February 5, 2011
In 83 years, you can reach a lot of people. In 83 years, you can mean an awfully lot to so many people.Former Delphos St. John's basketball coach Bob Arnzen, who died on Wednesday, accomplished all that and much more in his 83 years.Telling the story of a long, well-lived life in a few words is impossible. Maybe the best you can do is present a snapshot in words of a moment frozen in time.So, here's my snapshot of Bob Arnzen. The one photo worth thousands of words.It was one of Delphos St. John's trips to the boys state basketball tournament after Arnzen had retired. It might have been 2001.As I recall, Bob hadn't been feeling well and had missed some or maybe all of the Blue Jays' games during their tournament run. But when they got to Columbus, he walked into the arena at court level about a half-hour before the tip-off of the state semifinals.Instantly, it was like the St. John's crowd had spotted wrapped presents with bows on them under a Christmas tree. It wasn't planned, but what happened next symbolized how many generations of people Arnzen had connected with in Delphos.First, one of the cheerleaders hugged him. Then a 40-something woman, maybe the cheerleader advisor, did, too. Finally, a third person of an even older generation greeted him warmly.It's like what I said when Sparky Anderson died. If everyone calls you a legend and everyone they talk to for the stories written about you says you were one of the nicest human beings they ever met, you can't do much better than that.Scott Brinkman, who writes for The Lima News as a part-timer, used to work with Arnzen when he did television commentary on high school basketball games after he retired from coaching in 1993. He joked that one of the toughest things about his television job was getting Bob out of the gym after the games because everybody there wanted to talk to him and Bob wanted to talk to everybody.Arnzen's teams won 676 games, a state title in 1983 and went to four other state tournaments in the 43 years he was St. John's boys basketball coach. Sometimes coaches who win big have detractors outside their hometown. He didn't. He had friends and admirers. One of the things he and I talked about a few times over the years was how the ever-increasing amount of contact in basketball made the game less entertaining than it was when it wasn't so physical.A couple years ago when Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe wrote a column saying the same thing, I e-mailed him and said I liked the column. But I also told him a much better endorsement of his opinion was that Ohio basketball legend Bob Arnzen agreed with him.There was a very good basketball player at Notre Dame also named Bob Arnzen in the late 1960s. So, when Ryan replied to my e-mail, he thought I was talking about that Bob Arnzen and told me to say hello to the former Fighting Irish star.I never e-mailed back to correct him. I didn't have to. Anyone who knew him always knew who the real Bob Arnzen was.