Rich Meckfessel brought class and a splendid chair-kicking ability when he came to Morris Harvey College in 1965 as head coach of the basketball and tennis teams.
Class and chair-kicking? An oxymoronish combination to be sure.
After a long and meaningful life, Meckfessel’s health began to fade in recent years. With his loved ones at his side, he died in late June at 81 in Savannah, Georgia.
A memorial service has been set up in St. Louis on Sept. 14.
I remember well the day of his first press conference of sorts in the old Eddie King Gym. I was struck by Meckfessel’s youth (27) and his intellectual manner that was pronounced by the glasses he wore. He was tall (6-foot-3) and looked like a former basketball player, which he was at at Washington University in his hometown of St. Louis.
But he appeared more like a young professor or even a student on campus, not the typical jockish, profane spouting coach that I had dealt with so many times previously.
We hit it off from the beginning. And I enjoyed conversing with a coach who rarely discussed coaching techniques and the like.
Rich came on the scene during the glory days of the West Virginia Conference. Great rivalries sprouted between Morris Harvey and two other nearby schools, West Virginia Tech and West Virginia State.
And Joe Retton was always lurking with his strong program at Fairmont. Tech was coached by Neal Baisi and Goodrich “Pete’’ Phillips, two other bright men who could discus subjects in addition to basketball. Likewise with Don Christie at Concord College.
Meckfessel’s calm demeanor would sometimes fade away in the heat of a conference game in Eddie King Gym on campus. At the hint of a questionable call by an official that went against the Golden Eagles, Meckfessel would leap from his chair, whirl around and give his metal chair a vicious kick.
WHAM. CLANK. And the chair went down.
He also could be an innovator in the gym. Once he moved the chairs where the press sat from the middle of the sidelines to the far ends to enable his team to have the middle section.
One of his star players was Henry Dickerson who had the athletic ability but not the ample size (6-4) to man the center post as a professional player.
Meckfessel believed Dickerson had the talent to play pro ball, but not as a center. So he moved him to guard during his senior season to provide him experience at that position.
It proved, at least to me, that Meckfessel was willing to sacrifice wins to assist one of his players advance his individual career because Dickerson was needed more in the pivot where he could grab rebounds as well as contribute points.
Still, Meckfesel had plenty of victories, mainly with athletes with southern West Virginia roots. He cherished several wins over Marshall, which featured bigger and more talented players.
He won 250 games at MHC and his 1966-67 team won a school record 20 straight games at one stretch.
If Meckfessel had a favorite player on his teams, it was probably Roger Hart, a 5-8 dynamo who was both a playmaker and a scorer. especially in clutch situations.
A few years ago, Meckfessel organized a dinner for his 1966-67 team that advanced all the way to the semifinal round of the NAIA tournament in Kansas City. He also invited me to a fine evening of frivolity and speeches from his former players.
Meckfessel picked up the entire tab at the steak house near the Civic Center.
By this time, Meckfessel and his wife of 19 years, Judy Hinrichs had settled on an area in Savannah as their retirement home on Skidaway Island.
At one point in his career at MHC, in an effort to cut costs, Meckfessel was asked to serve as both head coach and director of athletics at the school. which eventually became the University of Charleston. He had no problem in doubling his duties as long as he was also coaching.
But later, a misguided president asked Meckfessel to choice which job he wanted to keep. He reluctantly left his coaching duties to become director of athletics. He felt like he had little choice.
In 1982, Rich left Morris Harvey to return to St. Louis to continue his first love — coaching. This time at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.
After spending close to 18 years back in St. Louis, Meckfessel and his wife settled on a place just outside Savannah as their retirement destination.
I was a guest there recently in their beautiful home during stops to and from Florida.
Meckfessel had two children with his first wife. Son Steve lives in Tampa, Fla and promotes endurance events including marathon races. Daughter Susan is a graduate of West Point and works as a nurse in Indianapolis.
When it comes to making a list of people who will miss Rich Meckfessel, put me at the top.