by Nick Delahanty, Felician College Public Relations Intern
RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A family legacy that has lasted more than a decade will end for the Felician College softball program in the coming days.
The four Van Dyke sisters of West Milford, N.J., have created a unique tradition at Felician: they have all played softball for the college, all been team captains, and all studied in the education program, having a common desire of becoming teachers.
The youngest of the quartet, Halei, is now a senior second-baseman for the Golden Falcons, who have three regular-season games remaining. A member of the Van Dyke family has been the second-base starter at Felician for the last 12 years. Halei is one of five players who will be honored on Senior Day festivities on Saturday.
The Van Dyke tradition at Felician began when Holly, the oldest sister, committed to attend the school. Holly didn't fall in love with Felician right away, but one distinct moment helped her make the final decision to attend.
"We went to an open house in the middle of the winter, and the school didn't look as wonderful as it does in the spring," said Shirley Van Dyke, the mother of the four women. "Holly wasn't sure if she liked the school, but once she walked in and heard (then-President) Sister Theresa Mary Martin speaking about her passion for her school and the students, she was overwhelmed. She was impressed with how you weren't just a number and that every student was important."
Getting on the field and playing at the collegiate level was important to Holly. She was recruited by Coach Kathy May Hill, who followed Holly's high school career at West Milford High.
Coach Hill's choice proved to be a wise one. Holly was a four-year starter at second base, and won numerous awards. Among them, she was named to the 2006 CACC All-Tournament team, and was a two-time CACC All-Academic selection.
In the middle of Holly's career, her sister, Heather, followed her to Felician. Just like her elder sibling, Heather wanted to be a teacher, and had a passion for the sport of softball.
Heather was the only member of the family not to play second base; she served as a four-year catcher for the Golden Falcons. Holly and Heather played two seasons together at Felician.
Looking at colleges was different for Heather, as her mother recalls.
"With Heather, we looked at a lot of different colleges in different locations, but she was told by a lot of people that she was very small and wasn't a college catcher," Shirley Van Dyke said. "Felician wanted her as a catcher, but she didn't decide to go there just because the coach wanted her; it was a decision based on everything, especially about the education program."
Heather was the first Van Dyke sister to reach the 100-hit plateau, and is Felician's all-time hits leader with 167. She joined Holly on the 2006 CACC All-Tournament team along with being named a three-time CACC All-Academic Selection and a 2008 NFCA Scholar Athlete.
Another second baseman with the last name Van Dyke kept the tradition alive, as Hope was the third sister of the family to commit to Felician.
"Hope wanted to be a teacher, and the deal was sealed when she saw Holly coming out of college and getting a job, seeing how comfortable she was in teaching and how the teaching program prepared her," said Shirley Van Dyke. "She didn't look at any other schools; she knew right away that she wanted to attend Felician."
Hope also reached the 100 hits plateau, as she finished her career with 108 total hits. She was a three-time CACC Academic All-Conference selection and a three-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Scholar-Athlete recipient from 2008-2010.
Halei, meanwhile, came close to breaking tradition by going to college for another sport.
"Halei is the super athlete of the girls," said Shirley Van Dyke. "She had the opportunity to play field hockey in college, but she wasn't ready to give up softball. Being able to see her three sisters play often, it definitely played into her thinking, as she had the 'wow' factor of the thought of four sisters playing softball at the same school."
Halei was the only sister that did not get the opportunity to play for Hill, but Felician's all-time winningest coach was still one of the main reasons why she wanted to play softball at the school.
"My favorite number is 22, but I wear nine at Felician," Halei Van Dyke said. "I chose nine in honor of Coach Hill, because when she played in summer ball a few years ago, she wore the number nine and was called 'Niner' by her teammates."
Although the book isn't officially closed on her softball career, Halei has been recognized for her hard work in her first three seasons at Felician. She recently picked up her 100th career hit in a Golden Falcon uniform, becoming the third member of her family to reach the milestone, and also has been recognized as a two-time CACC Academic All-Conference Selection and a two-time NFCA Scholar Athlete recipient.
Having recruited all four women to Felician College, Coach Hill wasn't surprised that they all chose to attend the same school.
"They have an amazing family connection," Hill said. "It truly is a rare thing to see. Their close family relationship is one that I'm sure many people in this world wish they had."
After their college careers ended, the older siblings have continued their successes in their work fields. Heather is a math teacher at Passaic Valley High School, and Holly and Hope are kindergarten teachers in West Milford. Holly has been nominated for Teacher of the Year for the 2013-2014 school year.
"Our parents (Shirley and father Harry) help us become so successful. They have instilled a lot of great values in all of us," said Halei, who also hopes to become a kindergarten teacher. "They are always supportive, and the values they taught us have really prepared us not only education-wise but also on the softball field, giving us the worth ethic needed to succeed."
The importance of family is also stressed to the women by their parents, who find it important to always support each other. Even with the busy schedules of everyone, the family still holds the tradition of meeting up and having family dinners, parties, and even vacations, making sure they continue to spend quality time together.
"I pray that I can raise my kids half the way those girls' parents raised them," said Coach Hill. "They are phenomenal parents and amazing people, and they drive their children to be such great individuals and teach them to be strong in so many ways of life."
As Halei is set to graduate in May, the Van Dyke family era at Felician College is about to come to an end. The sisters have a younger brother, also named Harry, but he has committed to play baseball at Richard Stockton College.
Meanwhile, Holly, Heather, Hope and Halei have made a lasting impact on Felician softball. Each has added her own personality and talent set to the college, both as students and athletes.
"It truly is priceless to go to their games and watch them play," said Shirley Van Dyke. "It definitely will be missed greatly in our family. We plan to show up to games here or there because it becomes part of you. This definitely has been a great run for the Van Dyke family. We are lucky to have been a part of such an amazing program for such a long time."