RIMERSBURG – The newly renovated main gymnasium at Union High School was rededicated during homecoming events last week, with those in attendance honoring the facility’s namesake, longtime basketball coach and teacher Donald Stemmerich.
The 88-year-old Stemmerich was on hand for the ceremony, which was held prior to the homecoming football game on Oct. 4.
Union athletic director Scott Kindel said that the gymnasium, named years earlier in honor of Stemmerich, was severely damaged when a pipe broke during a cold spell last February, which flooded the gym and lobby with several inches of water.
In the months since the flooding caused the wooden gymnasium floor to warp badly, the school’s insurance paid for a new floor, new bleachers that spell out “UNION” when folded up, a new ceiling, new flooring on the gym’s stage and other improvements.
One thing that the insurance would not cover was the plan to upgrade the graphics on the gymnasium floor. In addition to thicker lines, and painted keys for the basketball court, Kindel and others had hoped to honor Stemmerich by including his signature on the floor.
Kindel said that more than $5,000 was raised in donations to pay for the floor upgrades.
“Without our alumni family and friends, we wouldn’t have been able to upgrade this gym,” he said.
Kindel went on to describe Stemmerich, who coached at Union from 1955 to 1993, as “humble, caring, loving, extraordinary.”
“He is still Coach,” Kindel said. “Thank you for making an ordinary town an extraordinary place to go to school. Your legacy at Union remains.”
Union School Board member Mark Rummel, a longtime friend of Stemmerich, spoke about how the coach taught hundreds of kids more than “Xs and Os” over the years.
“We were not just basketball players or students,” Rummel said, explaining that Stemmerich cared about each child. “The community embraced you and you embraced the community.”
Rummel said Stemmerich taught each student athlete by his actions as a devoted father, husband and Christian.
“We learned that through you,” he told Stemmerich. “We took those values with us. You didn’t have to preach it; we saw it in your everyday life.”
“Each one of us has a part of you in our lives,” Rummel continued. “Thank you for being that positive role model in my life. I love you, big guy, you deserve this.”
The humble Stemmerich said that he did not deserve such an honor as having his signature forever placed on each side of the basketball court.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it wouldn’t have been for hundreds of young men who played basketball,” he said.
At the end of the program, Stemmerich was joined on the court by retired teacher Dennis McLaughlin, a member of the first team he coached at Union, and current Union teacher Josh Meeker, a member of the final team he coached.
Kindel also announced that the Sports Boosters plan to host an Alumni Night on Jan. 11, and invited Stemmerich to come out of retirement to coach one final game.