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Published: Wednesday, 5/19/2010

Basketball coach led Libbey to state finals


TEMPERANCE - Burt Spice, 79, an educator for more than 45 years who, as head Libbey High School basketball coach, led teams to the state finals and semifinals, died of melanoma Monday in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.

From 1969-89, he was in charge of the Toledo Public Schools outdoor education program and honored nationally. He later tutored in Toledo schools and worked with children who had special needs, retiring a second time in 2006.

His outdoor program took youngsters to camp for a week and taught them about the natural world. "He affected many more young people than he would have staying in coaching," his wife, Jane, said. "He liked it, but it wasn't the same as coaching."

Despite a long career that followed, Mr. Spice was still best known for the eight years he coached Libbey basketball to a 137-37 record. His 87-9 record for his final four seasons was a state record when he left coaching behind in 1969.

Long before it was fashionable, his Libbey team combined a full-court pressure defense and a fast-break offense.

He'd already announced his resignation when Libbey lost its second heartbreaker at the state level, 64-63, to Columbus East at the 1969 Class AA semifinals.

His 1966 team saw a 15-point fourth-quarter lead vanish in the Class AA final and lost to Dayton Chaminade, 55-52. That defeat haunted Mr. Spice for decades. He could have called a timeout in the last minutes but did not.

"You live with it every day," Mr. Spice told The Blade in 2000.

He demanded excellence but "wasn't a hollerer or screamer," said Chester Trail, whose last season on the Libbey basketball team, 1961-62, was Mr. Spice's first. "He had a way of getting you to really probably be better than you were," said Mr. Trail, who went on to play professional baseball. "He made you believe you could do whatever he was saying he wanted you to do."

Mr. Spice's daughter Mindy said: "It wasn't just about winning games. He wanted [the players] to be a cut above, so when they went on, they would achieve success in whatever they did, and a lot of them did."

Born April 14, 1931, he grew up on Calumet Avenue. He graduated from DeVilbiss High School in 1950, the year he led the school's basketball team to a City League championship. In 1954, he contributed to the University of Toledo's first Mid-American Conference Championship.

He received bachelor's and master's degrees from UT. He played professional basketball for the Toledo Mercurys, one of the teams that played on the Harlem Globetrotters' circuit.

He was an Army veteran of the Korean War. He played with the All Far Eastern Basketball Team, but his experience coaching the team "ignited his desire to coach," his wife said.

He was hired in 1959 to teach business at Libbey, which he continued to do while he was coach.

Surviving are his wife, Jane, whom he married Feb. 13, 1953; daughters, Cindi Farnell, Mindy Wood, and Sara Vance; sons, Brad, Jerry, and Lee; 11 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

The body will be in the Michael W. Pawlak Funeral Home, Temperance, after 2 p.m. tomorrow. Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday in Bedford Christian Community Church, Temperance, where the body will be after 10 a.m.

The family suggests tributes to Bedford Christian Community Church, Temperance, or Grace Temple Church of God in Christ, Toledo.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:


or 419-724-6182.

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