By Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Longtime Hayden coach Ben Meseke will forever remember the passionate support his basketball teams received from the student body and the wider Hayden and Topeka community.
“We’d go on the road and you couldn’t tell the home team from the visiting team,” said Meseke, “because there was so much blue!”
But it wasn’t only the team the school was coming out to support.
On Feb. 23, the Hayden Catholic High School community honored Coach Meseke by naming the school’s basketball court in his honor.
During the final home game of the season, Meseke, his wife, children and grandchildren stood at center court during halftime as school officials honored him for his accomplishments. During his tenure as the boys’ basketball coach, the school made 13 state tournament appearances in the Class 4A tournament, claiming six championship titles, including one earned at the end of a perfect season in 1983.
Yet, it was not just on the basketball court that Meseke proved his coaching prowess. During the two decades he spent at Hayden from 1973 to 1997, he also coached the cross-country team. Those teams claimed another six state championship titles.
Adding to his already impressive resume, Meseke also taught mathematics courses, including advanced classes in algebra and geometry, for 23 years. Toward the end of his Hayden career, he served as the assistant principal.
As a result of all the hats he wore, he touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Hayden students and their families. Although the game fell on a Tuesday night, many of his former students showed up to express their appreciation to Meseke. At halftime, they were invited to stand behind Meseke and his family. Two who did were BJ McGivern, a 1992 graduate, and Lisa Hockenberry, a 1989 graduate.
McGivern, a member of the 1991 state championship team, said his admiration for Meseke runs deep, and he appreciates the life lessons Meseke taught him on the basketball court.
“There are several admirable attributes Coach Meseke demonstrated for our team. The demand for discipline from us and his efficient coaching style and the preparation he put forth were obviously components of a winning formula,” said McGivern said. “We were always so scripted and worked on fundamentals daily.”
While Hockenberry didn’t play for Meseke, she was in one of his algebra classes. Yet, that’s not what she remembers most about Meseke. It was his school spirit and his appreciation of every single student and their contributions to the basketball team’s success.
Hockenberry played saxophone in the pep band. She recalled with pleasure the appreciation Meseke always showed to the band, the student body and the fans, making them feel as if the championship belonged to them just as much as it did to the team.
“Every year, we would start the first basketball pep assembly by marching up and down the hallways, playing the Hayden fight song,” she said. “He always said that we helped school spirit and that we were the sixth man of the team, getting everyone pumped up.”
During the halftime ceremony, Meseke mentioned the student body and fans in his remarks.
“There were games we had to lock doors because there were so many here,” said Meseke.
“And you students, this is the No. 1 student body in the whole state — the most passionate and energetic of student bodies.”
Before the game, Meseke said the honor was both overwhelming and humbling.
“I coached basketball and I worked with kids. I had fun,” he said simply, adding he enjoyed each moment he ever spent at the high school. And although he’s been away from the school for 19 years, his heart will always be there.
“My blood runs blue totally,” said Meseke.