Just days before the community learned of Jeff Dienhart’s passing Wednesday morning, the inspirational Central Catholic girls assistant basketball coach was on the sidelines.
Dienhart went out victorious on Saturday night, seeing his final game from the Knights bench as CC defeated Carroll in the regional championship at Tri-Central.
“I feel most comfortable around my team,” Dienhart said after Saturday’s regional semifinal victory over Monroe Central. “It was important for me to be here just to get into my comfort zone.”
Dienhart died about 7 a.m. Wednesday after a long bout with illnesses caused by cystic fibrosis. He was 44.
Dienhart is survived by his wife, Valerie; a son, Drew; stepdaughter and stepson in-law Alicia and Daniel Fehnel and their daughter, Aubrey; his parents Wayne and Kathy Dienhart; brothers Erick and Dan (Alesa) Dienhart; along with Valerie’s parents Richard and Barbara; and in-laws Richie and Robin.
Son Tyler “TJ” Jeffrey died at birth on Aug. 29, 2013. A memorial fund in his name used to provide scholarships to CC girls basketball players is set up at Lafayette Bank & Trust, 3901 Indiana 26 East, and will have Jeff’s name added to it, Valerie Dienhart said. The family request contributions be made to the fund in lieu of flowers.
The Central Catholic girls basketball program announced the unfortunate news on its Facebook page Wednesday morning, saying, “Jeff loved this team with all his heart and saying he will be missed is an understatement.”
The players were informed at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“Jeff was just a tremendous guy,” said CC girls basketball coach Craig DeVault, who had Dienhart as one of his groomsmen 18 years ago. “He would do anything for anybody. He fought and fought and fought this disease until it overcame him.”
During Saturday’s Class A semistate at Crown Point, the team will wear special shooting shirts commemorating Dienhart.
The blue shirts with white text will say “JD Feb. 25, 2015” on the front. Underneath a cross on the back will read a quote of Dienhart’s from Saturday’s regional tournament, “Keep going. Keep fighting. Keep battling.”
The second seat from the scorer’s table, where Dienhart sits, will be left empty on Saturday. Drew Dienhart will be an honorary member of the coaching staff.
He was originally scheduled to receive a stem cell treatment in January to assist in his battle with cystic fibrosis, but an infection hospitalized him for nearly a month. Again, he planned to go to the Dominican Republic in March for stem cell treatment, but another illness hospitalized him. Dienhart was released from the hospital on hospice care last week.
In death, Dienhart is still inspiring the Knights with the way he battled despite his setbacks.
“Losing Coach Jeff is weighing on all of us right now,” CC senior Sammy Bonner said. “We know we have to do it for him right now. We were hoping he would be able to be there. Even though it’s painful, we know we have to do this for him.”
Central Catholic assistant girls basketball coach Jeff Dienhart, left, and fellow assistants Dave Crandall and Drake Barrett look on as the Knights score against Guerin Catholic Friday, January 30, 2015, at Central Catholic Jr./Sr. High School. It was the first game for Dienhart in quite a while, as he had spent the better part of the month of January in the hospital. Dienhart is set to receive stem cell treatment in the Dominican Republic to hopefully assist in his battle with cystic fibrosis.