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It was advice the Navy rejected, said Caliman, who later graduated from the Naval Academy, with Zacher and his family on hand to celebrate.

One of the school board members that night was an attorney named Bill Maddux, whose son not only played for Zacher but roomed with Martin on road trips.

While other families argued, the younger Maddux, also named Bill, said there was never a divide between him and his father over Zacher. He said he trusts that the decisions his father made as a board member were for the best, because his father, he added, is a smart man.

His only regret about his time with Zacher: “I wish I could have played even harder for him.”

In an interview in his home here, the elder Maddux said Zacher was a good coach, but “he had difficulty with authority.”

“As a matter of fact, he rebelled against it. And that was the reason he got fired. Dale Martin was a fine young man. He was then and I’m sure he is now.”

At 3:50 a.m. on April 3, 1972, after eight hours of discussion, the board voted unanimously against renewing Zacher’s contract, citing among other reasons “willful neglect,” “insubordinate conduct” and “persisting in a course of conduct that resulted in the loss of confidence, respect and support of many school patrons.”

Waldo Jones II, one of the NAACP lawyers who represented Zacher free of charge, recalled the case years later from his Tulsa law office. He said the school board seemed to have its mind made up.

“They nodded and listened politely,” he said.

Back in his office in the school gymnasium after the vote, Zacher confided about his uncertain future to Jack McNickle, then sports editor of the Coffeyville Journal, a newspaper about 30 miles north in Kansas.

McNickle didn’t just rely on statements from the school board and Zacher in covering the controversy. He spent late nights in Nowata knocking on doors and interviewing black families. He received anonymous threats over his coverage. His car tires were slashed. Even now, people who were once his friends haven’t spoken to McNickle in 40 years.

While Zacher said he planned to appeal, he took a look around at the walls of his small office lined with trophies, letters and clippings.

“If they do make me move,” he told McNickle, “it’s gonna take a while to pack.”

Three days after Zacher’s firing, in a more sparsely attended meeting in the school library, the board told Zacher’s assistant, Bob Knoll, that he could stay on as a teacher but not coach. It was Knoll’s first job out of college, and he had a family. He promptly quit.

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