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Students, black and white, walked out of spring sports in protest. Warren Dennis, the rising star basketball player, would never play another game in Nowata, telling McNickle that he was “ashamed” to wear the uniform. The freshman track team quit, and members of the baseball team and school band protested.

Meanwhile, Zacher worked to get his job back by appealing his case to Oklahoma’s Professional Practices Commission, but the regulatory board upheld his dismissal. Next, Zacher filed a federal lawsuit against the Nowata school board. Though he later won about $7,000, it didn’t help him get his job back.

The lawsuit, obtained through the National Archives, called Zacher the victim of “bitter opposition” from the “overwhelmingly white power structure of the community of Nowata.” It said that the Nowata job was more than a livelihood for Zacher, that losing it caused him “severe emotional and mental anguish”.

In 1970-71, Zacher’s team went 26-3, the best record in school history. He turned down job offers. But after the homecoming dispute, he could find no work in Oklahoma.

Eventually, he landed a job four hours north in Leavenworth High School thanks in part to Ted Owens, the University of Kansas coach who knew of Zacher’s reputation. He hired the coach to help out his collegiate summer basketball camps.

When Zacher left Nowata, star player Warren Dennis transferred to Leavenworth, too. And Knoll would rejoin Zacher as an assistant a year later. By all appearances, Kansas was a step up, a bigger program, a fresh start, a springboard to a college coaching position.

McNickle, the sports editor, had switched jobs, too. Working as a sports writer in Topeka, by coincidence he was assigned to cover Zacher’s first game in Leavenworth, a school that he said had a tough reputation. McNickle had heard how some of Leavenworth’s black athletes bowed their heads and looked away from the flag during the national anthem, giving the raised arm, clenched fist black power salute that had stirred controversy during the 1968 Olympics.

“I didn’t know what I was going to see there that night,” McNickle, now an assistant women’s college basketball coach in Kansas, said. “But I knew Ken Zacher was not going to stand for that.”

When the game announcer asked everyone to stand for the playing of the national anthem, McNickle said, Zacher’s players all stood at attention, turned and looked at the flag and sang loudly.

Zacher had several good years in Leavenworth, coaching would-be college standouts along the way. But his 1975-76 team had a down year: six wins and 15 losses. Though Zacher’s overall record still stood at 52 wins and 34 losses in Leavenworth, Knoll said one bad season gave school board members who chafed at Zacher’s coaching style an opening to get rid of him.

One board member complained, among other things, about the coach’s temper and how he had gotten more reprimands — six — than any other of his coaching colleagues, the Leavenworth Times reported.

“His behavior appears to get worse as the win-loss record goes bad,” she said, the paper wrote.

In a letter in March 1976 to the paper’s sports editor, Zacher said his track record spoke for itself: “I sincerely believe that if you polled all the young men I have coached you would find that I have one or two good points in my favor.”

In a familiar scene of pro- and anti-Zacher factions, a different school board weighed the coach’s fate. This time, he won a reprieve by a 4-3 vote. But he was placed on probation for one year.

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