Mike Visscher, 66, and Dan Castillo, 51, both of Holland, have been friends since 1975, when Visscher signed up to be a “big brother” through the now-disbanded Higher Horizons P.A.L.S. program, facilitated through Hope College.
The program’s goal was to offer male role models to boys in single-parent families.
Visscher said the program coordinator handed him several photos of boys whose mothers had signed them up for the mentoring program.
“This guy had the biggest grin on his face, and I knew that was the guy,” he said.
Castillo’s parents were divorced, and his father lived in Texas.
The two met for the first time Aug. 4, 1975. Castillo was 9, about to turn 10 — and Visscher was 24, going on 25.
“I was telling him all the things we were going to do, and most of them were sports-related,” Visscher said. “He was just grinning.”
After they were matched up, the two met at least once a week for a couple of hours — but they hit it off quickly, and most weeks they would meet several times. Back then, they would go bowling, miniature golfing, walking for March of Dimes, and found other things to do around town or just hang out at Visscher’s house.
Mostly, though, they bonded over a love of sports, and they attended basketball and football games as often as they could.
“I think Mike really did affect me because Mike really got me into sports,” Castillo said. “I had no clue of sports when I was little. Next thing you know I’m playing rocket football, baseball, basketball ... and really that was a testament to Mike getting me interested.”
For Visscher, this was a relief: “I’m glad he liked sports, because after that, I didn’t know what to do with this kid,” he said with a chuckle.
“Sports was always a driving force for us to get together,” Castillo said. “It was nice to always see Mike in the stands because my mother didn’t really go to the games.”
And now, 42 years later, sports is still the glue that binds them. Though the mentoring program that brought them together is no longer in existence, their friendship remains strong.
The two men get together to watch every Hope College home basketball game they can — Castillo has season tickets.
“So all those years that I paid for things for him, he’s trying to make up for now,” Visscher said with a laugh. “I said, ‘You still haven’t caught up yet.’”
But it rarely ends with the game.
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