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Meanwhile, Zacher’s personal and coaching life were coming undone. By late summer 1976, he was living temporarily with Knoll, while going through a divorce and fighting to regain his professional footing.

On a cloudy Sunday morning, Sept. 6, 1976, Knoll took his wife and daughter to church as usual.

When they came home, the assistant coach opened the garage door. He found Zacher dead inside, his car still running.

Caliman was on a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea when he found out. He has thought often about his old coach since then, but hasn’t spoken to anyone about Zacher in more than three decades. He blames his old hometown of Nowata for his coach’s suicide.

Some like Caliman believe that Nowata, which has fallen on hard times, could have had something more, could have been something more, if only the town kept Zacher around. Others say that while it’s true that Zacher wasn’t the same after he left Oklahoma, the town was better off for what happened, for how Zacher pushed for racial change so hard and so fast.

“I know for a fact he did the right thing sticking up for the captain,” Sprague said. “It really unfortunately split the town, but I think the town was better off for it.”

Then there are the quietly conflicted who say that it’s all history, that Zacher was a brilliant coach and a troubled man, that Moore and the school board members weren’t racists but good men, that it was just a different time.

“He was a part of some of my favorite memories and some of my worst memories,” said Reid. “But I loved him as a basketball coach.”

A member of Nowata’s school board now, Reid said there hadn’t been any tension between the whites and blacks in Nowata before Zacher arrived.

“There were never any bad feelings,” he said.

Still, things were not all right before Zacher.

“The reason there was no racial tension is that the black community had stayed in its place,” Caliman said, “and then Ken Zacher opened the door for us.”

Soon after he was fired, with family obligations and no job, Zacher flew from Tulsa to Detroit alone and checked into a motel room for the 63rd annual national NAACP gathering. The theme of the convention was a fitting one for Zacher — “Confrontation Now” — though his name appears nowhere in the souvenir programs that sold for a dollar apiece.

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