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January 10, 2013

GASKINS: A void Panthers can’t fill

Myers’ death felt deeply by his friends in the Western basketball family.

One of my favorite things about covering high school basketball games is seeing familiar faces. Our local schools are fortunate to have loyal supporters who regularly fill important roles such as ticket takers, public address announcers, scoreboard operators and more.

At Western, two of my favorite people to see over the years have been Fred and Emily Myers. Whenever I’d make my way to press row in Richard R. Rea Gymnasium, I’d see the likable couple — Fred ready to keep stats for the Panthers and Emily with a camera in her hand, ready to take photos of Western’s players.

Sadly, I will no longer see Fred at Western games. He passed away Monday, struck down at 63 by cancer.

Western’s boys basketball program was hit hard by the news.

“Fred was just a wonderful man,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “He was a great family man — great husband, father, grandfather — and an all-around great guy. He was willing to give you the shirt off his back. He’d do anything for you to help you.”

Miller noted Myers was loyal to the program.

“He didn’t want any credit or recognition, just came in with a desire to help the program and the school in any way, shape or form. His wife, Emily, is the exact same way. What they have done for the Western community, you can’t thank them enough,” he said.

Myers was a fixture at Western basketball games over the years. He started keeping stats with the girls program in the late 1980s when Cindy Lester was the coach and later began with the boys program when Tom Lewis was the coach. He continued with the boys when Andy Weaver replaced Lewis.

Weaver spent 15 seasons at Western before moving on to Plainfield this season.

“Fred will be deeply missed,” Weaver said. “He loved Western sports.”

Weaver always likes having stats in his hands after games, especially when talking to a reporter. He likes to pin-point key stretches of the game. He knew what Myers handed him was on the money.

“For 15 years, Fred kept the possession chart. He couldn’t be replaced in that role,” he said. “He could do it with live action and it was so accurate, and you could read his chart and basically tell how the game went. I think he missed one game at one time and I tried to do it off film with rewinding and I couldn’t do it like he could with live action. He was on it [with details] exactly right every time.”

Myers previously kept possession charts for Western’s girls team during Lester’s 14 years as coach. Lester noted he was ahead of the curve with his attention to detail.

“Fred kept a possession chart which is what many of the new computer programs are designed to be, giving you a play-by-play analysis. The manner in which Fred kept the chart allowed me to track the game possession by possession,” Lester said, noting Myers provided an array of information. “I could get a good feel for how the game was going by a quick glance at the possession chart at halftime — maybe to see what was happening and reassure what you thought or show you something you may not have realized was happening repeatedly.”

Weaver noted Myers had a good feel for players and the game, too.

“What I loved about Fred was, every halftime and every postgame, he would come into our locker room and he’d hear my comments to the team and stuff like that. Most of the time, he would just give me the stats. But when Fred gave you a comment, you knew that it was something you ought to listen to. It would not be very often, but when he did, I took what he said as gold because what he said was right on. He was a very intelligent guy.

Lester appreciated Myers’ basketball knowledge, too — and also his team-first attitude which showed most when two of his three daughters, Jodi and Jamie, played.

“Fred had a unique way of giving the input that was beneficial without being a pushy parent trying to tell the coach how to do their job. He was always ready and willing to talk basketball and kids — wanting what was best for all of the kids and for the team,” she said.

Lester couldn’t remember Myers missing a game in her 14 seasons. Weaver also appreciated his dependability. And of course, Emily was a fixture at games, too.

“Fred was so loyal to our programs and obviously Emily has taken pictures for so many student- athletes. Emily has helped me with highlight tapes we put out at the end of the season. That family has left a lot of memories for a lot of people,” Weaver said. “Those are the type of people that you just love.”

My thoughts are with Emily this week. I was blessed to have her as the photographer at my wedding in November. My wife, Amber, and I were thrilled to have a friend as our photographer and we loved her photos of our big day.

I am glad to hear Lester is spearheading a project to honor Fred’s contributions to the Panther basketball programs. Lester and Miller are hoping to raise enough money to put a memorial bench in the Panthers’ gym lobby. Those who wish to donate may send a check made payable to Western Basketball to the high school, in care of Lester or Miller. Any money raised above the cost of the bench will go toward the Fred Myers Memorial Western Athletic Scholarship fund at Community First Bank.

“Whenever I talked with Fred, he always wanted to talk basketball and we always ended up laughing about something. He will always be a part of Western basketball,” Lester said.

Bryan Gaskins is the Tribune’s sports editor. He may be reached at bryan.gaskins@kokomotribune.com or 765-454-8567.

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