An hour practice has concluded, and Sigourney basketball players are trudging off the court to their locker room.
Coach Dave Tremmel slowly follows, limping noticeably as he shuffles along. There is little movement in his right arm and hand, which is tight to his side.
“I don’t get after them much any more,” he said, shaking his head. “I should, but I don’t.”
The discussion extends into how kids are different today, changed from even five to 10 years ago. They don’t seem to respond as well to discipline, can’t stand being yelled at.
If anyone should know, it’s the 63-year-old Tremmel. It’s his 37th season as a head coach, with stops at places like Washington, Iowa City High, Williamsburg and Amana.
Call it a special season in so many ways.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, two years ago, when Tremmel walked into the house after raking leaves.
“It was about 4:45,” Nancy Tremmel remembered. “He tried to pick up a bowl that was sitting on the counter, but dropped it. Then he started slurring his speech.”
She knew something was wrong. Her husband was having a stroke, a massive one.
Dave was touch and go at the beginning, in the hospital for four and a half months. Somehow, he survived.
“Had to re-learn how to do everything,” he said. “Walk, talk, eat. I couldn’t do anything. My doctor told me ‘You were a mess.’”
A few things kept him going through the darkest times and extensive physical therapy. There was Nancy, their three children (Zach, Regina and Shannon) and eight grandchildren.
And there was basketball. An Iowa High School Athletic Association hall of famer, Tremmel won a state championship at Washington in 1986, one of eight teams he has coached to Des Moines.
There was one milestone left: 500 wins. So when last summer rolled around, and the progress in his health continued, Tremmel made a decision to return to the sidelines.
Much to the chagrin of his wife.
“I didn’t want him to,” Nancy Tremmel admitted. “But I know how hard he has worked to get back. Coaching has been his life. So I just sit back and let him go.”
“We wanted him to come back,” said Sigourney guard Andrew Utterback. “As soon as he said he was going to, we were all very happy. We knew we were going to have a good season for him and ourselves.”
A great season. Sigourney begins Class 1A district play Thursday against Seymour with a 19-2 record, a No. 8 state ranking and its first South Iowa Cedar League championship in 28 years.
Oh, and that 500th career win came last week, too. Sigourney edged HLV, whose coach is Zach Tremmel.
“I think he had some second guessing about whether he could do it any more,” Zach said. “But I’ve always told him to be confident in himself. I knew once he got out there, he’d be fine.”
“I don’t know if it was smart, but …” Dave said. “I wanted to get 500 victories, and I just love to coach. I took it all in, and away I went.”
It’s not easy, for sure. Communicating to his team is the toughest part.
Dave always knows what he wants to say, but the stroke has left him unable to completely express thoughts much of the time. That’s where Utterback comes in.
“He can finish a sentence for dad before it comes out,” said Shannon Webb, the curriculum director at Sigourney. “Seriously.”
“If he doesn’t know quite how to get something across, he’ll ask me, and I’ll present it to the team,” said Utterback, Sigourney’s all-time leading scorer. “I have about four study halls a day, so me and him hang out in his office. We talk about practices, we talk about game plans for who we’re playing against. What defenses we need to run. We spend a lot of time together.”
The goal the rest of the way is obvious. Get Sigourney to the state tournament for the first time and get Tremmel there for the first time since 1994.
Who knows after that. Utterback said he truly believes Tremmel will return for a 38th season, though the coach won’t quite go that far.
“That’s what they say, but I don’t know,” Tremmel said. “It’s been tough. It has. But each day becomes easier and easier.”
“Wanting to come back after all that, and at his age, it’s a miracle,” Utterback said. “We really wanted this season to be special for him.”
It has been, Andrew. It has been.
Here are a couple of short videos of a Sigourney practice from Tuesday: