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Gymnasium named after Botkins native

February 6, 2014

Former Newton Falls High School teacher and varsity boys basketball coach Gene Zorn stands with current NFHS varsity boys basketball coach Roy Sembach in front of a sign showing Zorn coaching his 1966 team and teaching. This sign is now hanging at the entrance to Gene Zorn Gymnasium.

A gymnasium was recently named in honor of Botkins native Gene Zorn for his many years teaching math and coaching basketball at Newton Falls High School in Newton Falls, a small town in northeast Ohio.

The gymnasium was named in Zorn’s honor on Jan. 17.

Zorn said he was not aware of the plans to dedicate the gymnasium in his honor.

“I knew something was going on, but they wouldn’t tell me,” Zorn said. “Two days before, someone let it slip, so I found out then.”

Zorn began teaching advanced math classes and coaching basketball in the fall of 1955.

He retired from coaching during the 1986-87 season and retired from teaching in the spring of 1990.

Current Newton Falls varsity boys basketball coach Roy Sembach said Zorn won 319 games throughout his coaching years, which he said is “one of the highest totals Trumbull County history.”

As of November 2013, Zorn is one of 234 coaches in Ohio high school basketball history with 300 or more career wins.

Sembach said Zorn won six league championships and numerous sectional titles.

“He was elected to the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame,” Sembach said. “He was also selected to Trumbull County Sports Hall of Fame.”

Sembach said he learned from Zorn as a student and a player, and he later coached under him for six years. When Zorn retired, Sembach took over as coach. Describing him as a “close friend,” Sembach said Zorn has affected more than those on the basketball court.

Sembach said the Newton Fall High School gymnasium was named after Zorn because of the “countless” students and players he impacted and the achievements he had throughout his career.

“On the night we named the gym ‘Gene Zorn Gymnasium’ — that night it was a sellout crowd and former students and players came back that evening,” Sembach said.

Sembach said the dedication event was organized by NFHS Athletic Director Scott Kernen, who gave a presentation about Zorn’s career at half-time. The name of the gym “Gene Zorn Gymnasium” hung above the crowd.

After the presentation, a sign was unveiled with a photograph of Zorn in a huddle with the 1966 basketball team.

“That was kind of the highlight,” Sembach said. “The name of the gym and showing the sign.”

During the presentation, all of Zorn’s former students and players were called to stand at he baseline, and Sembach said the line wrapped four times around the court.

Zorn said the amount of attendees showing their support meant a lot to him.

“They came as far as California,” Zorn said. “Another [player] couldn’t come, so he wrote a poem about my coaching. There was a lot of them. They called them all down, all the ones who played basketball for me and who took my math class, and there was a stream of people. They just about emptied the stands.”

Zorn said he enjoyed the unveiling of the sign on the court after the presentation.

“They all marched out and congratulated me, and then they finally had their basketball game,” Zorn said, noting that the presentation lasted about an hour.

Sembach said there is a reason why the event was well-attended.

“He made such an impact on their lives as coach and teacher — he’s one of those who you never forget. You talk about him way after his class. He’s an all around great person.”

Zorn said he enjoyed seeing familiar faces during the dedication.

“It was real nice and everything. They did a tremendous job,” Zorn said. “All the showcases on the floor — pictures of all the teams I had in the past. It was a really nice display, really tremendous.”

Sembach said many community members donated money toward the new sign in the gymnasium. He said many former students and players who were unable to attend the dedication wrote letters that told him he was the best teacher they had ever had.

“That night some of his former players and students came as far as Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Rochester, N.Y., and Virginia — as well as all over the state of Ohio,” Sembach said.

Sembach said Zorn remains involved at the school and in the community.

“It’s not like he’s been gone,” Sembach said. “He’s still extremely active. He retired, but he never left.”

After graduating from Botkins High School, Zorn said he went into the military service. Afterwards, he graduated from Ohio State University with majors in math, physical education and health.

At first, Zorn moved to Gibsonburg, Ohio, to be assistant football, basketball and track coach. He later moved to East Canton High School to be the head football, basketball and track coach for three years.

Afterwards, he moved to Newton Falls to teach advanced math classes and coach basketball.

Zorn said he still visits Botkins for one week during the year, although due to an illness he has been restricted from attending his high school class reunion, which he organized in the past.

He said he enjoys seeing his classmates, and he also visits his many relatives who reside throughout Auglaize County.

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