A legendary part of North College Hill died Thursday.
Bruce Baarendse was 55 years old. North College Hill will never be the same, but the story Coach B, as he was affectionately known, gave the Trojans is worth more than gold.
And while Coach B likely would have told it better, this is his story, kept alive by the people still here, still in love with a man they’ll never forget.
He was the Trojans’ champion. For the last 32 years, Baarendse, a 1978 NCH graduate, was a teacher, coach, nickname supplier, leader, storyteller, father figure, mentor and resident good-guy at his alma mater.
“He is NCH,” said Shannon Minor, a teacher and head boys basketball coach at NCH. “He was a gentle giant … just such an easy guy to talk to. Every kid, and I’m telling you every kid liked Coach B.”
Once upon a time, a 6-foot-5 Baarendse was one of the greatest athletes NCH had ever seen. He earned 11 varsity letters as a three-sport star in football, basketball and baseball. He played football for the University of Cincinnati and it wasn’t long before he returned to the place and the people he clearly loved. NCH inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1986.
“You don’t meet too many positive people about everything,” said Nathaniel Snow, a 13-year assistant football coach under Baarendse. “He was positive. He had a very optimistic look on everything. He always tried to find the good in people and situations. A good family man, loved his wife (Nancy), loved his children (Steven and Christine).
“He just loved life. He loved people.”
He was a guide, an example of how to live. His reach extended beyond athletics, into academics and life. He listened and he cared.
“He is the reason I became a teacher,” said Minor. “He brought me back two years ago … for me being able to work with him these last two years, that was a dream. He was more than a teacher and a coach, he was a friend.”
The North College Hill City School District remembered Coach B on its website with an entry entitled “Gone but will never be forgotten.”
All you needed was five minutes – a conversation – to see a heart heaped in gold, a personality laced with love and understand why he meant so much to so many people.
It’s hard to quantify a person’s worth or how loved they were. There’s no metric that can measure a man like Bruce.
Rick Kates graduated from NCH in 1988, and while there he said Baarendse “was my head football coach, head baseball coach, assistant basketball coach, health teacher and gym teacher.”
Kates said, “If you talk to people about Bruce you will get so many different stories … too many to even really discuss. Bruce had a personality bigger than life itself. He never met a stranger. He just made everybody feel special in his own way.
“After I graduated Bruce became a very good friend of mine. When I got married he was in my wedding. My days in high school Bruce was more of a father figure to me. He was there to discipline me when I needed it, and there with a hug when I needed that as well. I had what I considered a very special relationship with him, but when I think about it there’s probably hundreds, maybe thousands of kids who had the same relationship with him.”
His personality came out in what Minor dubbed “B-isms, things he said: ‘Don’t worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon.’”
Next fall, a new freshman class will walk into North College Hill High School and Baarendse won’t be there.
“It’s a shame to think about because those kids will never know him and that’s tough to swallow,” said Kates. “They will not know what they missed.”
But Coach B’s only a story away, and there are literally thousands of people with tales of a big guy with an even bigger heart.
“I’m going to miss his laugh,” Kates said. “I’m going to miss the stories. I’m going to miss knowing and being friends with the most genuine person I’ve ever met. Bruce is North College Hill and North College Hill is Bruce. He’ll be remembered forever, no question.”
Funeral arrangements are still pending, but Minor said considering all the people he loved and loved him, “the amount of people who are going to be there, it will be unreal.”