Head Coach Rick Van Pelt
Rick Van Pelt begins his ninth season at the helm of Messiah men’s basketball in 2011-2012, continuing to lead the program to new levels of success at the NCAA Division III level.
Hired as the Falcons’ head coach in March of 2003, Van Pelt wasted little time in putting his own stamp on the program, guiding the team to NCAA Tournament appearances in both 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 — the only NCAA post-season berths since Messiah men’s basketball joined the NCAA in 1984.
A 1991 Messiah graduate, Van Pelt has quickly resurrected the program for which he once starred, leading Messiah to conference post-season play in all but two of his seven seasons at the helm. Prior to Van Pelt’s arrival as head coach, the Falcons had suffered a 14-year drought to league post-season action — the squad’s last appearance coming in 1990-1991, Van Pelt’s senior season.
The bar has been raised with Van Pelt’s return, however, as the one-time scrappy guard has coached a Second Team All-American and 13 all-conference performers as the program leader, valuing toughness and maximum effort from all of his teams. Messiah won its first-ever Commonwealth Conference Championship in 2005-2006, and in 2006-2007 Van Pelt was named Commonwealth Co-Coach of the Year.
“What is the most important to us in our program is the building of strong relationships,” Van Pelt said. “We use the phrase ‘together for a short time, friends for a lifetime.’ Our goal is to be one of the premier small college basketball programs in the country. But our purpose is to have an impact on young men that will last well beyond the four years that they are here.”
Van Pelt has seemingly conceptualized both goal and purpose, as Messiah’s 20-6 overall win-loss record in 2005-2006 was the program’s first 20-win season since 1977-1978. In addition to success in the win column, the Falcons were also recognized by the Collegiate Basketball Officials Association (CBOA) that year, receiving the Sam Schoenfeld Sportsmanship Award.
Messiah again received that honor following the 2009-2010 campaign, an award “presented to the college or university, which in the judgment of the CBOA membership, best exemplifies the highest degree of sportsmanship, character, and ethics among their players, coaches and spectators.” It is the highest honor that the CBOA annually bestows on any collegiate institution.
“We want to pursue excellence, in all walks of life,” Van Pelt said. “God has blessed us with a passion for the gift of basketball. We always want to try to use those gifts to glorify Him.”
Messiah has taken those ideals far beyond campus, as the team traveled to the Dominican Republic during the summer of 2009, performing missions work while playing against club teams as well. During regular seasons, fan and alumni support have made extensive travel possible, as Messiah has played games in California, Florida, Virginia Beach, New York City and the Bahamas over the course of Van Pelt’s tenure. In 2010-2011, Messiah will play a pair of games in Phoenix.
“We work very hard to provide unique experiences through our program, and team travel is a big part of that,” Van Pelt said. “Our trip to the Dominican was incredible. It’s our goal to start making international trips every three years. To be able to integrate our faith through the sport of basketball ... that was the highlight of my time as a coach here.”
A four-year varsity letterman during his time in a Messiah uniform, Van Pelt helped the Falcons to a 15-10 record as a senior, leading the team to a MAC Northwest Championship. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education, Van Pelt spent two years as a part-time assistant under his former coach, Sam Harris.
From 1994-1998, Van Pelt shifted his coaching focus to the high school ranks, taking over the boys’ program at Big Spring High School. He led the Bulldogs to a pair of District 3 Playoff appearances after a nine-year absence, capturing both the 1995 and 1996 Mid-Penn Division III Championships as well.
In 1999, Van Pelt returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach under Dave Manzer, a position he held until taking over the program in 2003.
Van Pelt obtained a master’s degree in health education from Penn State University in 1996. In addition to leading the Messiah’s men’s basketball program, he also serves as an instructor in the Health and Human Performance Department.
Van Pelt is married to his wife of 18 years, Marie. The couple has three daughters: Hannah, Rachel and Sarah. The family resides in Mechanicsburg.