NEWTON FALLS - It takes something special to put the rivalry between the Newton Falls Tigers and LaBrae Vikings on the back burner, but Gene Zorn has that kind of influence.
The long-time Tigers basketball coach was honored before the start of the varsity game with a dedication that will be long remembered here for its emotional warmth. The town and former math students of Zorn put their collective arms around him in a ceremony that was topped off by the unveiling of a sign that officially named the facility Gene Zorn Gymnasium.
"It was one of the most special nights in the history of Newton Falls basketball and one of the most special nights in the history of the Newton Falls school district to honor a man that has meant so much to all of us," Tigers coach Roy Sembach said moments after the Vikings put the finishing touches on a 52-46 All-American Conference, National Division win Friday. "To play a game against our rival - it was a good competitive game - made for a special night. He truly deserves every honor he can get."
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
LaBrae’s Marcell Richardson drives past Newton Falls’ Marcus Lard during the third quarter of Friday’s game.
Scott Kernen, athletic director for Newton Falls schools, asked all of Zorn's former students to stand along one of the baselines during the ceremony. It appeared as if the group stood three deep from one sideline to the other.
The sight impressed Vikings coach Chad Kiser, who stood at the opposite end.
"I was talking to coach Sembach before the JV game, and I was getting goose bumps thinking how great of a man he is," Kiser said. "You get into teaching and coaching to shape lives and help influence young people. Boy if I could just (touch) a small fraction of the people he was able to influence and touch, it would be a great privilege to do that."
Zorn coached the Tigers for 26 seasons before retiring and turning over the reins to Sembach just before the start of the 1987 season. He recorded 321 career wins and led the Tigers to six league championships.
The moving tribute before a packed Zorn Gymnasium added to the difficulty of the task facing the Vikings (10-2, 4-1 AAC National). It didn't take LaBrae long to remove emotion from the equation as it played about as well as Kiser could have asked in opening a 19-11 lead after the first quarter.
Peyton Aldridge, who led all scorers with 17 points, had eight in the opening quarter for the Vikings, who enjoyed leads of 31-20 at halftime and 42-32 after the third period. Junior guard Justin Jenkins did the most damage to the Tigers in scoring 16 points. Jenkins had eight points in the fourth quarter, including two field goals that pushed the lead to a comfortable 10 points both times.
When the role players around the 6-8 Aldridge can score as Jenkins did, it makes the Vikings all the more difficult to defeat.
"It makes us one of the best teams around, and we can compete with anybody we play," Jenkins said after putting up a season high in points. "If our role players step up like I did today, we could be unstoppable."
The Vikings received 10 points from Marcell Richardson. Chris Greathouse had three 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 13 points for the Tigers (6-6 and 1-5). Ozzie Hawkins had 11 points.
"What I was disappointed with in the first half is I thought we invented new ways to turn the ball over," Sembach said. "In the second half we didn't do that and we fought ourselves back into the game. If we had shot the way we really can shoot it, we would have had a chance to steal it at the end."