Area mourns loss of beloved coach


The Van Vleck community and football program is mourning the loss of one of its football coaches.

Paul Bienen, 52, died Friday, Aug. 30 after suffering a massive heart attack at the school.

“We released the kids early after one of our coaches collapsed at the school,” said a shaken Van Vleck Superintendent John O’Brien. 

The news of the coach’s passing ripped through the Van Vleck community and the surrounding area as Bienen coached in both Van Vleck and Bay City during his career and also included a stint in Oklahoma as well. 

O’Brien and Van Vleck issued the following statement after the announcement was made to cancel Friday’s game with Boling.

“Friday was definitely very traumatic for us all,” O’Brien said. “It is always tough when you lose a colleague and a friend and it is even more traumatic when it is unexpected.”

O’Brien said Bienen was working out in the weight room with a fellow coach when he collapsed. The district’s crisis team was put into action to perform CPR on Bienen.

“I was overly impressed and thankful for our crisis team that performed CPR on Paul and at least gave him a fighting chance,” O’Brien said. 

O’Brien said counseling is being offered to both staff and students at the high school.

On Sunday evening, the Van Vleck football team, coaches and parents gathered for a private tribute to Bienen at Van Vleck High School after a parent, whom is also a preacher, offered to lead a service for the coach. 

“This allowed for a lot of counseling for the kids,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said a number of the kids from the team had thought of quitting football after Bienen’s passing but after counseling are back on the practice field working for the program.

“It has been very healthy to meet with everyone as we learned this lesson in life that we are learning together,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said Van Vleck returned to the practice field Monday and will go ahead with plans of playing this Saturday when the Leopards travel to take on Houston Wheatley.

O’Brien said there was no doubt that the team would return to action this week.

“The quickest way to help people heal is to get back to normal as soon as possible,” O’Brien said. “We are all hurting and that’s important because it lets us know we have feelings.”

O’Brien praised the work Bienen did at Van Vleck as he worked as the defensive coordinator for the Van Vleck football team and coached track and powerlifting as well.

“Paul was a true leader of young men and women,” O’Brien said. “The lessons he taught us we had to live by through this and that is adversity only makes you stronger.”

Across the area, former players that were coached by Bienen are expressing sorrow at his passing. 

Mike OGuin posted on his Twitter feed, “Just got a call that one of my high school DL coach’s Coach Bienen has just passed away. This hits home, coach was a great coach and even better person. This one really hurts. Prayers go out to Coach Bienen’s family and the Van Vleck community.”

Savanna Kelly on her Twitter feed posted, “Praying for the Van Vleck community. Coach Bienen, you made such an impact on every athlete’s life and I will forever be grateful to have been coached by you. Rest easy.”

A Celebration of Life ceremony will be held at Van Vleck football stadium Saturday, Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m.

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