for all activities. To me, he’s a guy who will be able to continue the work we’ve done with our district’s core values and making those the cornerstone of our activities department.”
The Rams ended a 36-year-old state championship drought in 2013 when their wrestling team won the state duals and traditional tournament titles, becoming the school’s first boys’ team to capture a state crown. Weeks later, the girls’ basketball team claimed a state championship.
The football squad has regularly made playoff runs in recent years and, under Belger, the basketball team made its sixth state tournament appearance this past season.
Carter spent the past six seasons coaching the sophomore squad and working as a varsity assistant under Belger and B.J. Windhorst. The 40-year-old, who played high school basketball at Roland-Story and collegiately at Grand View, also helped Southeast Polk launch its youth program three years ago.
“I think over the last six years (Southeast Polk’s sophomore teams have) won close to 100 games,” Carter said. “A couple years ago we won 20. We’ve had some success. Right now, the group we have coming back hasn’t had a lot of playing time at the varsity level. There’s some talented kids there who will have to play in some new roles to have some success.”
Carter started his coaching career as an assistant at Des Moines East before two head coaching stints. He spent two seasons at Chariton and five more at Collins-Maxwell-Baxter.
“Those were difficult situations,” he said. “We had success, but it probably wasn’t based completely on wins at the time. When I got to both of those places, basketball wasn’t a very popular thing. I’d say both situations were better when I left. They were definitely difficult for basketball, to say the least, but good learning experiences for me along the way.”
Carter said those stops taught him the value of communicating and building relationships. He said he’s “definitely a lot better at that now.”
He said his latest head coaching position is one he’s been targeting for a while.
“I didn’t think B.J. would be here forever, so I thought I’d come down here and see if I could work my way up to this position,” he said. “It took a little bit longer than I thought, but I finally have the opportunity now.”