What began as an “excuse for spending time with friends” developed into a hobby that opened up doors for Diamond Bar High School social studies teacher Bill Zylstra well after his high school days. As a former athlete and coach, Zylstra was heavily influenced by athletics throughout his life and career.
Zylstra became involved with football during his freshman year at Gahr High School located in Cerritos, after his friends urged him to join. He played as an offensive lineman and made the varsity team in his sophomore year; Zylstra was also teammate to DBHS Grade Level Coordinator Jack Galeener.
“It was mostly an excuse for me to run headfirst into a bunch of guys and someone told me ‘hey, you’re kind of good at that,’ so I decided to continue it,” he joked. “But in all seriousness, my high school coach was very influential to me. I used to mess around and get in trouble a lot, but he helped me straighten out and focus.”
After graduating from GHS in 1971, Zylstra enrolled in Cerritos Junior College, where he completed general education courses for a year and a half, with the intent of transferring. He continued to play football there for the school’s varsity team as well. However, this changed when he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War.
“I was accepting my duty, but I got lucky [because] the draft ended as soon as I was drafted so I didn’t have to go out into battle,” he explained.
Although he did not have to participate in the army, Zylstra now faced a new struggle; many colleges were apprehensive about accepting him because he had been drafted. Zylstra’s athletic passion, however, proved to be fruitful yet again when he received not only an acceptance, but also a full athletic scholarship to CSU Fullerton as well as other schools. He chose CSUF in order to remain close to the local area.
There, he picked up where he left off—as offensive lineman, earning himself many college degrees in the process.
“I suffered a lot of injuries that affect me today, but I didn’t let them become major hindrances then. I just played through it, and it made me a stronger player,” Zylstra said.
He continued to pursue education after his years at CSUF by attending Chapman University and Azusa Pacific University, where he took a hiatus from sports.He then reunited with athletics by coaching a variety of sports in high schools throughout southern California, including DBHS, for 37 years, while also teaching a number of subjects. He taught science previously and currently teaches social studies at DBHS.
“The thing about coaching is as a former athlete, you know exactly what it’s like and you’re able to give players some valuable advice. It’s wonderful to watch students grow off of that advice into great athletes,” he said.
In his more recent years, he has retained his passion for athletics by taking up golf with his friends, which he plays recreationally at Lakewood Men’s Golf club every weekend.
“Golf is very different from football because it’s not as aggressive of a sport, but I just enjoy getting out and active and competitive.”