Kevin Schnepf, Published April 29 2013
Schnepf: Park Christian puts its faith in Inniger as new boys basketball coach
That’s what happened Monday at Moorhead Park Christian High School. And it’s a big reason why 68-year-old Erv Inniger, who last coached 21 years ago, decided to become the new boys basketball coach at the small private school where prayer was mentioned more than wins Monday afternoon.
It was about six weeks ago when Park Christian officials asked a reluctant Inniger to pray about their invitation to become their head coach. When they came back to him, they asked him if he had been praying.
“Not really that hard,” Inniger quipped. “Because I didn’t know how much I really wanted to get back into coaching.”
Eventually, everybody’s prayers were answered.
Park Christian got a man who played basketball at the University of Indiana, played professionally and is still the all-time winningest men’s coach at North Dakota State. With all that experience, they are counting on Inniger – during his one-year contract – to mentor not only the players, but a yet-to-be-named assistant into a head coach.
Inniger, always willing to tout his faith, got what he wasn’t looking for – the ability to fit in his new coaching gig with his 20-hour-a-week job as the director of community relations at Choice Financial Bank. It’s a job he’s held since he stepped down after 19 years as NDSU’s chief fundraiser.
“This is right up my line,” Inniger said, referring to both the faith-based school and basketball. “This has really been a calling from the Lord.”
It was indeed a calling that took most people by surprise – including his son Bart.
“Are you crazy?” is what Bart first told his dad, who just last September suffered a mild heart attack. “His health was a little bit of a concern because it is a highly stressful job and my dad is a ‘Type A’ personality.
“But he’s been doing everything he’s been supposed to do and the doctors have given him a clean bill of health. If he feels good and wants to do it, then by all means, we will back him.”
Ironically, the last time Inniger coached was when Bart was his starting point guard at NDSU. That was a Feb. 29 game in 1992 – a year when Bill Clinton was running for President, the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen was preparing to open, Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg became baseball’s first $7 million man and “Beauty and the Beast” was the movie to watch.
In that game before 3,600 fans at the Bison Sports Arena, Inniger ended his 23-year coaching career with his first losing season. Now, it is Bart offering advice to his dad, who has never coached at the high school level before.
“Twenty years have passed, things have changed, especially going from coaching college to high school,” said Bart, who has been a high school coach the last 16 years in the Twin Cities area. “Kids are … I don’t want to say softer …. but they have a different mentality. They want to know why. Back in my dad’s era, you did it the coach’s way and didn’t question it.”
Back in Erv’s NDSU era (1978 to 1992) when he was building a 244-150 record, a lanky basketball player at Fargo Oak Grove High School wanted to play for him. But he never got the call – not even as a walk-on.
“Oh, I wanted to play for Erv in the worst way,” said Kent Hannestad, now the president of Park Christian High School, who first initiated the idea of hiring Inniger.
Instead, his son Duncan will get to play for Inniger. Duncan, who will be a senior on Park Christian’s team next season, was intrigued when he first heard about the possibility of Inniger coming to coach.
“Is that the guy dad wanted to play for?” he asked his mom. “Wow, now I get to play for him.”
And he and the other group of players coming back from last year’s 16-10 team will have to play hard. Inniger made it no secret that he will be demanding like he was at NDSU. Yet, he realizes he may have to hold back at times. He realizes he may have to make game plans a bit simpler than the ones he threw at his college players.
“I’ve got to be smart about what I’m doing … I can’t be doing things like I did 20 years ago,” Inniger said. “It’s going to be a growing experience for me just as much as it is going to be for the kids. Who knows, they may not even call me coach. They may call me grandpa.”
Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor
Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549