CEDAR RAPIDS — Last week, Bill Fleming went against his doctor’s orders and attended Maquoketa’s boys’ basketball game against rival DeWitt Central.
Fleming was wheelchair bound, an oxygen tube affixed to his nose because of a lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
“Him and his wife, I think they picked up a nurse on the way, came and watched us pick up a win over DeWitt,” said Maquoketa Coach Matt Hartman. “The next day or two, he decided to go off his meds. I guess watching that game was one of the last things he wanted to do.”
A coaching legend at the school and IHSAA hall of famer, Fleming died Thursday at the age of 76. He won exactly 500 games in 33 years, losing just 197.
Known for a no-nonsense approach, he led Maquoketa to six state tournaments, including a Class 2A runner-up finish to Cedar Rapids Regis in 1983. After retiring, he went on to be an assistant coach for one of his former players at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas, with the school winning an NAIA national championship during his tenure there.
But his heart never left Maquoketa or the program he built.
“Great guy who loved basketball and kids,” said Iowa City High Coach Derek Roberts, who coached at Maquoketa prior to getting the City High job. “I will never forget when I interviewed for the job, he was so excited to call and speak with me about Maquoketa’s background. I think we spoke on the phone for two hours.”
Roberts and Hartman said Fleming always was willing to share his coaching philosophies with them. He’d help them with whatever they needed.
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“One thing that stood out was that after home games, he used to invite the opposing team to stick around and have a sandwich and drink with his team to celebrate the game and build new relationships,” Roberts said. “I looked up to him because of his true infatuation with building up kids and all the facets of his basketball program.”
This past summer, after word of his health spread, over 200 of Fleming’s former players gathered for a reunion with the coach. They shared stories and memories.
Hartman said he was going to speak to his team, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, before Thursday’s afternoon practice about Fleming’s death and everything he meant to the program and community.
“We’ve tried reaching back and tapping into that tradition,” Hartman said. “Make the kids understand what it was like when he was here. The Maquoketa basketball tradition is so great.”
Around the hoop
— Springville Coach Nick Merritt won his 100th game last week when the Orioles beat Maquoketa Valley, 47-27. The Orioles went into their game Thursday night at Ed-Co with an 8-6 record and winners of five of their last six games.
— Postseason pods for Class 1A and 2A are expected to be released Friday by the Iowa High School Athletic Association. Pods for 3A and 4A are expected to be released next Friday. Coaches will seed the pods the final week of January (1A-2A) and first week of February (3A-4A), which will determine pairings.
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