Since I retired from coaching last spring, I have completed a bucket list of mine by writing a book. I printed the book locally at Rush Printing and used my limited amount of marketing experience to try and sell the book.
I loved writing the book and it didn't matter to me about the book's success. It scratched an itch I had felt for a long time. The book was called When the Nets came down for Brenda. It tells the story of one of my players 30 years ago that inspired a team despite being handicapped by cancer.
Much to my wife's displeasure, the itch to write didn't go away. I spent quite a while researching for a second attempt at the literary world. The second book is called 27 – Two Tales of Perfection. It should come out in June or July.
The research I did uncovered a story of a coach that made a huge sacrifice for what he loved most, coaching. It's too good of story to hold back until the book becomes public. I want to introduce you to Bob Ihrig, the coach of the 1958 Clatonia boys' basketball team.
Bob came to the little town of Clatonia for the 1957 – 1958 school year. He had only lost five games in two years at Otoe, another tiny town near Nebraska City. When Bob moved his family of six to Clatonia, he knew the high school was loaded with athletic talent.
In 1957, the Clatonia school board voted to add football as a sport. Ihrig took the challenge and created a team that finished 6 – 3, even though they had never played the sport before 1957.
Ihrig was tough, very tough. I heard stories of how he would make his players run a mile out of town on a gravel road and then back. He would follow the players in his car, a Plymouth, honking and calling them yellow-bellies.
When the teams put on the pads, Ihrig practiced what he preached. He would be the scouting team quarterback or running back. He was so tough, he never wore a helmet or shoulder pads. His only protection was pads in his football pants.
The players hated to tackle the coach. He had his knees pumping high as all good running backs will do and he was afraid of nothing. One time junior linebacker, Tom Heller, hit the coach high and gave him a bloody nose. It cost the team a couple miles of running with the Plymouth nipping at their flanks.
Football was a surprising success, but basketball was the main reason Ihrig changed schools. He suited 10 players on his varsity team. Two freshmen who didn't make the varsity roster, Paul Heller and Terry Koch, went on to play college basketball. That's how stacked the Clatonia team was with talent.
His discipline didn't back off on the basketball court. He would scrimmage with his players. During one scrimmage, he broke Bob Gerdes's nose. Bob wanted to quit, but his father convinced him to apologize to the coach. Bob followed his dad's advice. In turn, Ihrig apologized for his part in the broken nose. Gerdes earned new respect from his tough-as-nails coach.
The basketball team went 27 – 0, won the Class D state championship and was very seldom challenged.
They outscored their opponents by over 30 points for the season. It had been a great sports year for Clatonia and their new coach. It would be the last time Ihrig would ever coach.
Bob Ihrig had been born with a severe heart defect at birth. He wasn't allowed to play sports of any kind. His sister, June Parker, told me was a great ping pong player and an usher at the local theater.
Being competitive at every phase of his life, he was on track to be the valedictorian of his class. Instead, he jumped on a bus for Omaha from his home in McCook, NE. He lied to the Navy recruiter and entered the service. It didn't last long as his heart problems showed up when he was stationed in Japan. He was sent home and discharged.
After completing high school and getting his degree in education from Kearney State College, Ihrig began his coaching journey that led him to Clatonia. Sometime after the state championship, Ihrig visited his doctor. The news wasn't good.
His daughter, Pam, and son, Bob, Jr., told me it was the only time they saw their dad cry. He was told to quit coaching or his life would soon end. He never told a single person in Clatonia of his health problems or why he quit coaching. Everyone had an opinion on his departure, but not a single one knew the real reason.
Ihrig and his family moved to Minnesota. His heart grew progressively worse. Six years after leaving Clatonia, Bob Ihrig died. His heart had finally given out. Maybe the heart broke when his coaching days ended.
By Gene Steinmeyer Guest Columnist
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Gene Steinmeyer Guest Columnist
Updated Feb. 14, 2013 @ 10:28 pm
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