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VanLeur voted best football coach in state in USA Today contest

EMERY — Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan football coach Jeff VanLeur’s chosen place of battle is on the football field, but recently, the 34-year head coach found himself in a brand new competition.

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Instead of fighting to beat rivals, VanLeur faced off against several of his South Dakota peers in the USA Today’s best football coach contest.

VanLeur won the competition, beating out Hanson’s Jim Haskamp, Aberdeen Roncalli’s Terry Dosch, Sioux Falls O’Gorman’s Steve Keuter, Groton Area’s Shaun Wanner, Sioux Falls Roosevelt’s Kim Nelson, Irene-Wakonda’s Brent Mutchelknaus and Yankton’s Arlin Likness.

“It is nice to have that kind of support out there,” VanLeur said. “It is a little overwhelming to see that many people vote for you, but it is an amazing honor.”

On Sept. 16, 408 high school football coaches from across the country were selected to participate in the contest. Fans of each coach were given the opportunity to vote for their favorite on the USA Today website from Sept. 30 to Oct. 8. VanLeur received 45,561 votes to win the title of best coach in South Dakota. Keuter finished second with 43,213.

“We have had great success here and the fans are very supportive and it showed in the voting,” VanLeur said. “You look at some of those guys on the list that are great coaches. It was just an honor to be considered with them.”

After claiming the moniker of best coach in the state, VanLeur is in the running for best coach in the region and possibly best coach in the nation.

The Seahawks head coach has won five 9AA state titles and has amassed a 218-105 record. In 1988, VanLeur took over as head coach of the Emery/Ethan football team. In 2010, Bridgewater joined the co-op after Bridgewater and Emery consolidated.

Now VanLeur finds himself competing against coaches in the Region 6 competition, which features coaches from Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and Idaho.

Voting for the regional matchup commenced Oct. 9, and ends Friday. The winning coach advances to the national round.

Haskamp received 2,537 votes and was humbled to be among the group of superior coaches.

“I can look at a whole lot of guys, who are probably more deserving than me, and it was just very humbling to be on the list,” he said.

The athletic department of the national winner will receive $2,000, while second through fifth place will receive $1,000, $500, $250 and $100.