Coming together to remember

Lowell Ziemann’s candidacy for the Pride in the Tiger Foundation Hall of Honor was a slam dunk.

Not only is he the winningest coach in Marshall boys’ basketball history, with a 180-84 overall record during his 12 years at the helm of the Tigers, but he also took the Tigers to seven district championships and two state tournament berths in 1970 and 1974.

Ziemann’s 1970 squad played in the final one-class state tournament, falling in the semifinal to eventual state champion Sherburn. It took 43 years for a Marshall team to match the 1970 team, when the Tigers defeated Grand Rapids in the first game of the Class AAA state tournament, 69-52, on March 20.

On Saturday, Ziemann was inducted into the Hall of Honor, along with four other benefactors of Marshall public schools, but Ziemann was undoubtedly the star attraction.

All but two of the members of the 1970 team were in attendance for the banquet on Saturday, while several other spouses, colleagues and players showed up to pay tribute to the man they lovingly called “Zeke.”

“I was overwhelmed, it was just a great experience,” Ziemann said. “I had thought about, a number of times, coming back when they have a certain class reunion; 40th or 50th coming up, whatever it might be, but they don’t all come back to their high school class reunion. This was an opportunity that they saw, not only to be with their coach, but to be with each other. They were having a lot of fun, they were teasing each other, they were telling stories. It was just a grand time of reminiscing.”

The Hall of Honor was arguably an overdue award for Ziemann, whose teams won seven district championships during his tenure. But more than his ability to coach the game of basketball, Ziemann was rewarded for his ability to mold young men.

Of the numerous letters in support of Ziemann’s candidacy for the Hall of Honor a recurring message is how Ziemann was able to foster and promote the skills that his players would need to be successful off the court. His impact on their lives was evident as 14 members from the 1970 team journeyed thousands of miles to support their coach.

“We ended up with 16 guys on our 1970 state tournament team, or on the roster at least; 14 of them were up there this weekend,” said Drew Kindseth, the leading scorer on the 1970 team. “One of them had died. The other one was a sophomore, he is living in San Diego and did not make it. But 14 out of 16 isn’t bad.

“This is the first time our team had been back together in 43 years, since the state tournament,” Kindseth, who now resides in Dallas, added. “That was the last time.”

They played as a team, they won as a team and they reunited as a team.

Friday night, the 1970 team and Ziemann gathered at Marshall Golf Club for a reunion of sorts.

“On Friday they all had to tell their favorite coach story,” Ziemann said. “I told a number of people that they were 1/3 factual, 1/3 embellished and 1/3 was just bologna. But it was a lot of fun.”

Amid the stories, like Charlie Blomme turning down an uncontested layup against Slayton to help Kindseth set the school single game points record at 41, what really stood out to Ziemann was how, after so many years, his players were still willing to selflessly share with one another. In 1970 it was the ball or playing time that was shared, in 2013 it was memories and one-on-one time with coach.

“If you get together like we did after all those years, generally speaking you seek out your roommate or teammate and you sit with them,” Ziemann said. “These guys visited with everybody. Every little meeting that we had, there were no cliques. Whoever they sat by they started conversing and remembering the good times that we had. It was pretty obvious that they were a pretty cohesive group.”

The 1970 team is often overlooked. It was not the first state tournament team (1923), nor the last (2013). It did not win a state title (1963) nor take second (1942). What it did do, however, was survive the gauntlet of District 9 and help inspire the next group of athletes to carry on the tradition of basketball in Marshall.

“I remember it was a team that played a lot of really tough competition,” Ziemann said of the 1970 squad. “Our district that year was just outstanding. We won our two games in the region I believe by 25 points each game. I truly believe there were four teams in District 9 that would have gone to the state tournament. It was not an easy district to get through. Cottonwood was unbeaten. Tyler had a really good team, I think they maybe lost one or two. I think Canby lost only one during that season and that was us when we split with them. It was going to be a challenge and it was fortunate our team, with all those players, started to gel as we got to tournament time.”

For Kindseth the lasting memory of the 1970 team was more abstract than merely going to the state tournament.

“Winning the region championship and knowing that we were going to state, that was really the dream that I had, was just going to the state tournament,” he said. “It was something I saw as a little boy and something I wanted to do. It wasn’t necessarily winning the state championship, it was just going to the state tournament.

“We didn’t win the state championship, but I think we accomplished our dream,” Kindseth added. “We were so close as a team and it was just so cool to get back together again.”

In the end the members of the 1970 team returned to honor their coach not for the wins or losses, but rather to relive the communal dream which he helped them achieve.

“I hadn’t seen some of them since they’d graduated, some 40 years,” Ziemann said. “It was just great. They were such a close-knit group despite the fact that I played so many players. It was just fun seeing them, that’s about all I can say.”

Ziemann, now semi-retired, resides in Happy Jack, Ariz.