Father-son duo share time on the court at Simpson


Ben (left) hugs his dad, Brad (right) on senior night. /submitted by Ben Bjorkgren.

by Gunnar Davis, Editor-in-Chief

It wasn’t rare for Simpson men’s basketball head coach Brad Bjorkgren to tell his team at practice how much they meant to him.

“I love you guys,” he would say.

Then he would pause.

“Well, I really like you guys,” he clarified. “But I actually love him.”

Bjorkgren would turn and point at his son, Ben, who played — and coached — with his dad for much of the past decade.

The two men would laugh when they told this story, but were very serious when talking about how much being with each other around the sport has meant to them.

Growing up, Ben and his dad shared a passion for basketball. Brad was the head basketball coach at Urbandale for close to 30 years, and Ben always wanted to be apart of his dad’s team. But Brad stayed out of his son’s early playing days.

When he got to high school, Ben had to work hard just to dress with the varsity team. After all, he played basketball with now-NFL wide receiver Allen Lazard, and seven of his teammates went on to play college basketball in Ben’s senior season alone.

“I was really proud of him because he worked extremely hard just to get on the team,” Brad said. “He fought like crazy. I was really proud of him on how hard he worked so he could get a uniform and so that he could suit up.”

After high school, Ben decided to continue his education at Des Moines Area Community College. Brad, a legendary high school coach, jumped at the opportunity to coach at his alma mater, and Simpson College offered him the position of head coach.

The two originally thought their time together in the gym was over. But after Brad accepted the Simpson job, he wanted Ben there too.

“He was actually hinting at it,” Ben said. “He’s like ‘hey you should come here, it’s a great school.’ But I had no idea he wanted me to work for him.”

It didn’t take much convincing for Ben to transfer to Simpson. However, getting him to be apart of his father’s program was easier said than done. His first full year on campus, Ben watched from the stands.

But Brad worked on his son. He wanted Ben to join the program as a student-manager.

“I can tell you exactly why,” Brad said. “I think college athletics is about making your best friends for life. Your teammates, whether you win or lose, they’re your best friends for life.”

Ben joined the team and assisted with running practices, getting game days set up and being there for the guys for the past three years. He and fellow senior student-manager Gable Johnson loved every minute of it.

“I learned so much more from the past three years being a student-coach than I ever did being a player for him,” Ben said.

“There’s so many things that he does that just blows my mind,” Ben said. “What I learned, if I ever do become a coach, I’ll just make sure that every single person is incorporated in the team and not leave one person out. That’s basically the main thing he taught me.”

Although Brad might not know how much Ben truly appreciated watching him work, he loved watching his son grow during his time at Simpson.

“He learned responsibility. He learned dependability,” Brad said. “He learned how to get things done from those three years. And I think seeing him mature from when he first started, I just really loved what he learned.”

The two have experienced many ups and downs together during the past three years. This season was no different. The Storm finished 14-13 and made it to the semifinals of the American Rivers Conference postseason tournament, before a loss to Nebraska Wesleyan ended the squad’s season — and Ben’s final season on the sidelines with his dad.

Ben knows he owes a lot to his father. But it maybe meant a bit more for Brad to have his son standing with him. Something that he admits he’ll miss next year.

“There was some times that we were struggling and we were not winning the games,” Brad said. “I probably wear my emotions on my sleeve a little bit and he knows that. He’d give me just a subtle little tap on the side, when he walked by me to say he’s got my back.”

“He knew that I needed it. He didn’t want to give me a big hug and give me a kiss on the cheek, you know? He gave me just a little subtle tap on the side, which meant the world to me that we were in it together.”