Last weekend, Delphos St. John’s High School celebrated a remarkable 100 years of basketball. The love affair between basketball and the good people of Delphos began in 1918 and shows no sign of letting up any time soon. The more than 1,500 wins that Blue Jays teams have racked up in the last century is a testament to the passion and pride the community has invested in its basketball program.
My own basketball journey as a spectator, player and coach includes numerous Delphos St. John’s memories. It’s nearly impossible to write a history of either DSJ or Lima Central Catholic basketball and not include stories of the spirited rivalry between the two schools.
One of my earliest memories is standing in a line with my family outside the old Lima Senior High gymnasium on a Sunday morning waiting for the doors to open so we could get a good seat to watch the Blue Jays and T-Birds battle. The line wound its way down the street to the parking lot behind the school and formed even before the opposing team arrived.
I also recall the DSJ team bus unloading players and their coach, Bob Arnzen. As they mounted the steps to the gym, the line parted to let them through and grew quiet as Arnzen passed, a gesture I took as a sign of respect. Bob Arnzen’s impact on basketball spread beyond the border of Delphos. He modeled professionalism to a generation of coaches in this area. When we won the state championship in 2010, one of my favorite moments was when his daughter Jeanne brought Bob down to the court to share in my excitement and joy.
I have a vivid memory of sitting in the bleachers under one of the baskets at LSH as a kid and admiring a lightening quick move that Blue Jay great Gene Klaus made, just a few feet in front of me. Klaus had the ball in the left corner and, leaning at a 45-degree angle, he burst by his defender with the ball in his left hand and, in two dribbles down the baseline, finished at the rim. My jaw dropped in admiration. After the game I went home and spent hours trying to copy his move.
As a player in high school, our coach, Bill Clark, who was a DSJ alumnus, took our team to his mother’s house before we played the Blue Jays in Delphos. The Clark home was located directly across the street from the entrance to the high school. His mother would light a candle at a shrine to the Blessed Mother, located in her front room, and then the team would march across the street to do battle with our rival. Now that I think about it, mother Clark never said who she was lighting the candle for.
Playing or coaching in the “Vatican,” as the home court of the Blue Jays is affectionately known, was never easy. I did not enjoy much luck coaching there but did hit the trifecta one weekend. I won the 50-50 while scouting the Blue Jays game on a Friday night. The next morning, I was a guest on a radio show that was broadcast from Jim’s Restaurant in Delphos. When no one could answer the trivia question, I asked if I could take a crack at it and won a free meal. The next day, Sunday, LCC won a thriller on the Blue Jay home court. I should have quit while I was ahead.
The most improbable experience of my coaching career happened while coaching in the Vatican. As I was pacing the sideline one Sunday afternoon, I was suddenly joined by a dog who happened to be in an amorous mood. The dog belonged to Fr. Gorman, a pastor at DSJ, whose Irish Setter, “Charger,” was a constant companion. “Charger” normally sat quietly next to Fr. Gorman in the front row of the baseline bleachers but on this particular day it felt compelled to ask me for a date. I hated to break the dog’s heart but I had other things on my mind. Talk about a home court advantage!
On a long list of my Blue Jay favorites, Gip Pohlman remains near the top. Pohlman was a member of 1954 Blue Jay squad that played for a state championship. He then became a long time junior high basketball coach for DSJ, helping mold a long line of young ballplayers he then handed to coach Arnzen for the final polish. He was a respected pillar of the Blue Jay basketball program and community.
I got to know Pohlman when I was a young coach. Finding a place to sit at the Vatican when scouting was never easy. The first few times I had to squeeze myself into a bleacher seat among the young kids in the upper deck or stood in the doorway. Pohlman liked to sit on the top row of the bleachers under the west end basket. He began making room for me when I scouted there. I liked Gip immediately. As is the case with many former great competitors, he felt no need to put on a game face or play it cool with a rival coach. We shared a lot of laughs and insights into the game.
Whenever I coached a game at DSJ I always looked for Pohlman in his spot on the bleachers. The year after he passed away, I noticed an empty space where Gip liked to sit and was hit with a sudden wave a sadness, remembering this good man who meant so much to so many in Delphos.
So many memories connected with our rival to the west.
Congratulations to Delphos St. John’s on your basketball centennial.
Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at email@example.com.