Sitting below a row of signed basketballs lining the top shelf of his tiny corner office at Iowa Mennonite School, Dwight Gingerich thought about the question:
Can you remember every win?
Gingerich gazes toward a wall lined with neatly organized notebooks with a slight, almost sly grin on his face.
Seconds tick by.
It’s almost as if the long-time Iowa Mennonite basketball coach is watching a highlight reel of past victories tick by, too.
His gaze is so strong, his grin so sincere, that it’s almost as if the flickering lights of a projector should splash game film on the wall he’s facing.
Finally, Gingerich speaks.
“No, I can’t remember them all,” he admits. “I remember a lot of them, and those are great memories. Some tremendous memories.”
Few coaches can recall past wins with such vivid description in the way Gingerich can.
Even fewer have as many wins to remember.
Gingerich became the 11th coach in Iowa history to surpass 600 wins earlier this season, with a 48-40 victory over Winfield-Mount Union.
In his 33 seasons as a high school coach — all at IMS — Gingerich has won 608 games entering Thursday’s Class 1A District opener against H-L-V at Montezuma.
He insists he can’t remember every triumph.
His players disagree.
“It’s crazy how he remembers every game,” said Gingerich’s son, Eli, a junior guard. “He’ll talk about players and games from the past like it was a couple of days ago. It’s like he remembers all of the games and players to come through here.”
If it seems like Gingerich remembers all his wins and — more importantly to the coach — all his former players, it’s because, mostly, he does.
Leaning back in his chair now, Gingerich ticks off stories of the biggest wins during his three decades at IMS.
Each story is more about the player who helped secure the victory, and every story comes complete with minute details.
They all end the same way, with an update on what that player is doing now.
“I saw that memory in how he would prepare us,” said Adam Ingersoll, a 1993 IMS graduate and former player. “There was always that attention to detail.”
Gingerich’s own story
The personal biography of Gingerich is fairly short.
He grew up on a farm outside Kalona and graduated from IMS in 1976.
Gingerich said he wasn’t much of a player himself, but still played two years of college basketball at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.
It was what happened when Gingerich gave up playing the game that helped shape his coaching career.
Gingerich elected to forgo playing his final two seasons in favor of an off-campus study program in Washington, D.C., during which he served as an assistant to Jack Bruen at Archbishop Carroll High School.
Bruen, who later coached at Catholic University and Colgate University, helped Gingerich realize his desire to be a head coach.
“I was really lucky to be in a situation where I was under a great coach,” Gingerich said. “I was only there for one year, but I was in the gym every day for four hours and it was like a clinic every day.”
After a one year stint as a junior varsity coach at Eastern Mennonite High School in Harrisonburg, and just five years after graduating from high school, Gingerich returned to IMS.
“It was going to be a one-year deal,” Gingerich said. “I was filling in for somebody. It turned out to be more.”
Much, much more.
Iowa Mennonite won 17 games in Gingerich’s first three seasons as a head coach.
His 1984 team finished 7-11 and knocked off Eastern Iowa Hawkeye Conference champion West Branch in the pos-season.
Gingerich recited the story of the West Branch win as if it occurred three days ago, as opposed to decades long gone.
“We came from behind to beat West Branch in the sectional semifinal after we got beat by them earlier in the year,” he said. “We went box-and-one on Marv Cook and shut him down and won 43-42 on a baseline jumper with four seconds to play.”
Since that 1984 season, IMS has had only one season with a record below .500.
The coach’s influence
Slowly but steadily, Gingerich turned tiny IMS into a basketball mecca.
“Dwight really embraced what IMS is. He graduated from there he understands the people, the players and I think that has really helped him,” City High coach Don Showalter said. “He has a great mind for the game and he remembers everything.”
Showalter attended IMS as a youth and coached against Gingerich for years at Mid-Prairie, where he picked up 441 of his own 588 career wins.
A six-time developmental coach of the year for USA Basketball, Showalter marveled at Gingerich’s ability to teach the game to young players.
“He has taught the game really, really well,” Showalter said. “He is just a great coach. He is a great teacher of the game. As the kids come through the system 9 through 12, he does probably as good as job of anybody as developing kids quickly and that takes real talent.”
Gingerich has taken 12 teams to the state tournament, beginning in 1988.
Under Gingerich, IMS has reached the state title game five times and won the 1A title in 1992.
“There are a lot of big wins along the way,” Gingerich said. “There are some losses that are still hard to forget, too.”
Ingersoll came to IMS as a boarding student from Illinois before the 1992 state champion season.
With a penchant for individual play, Ingersoll quickly learned the core values of Gingerich’s style.
Team play. Fundamentals. Selflessness.
During his first summer on the IMS team, Ingersoll stood out to opposing coaches for his individual play.
Ingersoll, who went on to play college ball at the University of Southern California, didn’t take long to fit in.
“Dwight told me years later that other coaches were asking him, ‘Where did you get this kid? His game is wild and crazy,’ ” Ingersoll said. “Then you fast forward three years later when I made the team at USC as a walk-on, the coaches at USC told me it was because of my fundamentals. So who can you give that credit to?”
Gingerich won his 400th game in 2005 and broke the 500 mark in 2010.
Win No. 600 was extra special because Gingerich was able to share it with Eli, who had a team-high 16 points in the win.
“It was definitely cool to be a part of that,” Eli said. “I remember his 400th win. It was at the state tournament and I just remember how cool that was with all the people there, and I remember that and to be a part of something like that was just awesome.”
This year’s IMS team is 13-7, and Gingerich is showing no signs of slowing down.
Only three coaches in Iowa state history have reached 700 wins.
Could Gingerich be next on that list?
“I enjoy seeing the growth, development and progress of kids, and the competitive spirit is still there,” Gingerich said. “It’s been a lot of fun to see kids learn the game and grow in their ability to play together. All of that is still there. The palms still get sweaty on game day.”
Gingerich might not remember all his wins, but what he does remember are the young men and women (he also spent more than a decade as the IMS volleyball coach) who have come through the doors of IMS.
He praises the work ethic and dedication of his players, past and present.
Gingerich also speaks glowingly of the support from the parents, administration and community.
That support was echoed by former players.
“It starts with the IMS culture,” Ingersoll said. “Really with that entire community, you absolutely understand that these adults are about teaching you about life and how to grow up and how to be part of a community. A lot of programs talk about being a family, but IMS is an example of what that looks like when it is really sincere. You played for Dwight, but you are a part of that Iowa Mennonite family forever.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Dwight Gingerich by the numbers
Winning seasons: 29
20+ win seasons: 19
State Tournament Appearances: 12
State finals appearances: 5
State titles: 1 (1992).