Arlyn Lober, who survived the Second World War’s Battle of the Bulge and went on to become a teacher and Springfield’s all-time winningest boys basketball coach, died Thursday.
Lober had turned 98 years old on May 8 – 77 years after he celebrated his 21st birthday on VE Day, the day in 1945 when Germany’s surrender was announced to officially end the European phase of World War II. There, Lober was part of the US Army’s 11th Armored Division attached to Gen. George Patton’s Third Army.
The best thing I can say about Arlyn, is if I didn’t have my father for a father, Arlyn would be the man I’d pick to be my father, “said an emotional Bob Nika, the athletic figure who perhaps is most closely tied to Lober. Nika played for and coached with Lober before he succeeded Lober as the Lanphier boys basketball coach in 1974.
“Everything that’s good about life is in Arlyn,” Nika said. “I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s just a super, super man. ”
Lober went 372-198 at Lanphier from the 1953-54 season until he retired from coaching following the 1973-74 season. He guided the Lions to nine City Tournament championships, nine regional titles, five sectional plaques, a third-place finish in the 1963 state tournament and a fourth-place state finish in 1971.
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In 1995, District 186 renamed the Lanphier gym after both Lober and Nika and is still known as the Lober-Nika Gymnasium today. He was inducted into the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 – the second induction class.
Lober also taught math for his entire Lanphier tenure and served as the school’s athletic director from 1974 until he retired as teacher in 1986.
Lober was raised in Cissna Park before heading off to the European campaign of the Second World War. After the war ended, he enrolled at the University of Illinois where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. His first teaching and coaching job was at Litchfield, where he met his wife, Maureen. He was hired as a math teacher and assistant coach at Lanphier for Rolla Sorrels’ last season in the 1952-53 season.
Former players say Lober always had a calm demeanor.
“I really can’t remember him ever losing his temper,” said 1969 Lanphier graduate Jim Zimmermann. “He was very direct. And to the point, I think a lot of it had to do with his mathematical background. ”
Al Klunick – who joked that he was captain of Lober’s worst Lanphier team (the Lions went 9-17 in the 1972-73 season) – said Lober never yelled.
“The most emotion that I’ve ever seen from him as a player, if you missed a couple of free throws, he put his head in his hands and that’s it,” said Klunick, who went on to coach at Sacred Heart-Griffin. and Rochester. “He wouldn’t yell at you, he wouldn’t scream, he wouldn’t give you a dirty looks. The way that he held you accountable was you didn’t play; he’d set you on the bench. ”
Calvin Pettit, who graduated in 1964, agreed with that.
He never raised his voice. He would just pull you to the side and he would talk to us in a nice tone of voice, but it was in that pit bull tone of the voice, ”Pettit said with a laugh. “He’d speak real good, real soft but man, we can see the fire in his eyes a little bit, too. Coach Lober never yelled at us or screamed at anybody like that. He will pull you to the side and talk to you in that real soft manner. ”
Pettit saw that once when he didn’t make a pass to open teammate Mike Rodgerson in practice. The next time, it was Rodgerson who didn’t pass the ball to an open Pettit.
“Coach Lober… boy, he chewed our asses out,” Pettit said. “After that, I said, ‘Mike, I’m sorry, I should have passed that ball to you.’ And Mike said, ‘Calvin, I’m sorry, I should’ve passed that ball to you. Let’s get this team together and keep going.’ “
“And from then on, we went all the way to the state in 1963 and coach Lober smiled at us all the time.”
Putting Lanphier on the map
That culminated in the Lions’ third-place trophy. In the quarterfinals, Lanphier beat Rockford Auburn, 58-56. Zimmermann recalled Auburn coach Dolph Stanley, who guided Taylorville to a 45-0 record and a state championship in 1944. But Zimmermann recalls Stanley was not a fan of Lanphier’s run-and-gun style of basketball.
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“I think he was ahead of his time with regards to the style of play that we had with the up-and-down tempo and the pressing,” Zimmermann said. “I remembered in 1963 reading an article… and Dolph Stanley said that all he knew about Lanphier is that they play a PE-style of basketball. I think it’s safe to say that the PE-style of basketball was pretty good because they beat Rockford. ”
Rose Lober-Hamilton, the Lober’s middle daughter, thought her dad’s style of basketball remained ahead of its time well after he retired.
