Shared intensity emanates differently for Van Overschelde father-son duo

Mitchell High School football coach Kent Van Overschelde and his son Joe pose for a photo inside the MHS weight room. (Matt Gade / Republic)

When Mitchell High School football coach Kent Van Overschelde flips on game film each week, his eyes gravitate toward No. 44 and it instantly takes him back to 1987.

That was when Van Overschelde was a bruising fullback and linebacker for the Kernels, leading the team in tackles as a senior. Fast forward 33 years, and his son Joe is wearing his old number and playing his old positions.

The similarities are undeniable, from appearance, movement and instincts. Those that watched either play know that No. 44 was never going to be far from the ball carrier. Father and son also exude intensity, but how it is manifested is also their most evident difference.


Kent paces the sidelines with a stoicism, rarely raising his voice in anger and picking his moments to voice displeasure with a referee or player with precision.

Joe, meanwhile, has been described by teammates as the loudest person in the room, unafraid to show an entire stadium the emotions pumping through his body during the course of a game.

The intensity may emanate differently, but it comes from the same place -- a passion for football and the need to perform a task with complete dedication, a learned characteristic that Kent took from his father and ensured it was passed on to Joe.

“Joe has his own personality,” Kent said. “I think some of those traits you see were in a younger version of myself. I’ve been taught many lessons over the years and I’ve adjusted some of the things I’ve done. But that energy and excitement are things that in my youth, were probably a little more obvious.”

Kent was born to Donna and Leo Van Overschelde and raised on the north side of Mitchell. Like Joe, Kent had shared many of his father's physical traits. Except when he was born, the only person he didn't look like was Kent.

At birth, an aunt walked into the room and asked Donna what she decided to name her newborn son. When given the answer, the aunt responded, “Well, he doesn’t look like a Kent, he looks more like a George.” The nickname stuck through high school.

As a child Kent immersed himself in athletics and any sport he played became his main passion. Football, wrestling and baseball were the sports that he eventually chose to pursue in high school and they served as his main focus.

Leo -- who worked for the city of Mitchell, spent 24 years in the South Dakota National Guard and died in 2007 -- loved ham radios, a taste not passed down to his son, but Kent did acquire a similar quiet demeanor and desire to put forth maximum effort in any project.


“We were taught about discipline, but my dad was a very kind person,” Kent said. “He imparted on us the full concept of attitude, being positive and he loved to kill people with kindness. My parents gave us a work ethic. Everything that we needed to be successful was within our control and our attitude in what we do and how we do it.”

When Kent and his wife Kelsey had children -- Joe, Lauren, Stratton and Matthew -- they established few expectations when it came to choosing which sports to pursue or on-field success, but excuses for lackluster dedication were not an option. Joe never balked at the ideology, however, as he embraces the effort needed for adequate preparation and effort.

He spends a significant amount of time watching film in his room at home and now-retired Mitchell teacher John Solberg -- who was Kent’s backfield coach in high school and later shared classrooms side-by-side -- recalls Joe frequently pulling out his iPad to watch game film during study halls.

Mitchell High School head coach Kent Van Overschelde hugs his son Joe following the Kernels game against Huron on Thursday night at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The philosophy is entrenched within the family that there was no need to discuss any concerns that come with a father coaching his son when Joe became a starting linebacker for Mitchell in 2019.

“There’s a desire to win,” Joe said. “When you put a lot of work into something, you want to see the outcome come out your way, so I just like to bring the energy as much as I can.”

Balancing football and family

Kent led the Kernels with 101 tackles as a senior in 1987, but he knew his future was going to be as a teacher and a coach. After obtaining his degree from South Dakota State University, he took a job as a coach for Sioux Valley-Round Lake-Brewster in Minnesota, where he met a junior high school volleyball, basketball and softball coach, Kelsey Puck.


His sure-mindedness and passion attracted Kelsey and the two eventually got married. Early in his coaching career, losses gnawed at Kent for days, but they made a decision to not bring sports home.

