Student-Athletes: They’re All Around Us

The athletes who grab the headlines, unfortunately, are often the ones whose behavior on and off the field is less than admirable. You know who they are, and you know the college and professional teams that tolerate them.

I’ve long maintained that the bad actors in college sports are a very small minority who get a disproportionate share of the attention. Over the years, I’ve met and written about hundreds of admirable, talented, well-rounded people whose stories should be told again. Their excellence in sport is just the beginning.

Bob Dirks, Boston College ’09, is one such student-athlete. The story below is my profile of Bob for her induction to the BC Hall of Fame on October 17, 2014.

Bob Dirks, BC Field Hockey Star from Malden, the Netherlands

Bob Dirks, BC Field Hockey Star from Malden, the Netherlands

Bob Dirks ‘09
Field Hockey

By Tom Burke

Final examinations had not yet concluded for the graduating students of Stedelijk Gymnasium in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, when the thick binder arrived at the home of Bob Dirks. A field hockey prodigy, perennial East Holland All-Star and member of the national champion squad, she had accepted a scholarship to play at Boston College under new coach Ainslee Lamb.

Bob, the youngest of four children in the athletic Dirks family, opened her mail that day and immediately thought she’d made a huge mistake.

“Here I was, 18 years old, about to move to another country, where I don’t speak the language, and I get this workout package. Ten weeks. Weight lifting, running seven miles, running 45 minutes straight. I threw it into the corner of my room. ‘There’s no way I can do this.’”

The day she finished finals, Bob telephoned the BC coach and told her “I don’t think I can run even one mile. If these are the prerequisites, I’m sure that I can’t go there.”

“Just do what you always do in the summer to get fit,” Lamb assured her frazzled prize recruit. “We’ll see what you can do when you get here.”

Reassured by her long-time youth coach Frank Stofneel, who’d spent a year in America, Bob went off to the store with her mother and bought a pair of running shoes. As it turned out, there would be plenty that Bob could do, and did, during freshman year at Boston College.

It was the Eagles’ first year in the ACC. Bob scored 11 goals and five assists for 27 points and earned Regional All-America honors. Her first goal came in a 3-2 win over Kent State. Bob had been ready to enroll there until the Kent State coach, Kerry DeVries, told her “You are my number one recruit and as I coach I want you here. But as a mother of three children, I know what is best for you, and it is Boston College.”

But the transition was not easy. Phone calls home to parents Mariette and Noud were frequent. Weight lifting and endless rounds of physical conditioning were completely new. So was the sporting culture.

“The sports mentality is something that is unknown in Europe. If you look at the American World Cup team, they may not be the most skilled, but they never give up. They’re always supporting each other. In the Netherlands, I played on skill. In America there is much more emphasis on fitness. By the end of four years, I’d had no idea that I could ever have run so much,” said Bob.

“The first word that comes to mind when I think about Bob is ‘dominant,’” said Lamb. “She came here at a very transitional time. She was an impact player right away and she helped elevate our program to be able to compete with the best in the country.

Bob's speed, skill, and adept use of the backhand kept the defenders off balance

Bob’s speed, skill, and adept use of the backhand kept the defenders off balance

“For Bob, the demands were higher physically. It was an aggressive game with more contact. Her strength on the ball had to improve a little bit. But she never lost the foundation she had with her Dutch hockey and was always willing to learn.”

Bob was an accomplished scorer when she arrived in college. Her possession skills and defensive game quickly blossomed. She was masterful and difficult to defend against with her passing, shooting, and flicking the ball from the reverse side of her stick. Classmate Christine Almendrales said,

“Bob was very good at deception, drawing the defender out and then being able to pass. She hung onto the ball a little longer than most players. She could retain the ball and score. With her dribbling skills she could change direction and not get tackled by the defender’s stick.”

Lamb also said that, as the center forward, Dirks would determine the team’s press, or defensive tactics. Her moves, as she pursued the ball when the opponent was in control, dictated the defensive responses by the rest of the BC team.

Things only got better for Bob after freshman year. For the next three seasons she was named a First Team All-American. Her 62 goals and 150 career points are tops on the Eagles’ all-time list, and she is fourth in career assists with 26. She was a superb student in the Carroll School of Management, posting a 3.385 GPA in her double major of finance and management leadership. She won Eagle of the Year as a senior, and earned an ACC postgraduate scholarship.

There was one other thing that Bob brought to America from home: her devotion to community service. By age 12, she was instructing younger kids in field hockey. At age 17 she began coaching physically disabled children. During recruiting talks with Coach Lamb, she learned that a small group of athletes were involved in community outreach through the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

Bob, Almendrales, and Lauren Gilooly of the sailing team all pitched into expand SAAC, initiating or building up programs that included visits to Franciscan Children’s Hospital, the Pen Pal Picnic, and service trips to New Orleans and Vietnam. Bob was SAAC vice president as a senior.

Bob’s preferred volunteer activity was Moe Maloney’s HEAR program, in which student-athletes visit local elementary schools and tell life lessons. As a foreigner, and bearing an American boy’s name, Bob was a star of those visits. She liked to tell kids what it was to be different. Her favorite stop was the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Allston.

Bob returned to the Netherlands after graduation and earned a master’s degree in business, then took a year off for foreign travel. After two years of management consulting, she came to work full time at Akzo Nobel, a global paint and chemical company with some 50,000 employees in more than 80 countries. Bob is Akzo Nobel’s Project and Change Manager. Her current assignment is the reorganization of the information technology department, making it work more efficiently and effectively throughout the world. She still plays field hockey, three times a week.

One Response to “Student-Athletes: They’re All Around Us”

  1. Patrick J. Daly (@pjdaly7) Says:

    Good job as usual, Tom. Interesting background story about a young woman from the Netherlands who went on to be a 3 time All American at BC as well as an accomplished student. Her Dutch roots caught my eye since my wife and I will be traveling to The Hague in a few weeks to visit our son and daughter in law who recently moved there from Washington, DC. Always enjoy reading the bios you prepare. Am anxious to read about the other new inductees to the BC Varsity Club Hall of Fame.

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