By Mike Bush
O'Fallon, MO (KSDK) -- Character is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning.
At St. Dominic High School in O'Fallon, Missouri, this may be the most meaningful early season game in team history. Not because of whom they're playing, but because of who is watching.
Dozens of former St. Dominic players filled the grandstands; but this was more than just a high school reunion. It was a night to honor their old coach whose 76-year-old eyes are like rear view mirrors to our past.
Ed Crenshaw is a former Sumner High School and Quincy college basketball star who was hired to be the basketball coach at St. Dominic, formerly called Assumption back in 1961. The outgoing coach, Crenshaw's former college teammate, Norm Ochsner, acted like his agent when they approached the school's principal.
"I said, 'Did you hire a new coach yet?'" Ochsner said. "He said, 'No, we're having a hard time finding somebody. So I said, 'I have the perfect guy for you right here.'"
When he was hired, Crenshaw was the only African-American on the faculty. In fact, he was the only African-American in the school.
"The players learned very quickly that he knew what he was talking about and the kids just wanted to play for him," said former player Rich Schmersahl.
While race wasn't an issue at St. Dominic, the same could not be said for the rest of community at the time.
"He once went into a restaurant with three or four of his players and they wouldn't serve him," Ochsner said.
Crenshaw had to endure taunts from the fans of other schools as well.
"I don't know that I noticed that it upset coach but I know it really upset us when we saw the way people treated him in other places," Schmersahl said.
Those who know him best, like his son Ed Crenshaw Jr., said if it bothered him he never let on. Even after making the drive back home to the city every night.
"My dad never talked about color. He never spoke about black and white," his son said. "All we knew about was people and love and compassion for each other."
Though these were the turbulent 1960s, when it came to Coach Crenshaw instead of black and white, people were soon talking about wins and losses.
"His won-loss record is remarkable," said Ochsner.
In 14 seasons with the St. Dominic Crusaders and then later at University City High School, Crenshaw's teams won 71 percent of their games. He retired as the eighth winningest coach in Missouri history with 677 wins. But his players said he taught them more than just basketball.
"Number one, he was very humble. Number two, he respected everyone," said former player Dave Beckering. "What I think Ed taught me more than basketball, Ed taught me about tolerance."
Which brings us back to that reunion. Fifteen years after he retired and 36 years after he left St. Dominic, the coach and his players were together again. They talked about old times, old games and St. Dominic's new gym the floor, which has been named Ed Crenshaw Court.
"I know he never expected this," Beckering said. "That's what so great about this."
Now battling Alzheimer's disease, the coach has good days and bad. This was clearly one of those good days.
"We lost our mother in March and after she passed dad's health started to deteriorate a little bit," said Crenshaw Jr. "I fight back tears as we speak. It means a lot."
And though the Crusaders lost their game against Westminster, that's not what most people will remember about this night.
"I'm just thankful at this time of year when we're supposed to be thankful for our blessings that Ed Crenshaw came into my life," said Ochsner.
Some get their name up in lights. Others light the way and through strength, character and dignity etch their name on people's hearts.