Despite Joe’s participation in all of Kent’s old sports and the fact that he plays for his dad in football and baseball, there is no at-home coaching or talking strategy at the dinner table. During Joe’s wrestling meets, the Van Overscheldes can be seen sitting in the top row of the bleachers, but they will rarely be heard.

“More football used to come home, but we had to find a healthy balance,” Kelsey said. “Football is at football. When we’re home, it’s more about family, schoolwork and those types of things, so we weren’t consumed with football. We do a lot of football stuff, but there is a healthy balance for Joe’s younger siblings.”

Keeping sports away from casual conversation allows Kent and Joe to discuss other hobbies such as hunting and fishing, but it also limits arguments, particularly for a duo that spends more time together than the average father and son due to sports schedules.

“It’s something I’ve gotten used to,” Joe said. “I like having him around. Some days are better than others, but having him there is pretty important.”

Developing a deep passion

Kent's passion for sports developed through his siblings and neighborhood friends and it has evolved into a passion for sharing his experiences and knowledge with current Mitchell athletes, while using his program to help the community when applicable.

Joe’s desire to excel, however, is rooted in a lifetime spent with the Kernels, including a trip West River for an American Legion baseball game at 3 months old.

He was 4 years old when Kent took over as the Mitchell head coach 14 years ago and spent hours around the team as a ball boy. Joe fondly recalls getting out of school early to ride on the bus to road games and even had his own locker and miniature Kernel football uniform.


“I wanted to be around my dad,” Joe said. “The realization that your dad is the head coach doesn’t hit you in Kindergarten or first grade.”

As a young child, Joe could hardly wait for the day when he could don a real Mitchell jersey, and now that he has already massed more than 200 tackles in less than two full seasons, there is a strong desire to achieve success for his father. Joe is not seeking success for approval, however. He wants to express gratitude to the man who instilled his work ethic.

“He wants to give back to his dad,” Kelsey said. “He thinks about all of the sacrifices they have gone through. I think it would really please Joe to have a really good football career for his dad with a winning team.”

Instilling individuality

While Kent and Joe differ in emotional expression, both have personalities that attract peers. Joe has emerged as Mitchell’s vocal leader this season, but Kent chose action and hard work as a leadership tool during his playing days.

The results have been the same, though, as Joe was voted a co-captain by his teammates this year despite being a junior. Kent was also a captain for the Kernels and classmates thought enough of him that he was crowned homecoming king as a senior.

“They’re both very personable and they’re both leaders,” Solberg said. “… Joe is very vocal and very sociable, maybe more so than Kent. But kids gravitate to Joe and they gravitate towards Kent, too.”

Joe does not appear ready to follow Kent into teaching and coaching, but decision-making for his post-high school days are not currently a high priority. While Kent knew what he wanted to pursue in adulthood, he and Joe both attempt peer into the future.


Mitchell High School head coach Kent Van Overschelde, front, stands next to his son Joe (44) and the rest of the Kernels for the national anthem prior to the start of a game against Brookings on Oct. 2. (Matt Gade / Republic)

During football season, Kent never looked ahead to wrestling season and nor did he look toward baseball during wrestling season, another trait Joe has inherited.

“Joe will tell you his favorite sport is whatever sport is in season,” Kelsey said. “He focuses on what he’s doing at the given time, his teammates and what he can do to help his team. He focuses on what he can do to compete at a high level. When football’s done, he’ll be geared up for wrestling and that will be his primary focus. He never gets too far ahead.”

Perhaps it is because they share so many commonalities or that Joe was sometimes referred to as “Little Kent” by community members during childhood, but Kent sees no need to reshape his son’s personality.

There are moments when he tells Joe to lower his volume or display more patience, but Kent views individuality as a crucial aspect as his son continues to develop into an adult.

“It’s always tough as a coach’s son to live up to the expectations,” Kent said. “My expectations of Joe are very high. But he’s taught me some things along the way. It’s not about me, it’s about his own experience. So, I’ve tried to let him be himself.”

What To Read Next
Get Local