Leading the Break

 Sam Dittberner is #11 in the photo

Sam Dittberner is #11 in the photo

Several years ago while watching a Johnnie basketball game I noticed a particularly tenacious guard who defended like a demon, hustled for every loose ball and literally never slowed down.  When I checked his number in the program and saw his last name I thought that I had seen the name before – Dittberner.  Where had I seen that name?

A couple of years later while attending a Johnnie basketball luncheon I happened to sit at the same table with Sam Dittberner ’13 and his father, Tim.  Tim had been a longtime basketball coach and athletic director in southern Minnesota, most recently at New Prague High School.  BINGO!  This was the same Coach Dittberner who had coached at LeSueur High School, which competed in my conference when I was in high school.  His teams were known for their suffocating defense and the unselfish team play which his players fully embraced.  As a result they won two straight state titles.  Tim later coached Sam at New Prague, which explained the background behind Sam’s tenacious style of play.

At lunch we discussed Sam’s experience at Saint John’s, one that had made a tremendous impact on him both on and off the court.  He exuded a love for Saint John’s that was palpable.  Since graduation Sam has been off to a great career with Allianz, and he has remained close to his alma mater by serving as a volunteer assistant coach as well as helping out with the basketball camps in the summer.  One would think that might be enough for a twenty-something young man to take on, but it wasn’t.

Several months ago Sam reached out to me with an idea he wanted to talk through.  When we had coffee at his office Sam told me that he wanted to figure out a way to help young men at New Prague High School.  He inquired about what it would take to provide a scholarship fund for those wishing to attend Saint John’s, and as a result we created a plan which one day will endow a scholarship for those young men.  It is no surprise that he is approaching this endeavor with the same zeal that I witnessed on the basketball court.

When alumni ask what Johnnies are like today, I am proud to say that they arrive at Saint John's perhaps a bit more academically polished because of their Advancement Placement courses in high school, and that they go out readier than ever to tackle the world.  Johnnies today are as high quality as they have ever been in my estimation, and such is the case with Sam Dittberner.  He is a true Johnnie - a class act who selflessly gives back in order to make something good even better.  In my mind, if we can create even more Sam Dittberners the world will be a better place.