Remembered by everyone who played basketball for him, or sat in his math class, former coach and educator Jack Albers remains unequivocal about making the most of the gifts given to him…and the gifts given to all of us!
(Ed. Note: We’re often asked about what’s been the most popularly read column for a given period, and this profile from July of 2017 on former Marion Local coach Jack Albers drew more attention than any other personality we highlighted last year. Recently we received a request to share again the insights and philosophies of what many call the coach, and teacher, they’ll never forget. Enjoy again…Jack Albers!)
Celina – He is, in a local sense, an icon – one of those ‘most unforgettable’ character types that once graced the pages of Readers’ Digest.
Ask anyone who played basketball for him during his 18 seasons, 290 wins, and 14 consecutive sectional tournament titles as coach of the Marion Local Flyers, from 1978 through 1996. They’ll tell you.
Ask anyone who sat in his math class – 30 years at Marion Local and later, 15 years at Lehman Catholic High School…with spare time spent between at both Coldwater and Vandalia Butler. They’ll tell you.
Ask them about the most demanding personality they ever met and they’ll share, as a former teaching colleague once did, that there’s no question. It’s Jack Albers…or else!
At 72 years of age, retired, and looking as capable as ever, Albers is still that commanding figure that begs comparison with modern culture and its insistence on a kinder, gentler, and more compromising ways.
Ask him to share his thoughts on current attitudes about competition, hard work, and reward, and he rolls his eyes.
His brow furrows and his voice bellows when you mention trophies for participation, or the popular notion that winning is secondary to how you play the game…with graciousness and focus on the post-game handshake line. Remind him that selling out to win in this day is akin to Fascism – too extreme, and too exclusionary – and you’ll get ‘classic’ Jack Albers.
“I’ll tell you exactly what I think about winning,” said Albers last week, raising a finger as if mimicking actor Jack Palance in that “one important thing” scene with Billy Crystal in the movie, City Slickers.
“God gives all of us certain gifts in this life. It’s up to you to make the most of those gifts. Anything less than winning, of giving your best, is cheating yourself. I think it’s cheating your team, your family and your one chance to get it done.
“You don’t complain about an official’s call, or a teammate’s mistake. You look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘What could I have done to create a different outcome?’ That’s the only thing you can change. If you do less than that I think it’s cheating God…to give back less than He’s given to you.”
Which is exactly why a colleague once called Albers one of the most complex people he’d ever met. He believes in competition, hard work, and whatever reward comes…with a little Biblical justification thrown in.
He is, without denial, a product of his generation, and coaching colleagues of similar success and reputations – Dan Hegemier, Dick Kortokrax, Norm Persin, and Bob Arnzen. Raised in a farm environment, to Albers, hard work, dedication, and priority define success. There are no options, and there are no exceptions.
“There were no excuses when we grew up,” he says without hesitation. “You had your chores. Just do the work.”
Retired guidance counselor Barb Saluke remembers him well for his tenure at Lehman High School.
“I can’t tell you how many kids would come to me on the first week of school and say they had to get out of Mr. Albers’ math class,” she laughs. “I always told them, just go back and do your best. You’ll be fine.”
And in fact, the harder the challenge, the better Albers liked it…in the classroom and on the court. Success, whether a win in basketball or an ‘A’ in math, should be earned.
“You know, I heard from one of the the Lima sports guys about this year’s state tournament – that it was the worst in years,” he says. “He was very adamant about it. But I was at that tournament and I thought it was one of the BEST. A lot of teams had trouble scoring, but I credit the defenses. The defense was outstanding, well-coached. The communication, the preparation…it forced teams to work. There were no easy shots. Everything was challenged and there were a lot of low-scoring games. I enjoyed it immensely.
“Because,” he continued, “what a lot of people don’t understand now is that kids want to be challenged. They want to be taught, and they WILL respond to a higher standard if you demand it. I remember one particular year at Lehman where I had all the top math students and no one got an ‘A’ for the first nine weeks. Now these were the best students in the school and I actually expected to hear from someone about no one getting an ‘A’. But I didn’t – not one parent, which was a credit to the parents. And by the last nine weeks of the year those kids didn’t need me. The ‘A’s took care of themselves and those kids became perfectly capable of having an intellectual conversation in calculus.”
Yes, he believes in challenge and the higher standard. Jack Albers does not live in the realm of feel-good trophies or participation for the sake of inclusion. Make it tough and it’ll mean more, regardless of the outcome, is his mantra.
His 290-141 record at Marion Local was largely forged from his insistence on commitment and defense – the match-up zone defense – a tactic that he credits to having learned from former Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers coach Del Harris in a coaching clinic he attended at Ohio Northern University early in his coaching career. The ‘match-up’ made quite an impression on Albers, and Albers made quite an impression for the next twenty years by playing the best defense he could every night out, and against all comers.
The impact of his attitude was undeniable from the outset. As an assistant to Coach Irv Besecker in 1975, Marion Local won the first of its two state titles in basketball.
And as head coach, succeeding Besecker in 1977-‘78, Albers took the Flyers back to the state tournament in 1984 where they lost to Monroeville in the Class A semi-finals, 72-66.
His record, for the fact of luck, could have been even better – a lot better. But that’s part of sports, too. He won those 14 consecutive sectional titles at Marion; and there were 4 district titles in addition to the regional crown in ’84.
“But we lost so many times to the eventual state champions,” smiles Albers. “We lost to Jackson Center. We lost to St. Henry, and Delphos St. John….” His voice trails off as he considers what might have been.
In fact, in his eighteen seasons as head coach at Marion Local, he had but one – just one – losing season. A lot of tough wins, and a lot of tough losses made an impression that found its way to the very top of the basketball world. When he stepped down from coaching after the ’96 season…he received a letter of congratulations from none other than that same Del Harris, at the time coaching Magic Johnson and Vlade Divac with the Lakers.
“Congratulations on a fine coaching career,” wrote Harris, adding, “Mike Lackey (a colleague) says some nice things about you.”
Out of coaching now for twenty years, Albers, nonetheless, is still blessed with a brilliant mind and is ever-so-willing to render an opinion about the direction of the game and about those who play. He rarely misses a Marion game, where his grandson, Colin Everman, was a senior point guard on last season’s state champion Flyer team.
He IS NOT an advocate of AAU basketball. Not enough attention paid to details.
Ask him why kids struggle to shoot the basketball in today’s game and he’ll tell you straight up…that coaches don’t teach shooting correctly – that they don’t take the time to correct bad habits that kids develop on their own.
“You have to make them change,” he says, flatly. “You have to show them correct form.”
The father of five, and the proud grandfather of eighteen, he insists that all cell phones and tablets be stored on top of the refrigerator when the grandkids come to visit. He wants their undivided attention.
“When they come to visit Grandma and Grandpa I want them to visit with Grandma and Grandpa,” he laughs.
And, it’s a contented laugh as Jack Albers is perfectly comfortable in his own skin – with the old ways and the satisfaction of teaching that which works, and teaching it in the manner that produces life-long results. One of the most affable guys you’ll ever meet, ask him to accept anything less and he’ll disagree, adamantly.
Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he gets old he will not depart from it! So it was quoted from Proverbs in the old days.
In modern days there’s still nothing complex about that. Jack Albers will tell you… that the old ways are still the best ways.