Klein was Ferdinand’s last basketball coachApril 24, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
His teams at Ferdinand never won a sectional championship when he was there. Not only that, but those teams had the dubious distinction of losing to the eventual champion in the sectional tournament three of the four years he manned the program.
Those tough losses still resonate with Larry Klein almost 50 years after coaching the final basketball game in Crusaders history in the 1971 sectional tournament against Jasper. Klein remains good friends with his former assistant coach at Ferdinand, Jim Hagedorn. They’ll get together once a month, and still talk about the times when they coached together. It’s always the same, though. The Crusaders never won a sectional — under Klein or any other coach, for that matter.
“When you look back on your career, the time that you spend coaching, the games that you seem to recall the most are the hard losses,” Klein said.
It’s not all negative, though, far from it. He’s proud of how well his players competed when they played against the Evansville schools — the Crusaders went a combined 7-1 against Mater Dei and Rex Mundi when he led the way.
Having a lack of size was a common theme for his teams at Ferdinand, but Klein went 54-30 in his four seasons as the head coach of the Crusaders. All four of those teams finished with a winning record.
“We were kind of dedicated, too, to have a winning season, a winning year, when it was all over, the year was over, we could look back and say, ‘We were a winner,’ and you can carry that with you for the rest of your life,” he said.
Klein coached different sports at Ferdinand — baseball, cross country, track and, later, golf at Forest Park, but basketball was his real passion. He was already acclimated to the Ferdinand basketball program as an assistant coach, first under Jim Wahl and then Ben Finley. Finley resigned after his only season in 1966-67 to become a head coach in Henderson, Ky., and Klein took over from there.
He was already familiar with the players and he thought he was ready to step into that position. Klein learned a lot from Wahl and Finley, lauding both of them for their dedication and running good programs. He thought Finley promoted a conservative style of basketball, which he changed when he took over the team.
“That wasn’t what I really liked to do,” Klein said “When I came in, we picked up the pace. We didn’t have the 3-point shot back then, but we scored a lot of points.”
Ferdinand started 2-0 in 1967-68, but Woody Neel’s Holland Dutchmen proved to be foil for Klein’s Crusaders, both that year and afterward. Holland went undefeated that regular season, won a sectional championship and was the last undefeated team at the state of Indiana — largely at Ferdinand’s expense.
The Crusaders played the Dutchmen close. Ferdinand took Holland to overtime in the first meeting, but a 63-60 defeat in overtime put the Crusaders in the loss column for the first time that season. They held a 53-52 lead against the Dutchmen in the county tournament, but then threw a pass out of bounds. A Gary Dougan basket won the game for Holland, 54-53.
Ferdinand got one more shot at Holland in the sectional championship. Stan Ruhe sank a free throw to give the Crusaders a 49-44 edge with 3:04 to go in the fourth quarter of the sectional title game. However, Holland overwhelmed Ferdinand with its full-court press and went on a 10-0 run. The Crusaders made it a one-point game, but could not reclaim the lead. Final score: Holland 57, Ferdinand 53.
“I felt that we could handle their press, but I probably should’ve called timeout sooner than what I did, but I just felt that we were good enough to handle that press, but we made a couple of turnovers right close toward the end of the game,” Klein said.
Four players for the Crusaders made the all-sectional team: Ruhe, Lee Begle, Dennis Verkamp and Paul Niehaus, but Holland’s Don Buse led the sectional with 63 points, 14 more than the second-highest total — Begle’s 49 points. Buse wouldn’t be around for 1968-69, when the Crusaders roared for much of the regular season.
Klein thought this team, of the four, was the best. He praised their shooting and balance, and they could pass and shoot without turning the ball over much. Klein thought Ferdinand had a lot of confidence that it could beat anybody following the 1967-68 sectional runner-up finish, and that carried over into the next year.
However, Ferdinand also lost three of its final five games, ending the year at 16-4. The Crusaders met Holland in the sectional, but the Dutchmen once again stomped out Ferdinand’s season, this time in the team’s first sectional game. Holland totaled 38 points in the fourth quarter, pulling away from Ferdinand, 88-66.
Ruhe and Verkamp both graduated in 1969, but Klein thought the 1969-70 campaign was a really good year. The Crusaders went 14-7 despite not having size. He thought Ferdinand played hard and tried to win as many games as it could.
Ferdinand got some production out of Ed Gudorf, who averaged 14.8 points per game as a senior in the regular season, and 11 points per game from junior Pat Lueken.
However, the big fish for the Crusaders that year was senior Tom Weyer, who scored 411 regular-season points with an average of 20.6 points per game. Klein lauded Weyer as a terrific shooter.
“We had some certain plays set up for him, get him wide open, because if we got him open for a shot, he’d probably make half of them or more,” he said of Weyer.
The Crusaders faced Huntingburg in the 1970 sectional. The Hunters finished the regular season 10-10, but got off to 11-1 and 15-3 starts against Ferdinand. The Crusaders didn’t surrender that easily, grabbing a 22-21 lead, but that proved to be their only one.
Ferdinand tied Huntingburg multiple times after that. However, the Hunters began to pull away on an 8-0 run after a 40-40 tie. Ferdinand would close the gap to 64-61 before Huntingburg finished on a 10-2 run. The Hunters won the game and eventually the sectional.
“I think our size kinda caught up with us in that game,” Klein said. “And then the next year, when we played Jasper (a 77-53 loss), I think it was pretty much the same thing. We just didn’t have very many tall players those last two years I had.”
There’d be no fifth season with Klein and the Crusaders. Ferdinand and Birdseye consolidated into Forest Park for the 1971-72 year, and it’s been that way ever since. Hagedorn remained on as an assistant, but Klein declined to pursue the coaching position with the Rangers. He wanted to spend more time with his family and take classes to earn his master’s degree.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “It was a hard decision. I felt really good about my service to the sports program, and thought it was time to move on.”
Klein, 80, is a retired math teacher. He left Forest Park in 1997, but still taught on a part-time basis for the next 10 years, and now he’s “grazing in the fields.” He lauded the camaraderie his players had with the Crusaders, and that camaraderie has remained intact for decades.
He held his 50th wedding anniversary Mass at Jasper’s St. Joseph’s Church. Family members and close friends were on hand to attend the event. However, Klein turned around and looked back during the Mass. He saw some familiar faces who weren’t invited, but were a pleasant surprise. It was the starting five of the final Ferdinand team he coached in 1970-71 and their wives in attendance to witness the event.
“Boy, you talk about something meaningful and really touching, that was special. But I think it goes back to how well we all got along back when we were competing,” Klein said.
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