Fathers play: Father-son coaching duo inspires on, off court

The father/son combo of Jerry, left, and Matt Bultinck have been coaching varsity boys’ basketball at St. Lawrence Elementary School in Utica for the past five years together.

Michelle Samartino | Special to The Michigan Catholic

Jerry, Matt Bultinck cherish time spent together teaching, learning at St. Lawrence

Utica — During the winter months, Matt Bultinck is usually found coaching on the basketball court at St. Lawrence Elementary School with his father – and fellow coach – right by his side.

The father/son combo has been coaching the seventh- and eighth-grade boys’ basketball team at St. Lawrence for the past five years.

Although Bultinck had coached the varsity team a few years without his father before that, the timing was right for a family reunion: “I just asked him one day if he wanted to get back into coaching,” said Bultinck, who also attended St. Lawrence. “He hesitated, and I had to ask him a few more times until he realized he would be good at this and could easily jump back into coaching.”

Jerry Bultinck, 75, has no regrets about it, either, saying he knew he was in good hands with his son: “He is a wonderful example for his players and fellow coaches and a better basketball coach than I ever was,” Jerry said.

Their love of sports goes back to Matt Bultinck’s childhood. One of his fondest memories is playing with a ball and bat in his backyard with his father, and of the days Jerry coached him and his three siblings in various sports.

Jerry has been a great influence on Matt and others under his tutelage.

“I can’t recall many times my dad missed a game or an event,” said Matt Bultinck, 35. Their family vacations included trips to ball games, the soccer field or tournaments.

“When I was old enough to play at St. Lawrence, he stepped away and let others teach me the game and learn from them,” Matt recalled.

Jerry Bultinck began his coaching career decades ago when he was approached by a fellow teacher at St. Joan of Arc Elementary School in St. Clair Shores. Having played sports as a child, he wanted to pass on that positive experience to younger generations.

“You learn to be a part of a group … getting along with others and working together with others for goals,” said Jerry Bultinck, who will celebrate his 43rd wedding anniversary this month with his wife, Denise.

He says one of the most beautiful experiences of his life is being able to coach with his son: “God has been so good to me to let me have this time with him. I have really grown to appreciate what a great person he has become.”

Then and now, faith continues to play a central role in the Bultinck family, as well as to the boys they coach.

“We pray before games,” Matt Bultinck said. “I have taken the approach with the time and influence I have to teach the boys lessons on life, such as making the right decisions, punishment for bad behavior, and what they need to understand about life outside of basketball and how basketball is a luxury, but that it can teach them about the tools they will need to succeed in the next steps of life.”

Will Weingartz, who played for the Bultincks at St. Lawrence, says, “They taught us much more than basketball. They would tell us how academics are a big part of your life and to do well in school.

“They taught us how to be respectful on and off the court,” adds Weingartz, who will be a freshman at Austin Catholic High School in Chesterfield this fall.

Fellow teammate, Brock Barbieri, agrees. “When I think back to our games and when we would be sitting on the bench, Coach Jerry always had something funny to say,” he said.

“He was always willing to help me improve as a player, especially my shot,” adds Barbieri, who will be a freshman at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights. “I liked that a father/son coached together because they always communicated and worked together to coach us.”

Matt Bultinck and his wife, Megan, use what he learned from his parents to raise their children, Emma, 3, and Jack, 1.

“Having children of my own has truly made me look back at what he did for me,” Matt Bultinck said. “My father taught me how important it was to be a dad and be a part of your children’s life, to do your best to make them the priority in your life.”

In a few months, Matt and Jerry Bultinck will be donning their St. Lawrence shirts and heading to the basketball court for another season. They look forward to it.

“I hope he lets me help him for another six to eight years,” said Jerry Bultinck. “It keeps me young and active to be around these wonderful young people and to be able to help them grow as Christians.”