Charleroi's Vanderveen fills need with special fitness center
Fred Aland Vanderveen knows all about inspiration.
"We've been here for 17 years and I can't begin to put into words what an impact our students have had on the lives of so many people," Vanderveen, a 1970 graduate of Charleroi High School, said. "They are inspiring in ways that defy description."
"Here" is Fruitland, Md., a quiet community of 3,700 located 113 miles southeast of Baltimore. It is the home of Vanderveen's Youth Exercise Services, (YES) a fitness and training facility dedicated to general- and sports-specific conditioning protocols for developmentally disabled individuals and athletes of all ages, gender and ability.
Vanderveen, the son of Fred A. and Eloise Johnston Vanderveen, now deceased and formerly of Fallowfield Township, has owned and operated the facility for 17 years.
The former high school wrestling champion and football star said the concept for his center evolved from a tour of the Moscow Sports School in Russia.
"There, children with special abilities are instructed in specific programs ranging from Olympic competitions to those developing in the arts and sciences," Vanderveen, 59, said. "But there were no special needs children involved in the programs."
Upon returning to the United States, Vanderveen envisioned a center dedicated to youth of all ability levels. He began working with Maryland Special Olympics as a conditioning consultant and then as state director of powerlifting.
Those experiences brought Byron Taylor into Vanderveen's life.
"Byron was a young man with Down Syndrome who became a powerlifter," Vanderveen said. "More importantly, he became my friend and mentor and is the reason I started YES.
"He asked me if I would teach him to lift. I saw no reason why he could not learn. We worked on conditioning after school until he graduated and then we had to find an after-work facility. Some places turned us away and others said yes with the stipulation that we could only come in after peak (business) hours. They said my athletes were 'a little different' and might upset the normal members.
"Being a strong-willed Dutchman and having been raised by parents who taught me to do the right thing, I cashed in my savings and retirement fund, mortgaged my house and started YES. I figured if it were mine, no one could ever dictate when our athletes could condition."
With the help of several friends and his father, who had owned and operated Fred Vanderveen Roofing and Heating for many years, Vanderveen opened the training facility about three years after he purchased and renovated a 9,800 square foot building that previously housed a shirt-making factory.
"I believe we are placed on this earth to do something, it is our destiny and passion," Vanderveen said.
"I am very lucky that Byron Taylor entered my life and showed me my passion at a time in my life that I was open to it, embraced it and ran with it. We are still running because there are thousands of individuals in this world who need a hand, a friend and a mentor.
"Byron passed away two years ago. He was only 25. YES is a memorial to him and others like him who taught me to do the right thing."
Long before Vanderveen, a biology and physics teacher at nearby Snow Hill High School for 35 years, settled in Maryland others also influenced his life.
"My mother was a registered nurse who worked until I was born," Vanderveen said. "Because I was asthmatic, she stopped working to stay home and raise me. After I went to college, she became a school nurse at Charleroi Area High School and worked there for several years."
Eloise Vanderveen's guidance also led Vanderveen toward a career in teaching. His older sister, Carol Vanderveen Silvierias also is a teacher.
"Carol is a bilingual special education teacher, a great one -- in the Salinas School District in California," Vanderveen said. "She and her husband, Jeff, live in Pacific Grove. Carol works with children who others have labeled learning disabled but they all learn. My mother was a role model for both of us."
Vanderveen also recalled James R. "Rab" Currie, Robert "Moose" Hodgson and Lee Hall as teachers and coaches who influenced his decision to pursue a career in education.
Vanderveen enjoyed an abundance of achievements as a wrestler.
As a senior competing in the heavyweight division in 1969-70, he won a WPIAL section championship, competed in the U.S. Wrestling Federation tournament at Trees Hall on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, and won a Powerade Tournament title in the prestigious event held then at California State College. Forty years passed before another Charleroi wrestler would win a Powerade crown. Freshman Cody Wiercioch ended that drought in December when he posted a 2-1 victory over top-seeded Pierce Harger of Moeller High in the 152-pound finals.
Vanderveen wrestled for Charleroi in an era (1967-70) that also produced Powerade champions Bill Dudas (1967 and '68), Barry Reinhardt and Mike Rudinsky, both in 1968. Among the other top Cougar wrestlers in that stretch were Sam Baird, Ron Swanson and Ron Jahnigan. Vanderveen and Baird each posted 20 successive victories, a mark that stood until February 7, 1981 when Jim Edwards ran his streak to 21 with a 7-2 decision over Rich Hinkle of Elizabeth Forward.
As a 6-1, 215-pound tackle, Vanderveen also made his mark in football. He was nominated for the Big 33 All-State team and was named to the Big 10 Conference all-star team with teammates Reinhardt, Brian Carlock, Robert Romito, Tom Sukel and Philip Hughes.
Vanderveen, who also competed in track and field at Charleroi High, continued his education and athletic endeavors at Clarion State College (now Clarion University of Pennsylvania).
Vanderveen took his degree from Clarion and accepted a teaching-coaching position at Snow Hill High School. Snow Hill, the second smallest school in Maryland with only 24 athletes on the team at the time, won two state championships during Vanderveen's tenure as a coach. That avocation ended on a sad note in 1993.
"Moe Barber, an East Stroudsburg State graduate, was our head coach and another of my mentors," Vanderveen recalled. "When he was in the zone you couldn't beat him unless you had far superior talent. Moe suffered a life-ending stroke on the sidelines during our game against Easton. He died in my arms and that took a toll on me. He was the man who kept me focused and controlled and I just couldn't continue (coaching) without him. The administration felt I should resign, so I did and started YES."
In addition to his work with the students at Youth Exercise Service, Vanderveen treasures his role as a teacher.
"It's a great experience," he said. "I teach 100 children in school every day five days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., then another 30 (at YES) from 4 to 8 p.m.," he said. "With 35 years in the classroom and 17 at YES, that's a lot of children over the years.
"The fun part is teaching the children of children you have already worked with. It's a hoot, but it does mean you are getting to be old. These children are all part of my extended family."