“I have always said that he was so far ahead of his time – that’s the style of play that you see in college or in the pros now, that fast-paced, push the ball up the floor, find the best shot, get it to the player that’s open, ”Lober-Hamilton said. “He did that back in 1952. Nobody else was pressing or fast breaking or doing that type of basketball. Everybody else was still bringing the ball down the floor, passing it around and doing a little jump shot. And it was just so exciting. ”
Good coach, better person
Lober spent as much time with his daughters as he could, Lober-Hamilton said.
“He was off in the summers and my mom was an attorney,” she said. “Every summer day, we were either at the lake, or at the tennis courts, or somewhere doing something with him. You know, just all summer long. He took us skiing and swimming. (He was) kind and loving; just the best father ever. ”
Nika, 85, agreed Lober was more than just a good coach.
“He’s in a class of his own – not just as a coach, but as a good man,” Nika said. “And I think so many times we have a tendency to say, ‘Well, he was a good coach.’ But if Arlen didn’t coach, he would still be a great man. ”
Pettit said he was the only Black player on the team until his senior year. He said he received the same treatment from Lober that Lober showed everyone else. He said race wasn’t a problem during his time at Lanphier. But it could be a problem elsewhere.
“Coach Lober pulled me to the side one time and he said, ‘Calvin … we’re going to little one-horse town… we’re going to Mason City, it’s a small school and they have a problem with Black kids And they’re going to call you names, ”Pettit recalled.
Lober wanted Pettit to be prepared for a hostile reception.
“I’m pretty sure you know what they’re going to call you. I want you to be a little broad-minded about that because we want to win this game and get on out of there, ”Pettit remembered Lober. “The whole game, I was called the N-word. We whooped their tails; we beat the crap out of Mason City. Coach Lober told me about these things ahead of time. ”
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Without Lober’s warning, Pettit thinks he may have wanted to lash out.
“It would have been a lot more talking going on: ‘I would have gotten technicals; I would possibly have been a little hot-headed because I hated that word. ”
It was one of the many lessons Pettit said he got from Lober.
“Coach Lober was like a father to me. He taught me a lot of things about life in general, ”Pettit said from his home in Las Vegas. He taught me a lot about the game of basketball, whether I was on the court, or in the classroom. I’ll miss him. ”
Lober’s war experience
Lober didn’t discuss his service often, said Lober-Hamilton.
“He told my husband more war stories than he ever talked to us girls,” she said. “It’s just something he never talked about. I think it was just something he didn’t like to think about. ”
Nika has a theory why Lober, who became a tank commander with the 42nd Tank Battalion, lived such a long life.
“It seems like these guys that really had a tough time in World War II, God almost said, ‘Well, I’m going to reward him with a long life’ and Arlyn was one of those,” Nika said. “There’s some stories that I’ve heard about him coming in and seeing some of them concentration camps (such as the one at Gusen) and all.”
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has a three-hour interview with Lober on its website. Zimmermann said he didn’t know about Lober’s service until later but, “My esteem for him grew even more after I heard of his service to our country.”
Lober-Hamilton said, “My husband (asked her dad), ‘What kind of gun did you carry in the war?’ Dad said ‘I didn’t carry a gun. I have this tank and on the front of the tank, there was this big cannon. I always felt like that was more effective. ‘”
Always a presence
In his later years, Lober’s word still carried a lot of weight.
“He gave me lots and lots of advice,” said Lanphier graduate and current basketball coach Blake Turner. “Whenever I saw him, I’d always go sit by him and talk to him for a couple of minutes – sometimes just to say hi, sometimes he talked to me about games and things and I really valued his opinion.”
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Klunick said he received the best compliment from his former coach.
“I got the ultimate compliment from him one time,” Klunick said. “I was coaching and we lost a close one. He gave me the compliment by saying I outcoached the other coach. ”
Zimmermann and Turner said they could still picture Lober sitting in the stands at a basketball game sporting his Lanphier orange hat and sweater. If the game was being broadcast on the radio, he’d also be listening along with the call in the stands.
“My best memory of Arlen Lober is seeing him sitting right at midcourt, about four rows up in the bleachers … just sitting there enjoying Lanphier basketball,” Turner said.
“I think that’s the best memory you can have of him, especially being in the position that I was in… winning games, and then seeing him look me in the eye and smile – like I’m making him proud – gave me that assurance that I was doing the right thing as the head of this program. ”
Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546, email@example.com, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.