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Published: Tuesday, 1/10/2012

Woodward star returned to be revered coach

James C. Knierim, 1926-2012


James C. Knierim, 85, of Oregon, a star athlete at Woodward High School and Bowling Green State University who was a legendary basketball coach at the north Toledo high school, died Saturday in his home from cancer.

Son Karl Knierim said his father had a chronic form of leukemia many years ago and was diagnosed in 2010 with carcinoma.

One of the best athletes in Woodward history, Mr. Knierim returned to the school after college to coach boys basketball for 18 years. He also taught orientation and civics there for 33 years.

During his coaching days at Woodward, Mr. Knierim's basketball teams were perennial contenders for City League honors. His 1952-53 squad tied with Waite and Central Catholic for the city championships and went to the finals of the regional tournament before losing to Bowling Green High School.

Mr. Knierim said his father stayed in contact through the years with a few students he coached and taught. "They would meet for breakfast downtown," he said. "Dad was kind of a simple guy. He treated people right. He was highly respected."

A Toledo native, he grew up a few blocks from Woodward, which recently was replaced with a new building. His son said his father had fond memories of his boyhood. "He talked about how much he had growing up there," he said. "He had countless stories about it. He really enjoyed that area and the kids he grew up with."

Mr. Knierim said they drove past the old school, which is being demolished, the day before he died. "The whole thing is just ironic in that the [razing] of the high school coincides with his death," Mr. Knierim said.

He married Virginia Barva on March 2, 1957.

Mr. Knierim began his teaching career at Libbey High School in south Toledo, and transferred the next year to Woodward, his son said.

He began as a freshman coach at Woodward and was named head coach in 1950. He left six years later to accept a position as freshman basketball coach at BGSU. After a two-year stint there, he returned to Woodward, coaching until 1972. He retired from teaching in 1984.

He played football, basketball, and baseball at Woodward and BGSU, and was on Woodward's 1943-44 basketball team that finished state runner-up. He was known as "Gentleman Jim."

An Ohio University player once said of Mr. Knierim after a game: "He flattened me during a play, picked me up, brushed me off, asked if I was all right, and on the next play hit me twice as hard."

Mr. Knierim was inducted into the Bowling Green State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1970 and into the Calvin M. Woodward High School Hall of Fame in 1986. In September, 1991, Mr. Knierim was among 13 inductees into the City League Athletic Hall of Fame.

Ted Csizek, a retired Toledo Public Schools teacher who taught at Woodward, said Mr. Knierim handled students in the classroom in a way that earned him their respect.

"Jim was a very good teacher. He never really lost his head. He knew how to put a kid in his place and always gave him an out."

Surviving are his wife, Virginia; son, Karl Knierim; daughters, Karen Shambaugh and Amy Dilzell, and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 798 S. Coy Rd., Oregon. The family will greet friends and relatives one hour before services in the church.

Arrangements are being handled by Eggleston Meinert & Pavley Funeral Home.

The family requests tributes to St. Paul's Episcopal Church or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.

-- Janet Romaker

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