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Friday, May 24, 2024

Basketball and Politics

If you think schools are tumultuous today, ask your grandparents if they remember the name Glen Bretz. Bretz was the boys’ basketball coach at Central High School from 1935 to 1947. In the 1945-46 season he led Central to the state finals, losing finally to Anderson, but posting a 25-2 record.

The school board was appointed in those days by the mayor. Manson Reichert, a Republican, had appointed a new board when he took office in 1943, replacing many longtime board members with his friends and political allies. The Central football coach, Dan Howard, heard a rumor that Bretz was advising his players not to try out for football, to save themselves for basketball to avoid potential injuries. The football coach named three players specifically and petitioned the school board to take action. Carl Shrode, then principal, and superintendent Alex Jardine were powerless to stop the board from acting.

The board, led by Dr. J.F. Wynn, Jane Lockyear, and R. Malcolm Koch, relieved Bretz of his duties on April 3. On April 4, Bretz resigned from the Central faculty. When word of his dismissal and resignation reached Central’s student body at 9 a.m., 1,000 Central students marched out of the school, then at Seventh and Vine streets Downtown.

Thousands of teenagers marched to city hall and then to Bretz’s home at 2309 E. Chandler Ave.

The next day, most of Bosse High School’s students and the student body at the Mechanic Arts School (now the old North) walked out in protest. Parents descended on city hall en masse with the same demands as their children: rehire Bretz and fire the board.

The board, after the resignation of Koch and later Wynn, reinstated Bretz as coach and teacher. Lockyear resigned from the school board a year later, and Reichert was defeated for re-election in 1947. Bretz stayed at Central a few more years, leaving the city in 1955 for other opportunities.

Many years later he returned to Evansville, aged and in poor health, actually living just down the street from the lawn where student democracy manifested itself so many Aprils before. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 81, still loved in the memory of his students.

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