Dave Schmidt: Bethel history professor/oldest ‘Wacko’ in Wiekamp

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Anyone who’s seen the infamous ‘Weikamp Wackos,’ sitting mid-court for all home games at the Weikamp Athletic Center knows that there are certain things that just don’t change. First of all, these energetic fans will find the strangest ways to dress themselves for games, including denim short-shorts and the occasional Superman onesie. Secondly, these fans may sometimes lack in number, but they make up for it with rambunctious voices echoing throughout the gym. But perhaps the most iconic piece to the Weikamp Wacko puzzle is the member who has maintained his spot in this section longer than any other student. No, he’s not a fifth-year student or even working towards a master’s degree. No, this “student” is the oldest “student of the game” present in the section: professor Dave Schmidt. Schmidt has been an associate professor of history at Bethel College since 1997, and, ironically, was the first Bethel College faculty member to be hired through an internet advertisement. “(Bethel) posted it, and I happened to see it when the ad popped up,” said Schmidt, recounting his ‘cutting edge’ recruitment to the college. “Within three hours of it being posted, I had applied and been on their radar before finally being hired.” Schmidt has proven himself efficient in learning new things. His degree in history is an example of him working outside of his comfort zone, as he never took a history class in high school or even college. “I went to seminary with the idea of working in the college environment as either faculty or as a teacher,” said Schmidt. “I thought it would be in Biblical studies or in Christian history. I realized that in both of those, I would not necessarily be in their first pool of selection. So it seemed like a better option to go with history instead.” Another example of Schmidt’s ability to acquire new passions in life came in the form of the sport of basketball. When asked if he had ever played basketball himself, all Schmidt could do was burst out laughing. “You flatter me,” said Schmidt with a large grin upon his face. “I was always pretty uncoordinated. I grew up playing for fun against some really talented kids, but I clearly was the least talented kid in the neighborhood. I could handle the inbound pass, but that was about it.” Though he never was a super star hoops player with his name illuminated in lights, Schmidt did have a desire to learn and grow in basketball. “While others were playing basketball games in one gym, I would simply practice dribbling the basketball all the way around Goodman (Gymnasium),” said Schmidt with a smirk, “even Coach (Mike) Lightfoot took notice and asked what I was doing once.” Though basketball tends to favor the ones who can pad the books with stats like points, steals and rebounds, Schmidt took to honing his skills with a peculiar mindset in the games he played for fun. “Everybody appreciates the guy who can set a good screen,” said Schmidt with a joking smile. “What I decided was that I’m probably never going to be able to rebound or shoot well, but I could learn how to set a good screen. The sport has one ball and ten players…I set a lot of picks.” Ever since joining the school in 1997, Schmidt has been committed to supporting all different areas of Bethel’s clubs and organizations. “I made a commitment, ever since I got here, to be immersed,” said Schmidt. “I go to most of the plays and concerts and as many of the sports as I can. I have missed a few games in my years, but my goal is to attend every home game.” Even if he can’t make a home game, Schmidt claims that he at least listens to the radio call of the game. “I think that that’s part of the small college experience,” said Schmidt. “That’s just what you do.” So what started the professor’s commitment to attending games as not just a spectator, but as a Weikamp Wacko? Schmidt spilled the long-sought-after truth behind his seat selection, but for confidentiality refused to say the exact year or specific person his story incriminates, saying only that it all began with “a student over 10 years ago.” “We had one student who had a very aggressive and violent response to games,” said Schmidt in recollection. “He was even getting into fights. So, I decided I was going to stand behind him and put my hand on his shoulder when he got a little too into the game. It all started with a hand on the shoulder, trying to calm down a student.” Beyond just trying to maintain order in the student section, Schmidt believes that the student section is where the fans are allowed to be the loudest and most energetic. “You can yell a lot more in the student section,” said Schmidt. “I’m known in the section for always yelling funny things like, ‘We need a little Maybelline or a little makeup for that call’.” Though Schmidt is just like the other ‘Wackos’ in the student section with his various shouts and cheers, he also has come to believe that being a member of the illustrious ‘Weikamp Wacko’ section means much more than just loud noises and cheers. “I’m as much of a fan of Bethel students as the sports they play,” said Schmidt. “They are students in my classes or advisees…Small college athletics helps teach things that can’t always be taught in the classroom, and I want to show them that I value that.” Schmidt spoke of the many players that have been entertaining to watch in his long history of watching students play basketball. Common household names at Bethel like Rico Swanson or Eric Brand were entertaining to him for sure, but Schmidt has a passion for encouraging the other participants in the activities they pursue. “There’s a story in every player,” said Schmidt. “Growth isn’t always happening in just my classroom.” Though Schmidt has a platform in his classroom, where he can quite easily provide extra incentive to students, he stated that he has fought off the urge to grant students extra credit for joining the student section. “I’ve been severely tempted to do that,” said Schmidt, “but (basketball games) are not exactly listed in the course description, so that makes things a little bit difficult in recruiting.” It’s no secret that Schmidt’s seat at Bethel College sporting events is within the student section, and students have taken care of that legacy. Some have even resorted to taping off a spot in the bleachers for him when he is running late. In closing, Schmidt dismissed any current rumors that he will be teaching a course on Bethel College basketball history or Coach Lightfoot history 101 in future semesters at Bethel College. For now, he’ll keep on teaching students by day and joining them in the student section by night.
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