Walking through the halls of East Grand Rapids Middle School with Peter Stuursma is an inspiring event.
The principal knows each name and gives the students the encouragement they need to get through the day. He walks through the halls with the occasional, “Two thumbs up,” to the kids as they pass.
He led our conversation with the quote “It’s not what keeps you up at night, but what gets you up in the morning.”
For Stuursma, it’s the children at his job that gets him up in the morning.
“I’m pretty lucky,” he said of his job, “it’s sounds cheesy, but I don’t care.”
He walks the halls like a football coach you see on HBO’s Hard Knocks, which makes sense, since he’s a successful high school coach who has won seven state championships at East Grand Rapids High School.
The future of this world is at his heart; he wants to help mold the young generations to be the best they can be.
“I don’t weep for the future,” he said. “The energy and enthusiasm for kids is inspiring. When a kid comes back and is doing great things, that energy fuels me.”
He knows the struggles middle school kids go through. The teasing, the odd worries they hold in their minds.
A few days ago, a kid didn’t have any money in his lunch account; tears streaming down his face. Stuursma came to the rescue and bought him lunch.
“His mom just forgot to put a check in his account,” he said. “For a kid that’s terrifying, the other kids might think you’re poor.
“It’s amazing what a smile, a ‘hello’, a wink, a slap on the back can do for a kid. It can mean the world to them if they’re having a bad day.”
The role of Stuursma, as he sees it, is to help create standup citizens. When he sees a former player, such as Luke Glendening, come back and play for the Grand Rapids Griffins, it’s a nice moment.
But it’s better to see the type of person Glendening, and other former students and athletes they’ve become.
But the only way Stuursma can ensure that happens is if they see him as a great husband and father. That’s his number one priority.
“If they see that, I’ve done my job,” he said.
But his relationship goes much deeper than that with a lot of former players, many of which he still stays in contact with and maintains a friendship with.
“I tell them, whatever they do, I’ll be there for them, it’s unconditional,” Stuursma said. “If someone calls and says ‘I need you,’ I’m there.”
He said though he’s had opportunities, he doesn’t see a need to move on to a bigger stage than East Grand Rapids football.
“It’s just not something I have to do to be fulfilled,” he said, as he spurts another quote, “Make it big time where you’re at.”
A few side notes from my conversation with Stuursma
He’s such a genuinely nice guy, it’s hard to capture in a short blog post. But the way he interacts and remembers names is truly something special.
A nice piece of advice he spewed, “Marry your best friend.” Despite working basically two full time jobs between principal and football coach, he and his wife still watch the Thursday night college football game together.
But the two biggest takeaways are that, not just for kids, but a smile and a hello can go a long way for a lot of people. And that no matter where you are, you can do big things with what you do.