For years, the Leman family of Ninilchik lived basketball. They played, breathed and slept basketball.
And that love of the sport translated to great success on the court. Dan Leman coached the Ninilchik School girls team to unprecedented heights and his daughter Whitney backed up the family name as a player with a dominant court presence.
While that passion for the sport continues to shine, the Lemans eventually stepped down from their perch at the top level of the game. Dan retired as a coach in 2009, and Whitney played her last competitive college game in 2007 before a torn Achilles injury sidelined her.
Today, however, the Lemans will be front and center once again.
Dan Leman will be inducted today into the Alaska High School Hall of Fame in Anchorage, along with his 29-year-old daughter, Whitney Schollenberg. The pair is among nine other inductees into this year’s Hall of Fame class, which also includes former Kenai Central Kardinals football coach Bruce Shearer.
“We’re both super honored,” Whitney said. “I think it’s kind of like a justification of a lot of hard work and a big chunk of our lives. We just want to share this with everybody that was a part of it.”
A big chunk of their lives may be an understatement. Dan, who still commercial fishes out of Ninilchik, said his family would rabidly await the beginning of each high school basketball season, and during the winter would analyze their playing style and try to improve.
“We would videotape the games and come home, watch the tapes and look at things we need to work on,” he said. “It was a very special time as a family to spend time with kids and my wife. During those years, she was a full-time teacher, mother, wife and a full-time fan.”
Leman’s wife, Jamie, and daughters Tasha Boin and Krista Sutton will be in attendance tonight at the Redington Ballroom in the Millennium Alaskan Hotel.
“I have no idea what to expect,” Whitney said. “I’m excited but I have no idea what it’s gonna be like.
“The coolest part is I’m going in with my dad. That’s how I’m thinking of the whole thing, we’re doing it together. I don’t know how it would feel if it was just myself.”
The ceremony will mark the first time two family members will join the Hall.
“On one hand, I think I’ll be a little nervous anyway, but with Whitney there, I’ll put that aside and enjoy the role of being her father,” Dan said.
“It’s gonna take us back, I think,” Whitney added. “I’ve been out of high school 11 years, dad hasn’t coached in a while, and this is bringing all that back.”
Admitting that he was never someone to place high importance on individual awards, Dan deflected much of the credit to the players.
“I’m just really proud to accept this on behalf of all the players I’ve coached,” Leman said.
For 18 seasons, Leman dominated the central Kenai Peninsula small-schools basketball coaching landscape, guiding Ninilchik to 373 wins in 409 games and eight state championships, including five in a row from 2000 to 2004.
Leman also led the Wolverines through two amazing winning streaks — a 57-game run and a 98-game run.
“I can look back and kinda laugh now, it was kind of like, keep on chugging along,” Leman said. “It was keep looking ahead, don’t look back.”
Should it be brought up in tonight’s Hall of Fame ceremony, perhaps the incredible numbers that helped build Leman’s enduring legacy can be explained by his systematic coaching methods.
“It was pretty rough when I started out,” Leman admitted. “The kids did a lot of sports throughout the years, starting at the elementary level, and I knew them because I was an assistant coach on the boys team, then the lead coach with the girls.
“We kept things simple, worked on the basics, then when they got older, they knew me and knew what to expect.”
Leman’s method of starting players early and teaching them the fundamentals of the sport has caught on. He may not have been the first coach to do so, but others, such as Nikolaevsk coaches Steve and Bea Klaich, have duplicated Leman’s style with similar, successful results.
“I don’t think I was the first to do it, but that’s worked best for me,” Leman said. “In the end it worked out best for the kids too. As time went on, just having a successful program, the kids were eager to be a part of that.”
Leman said another effective routine involved traveling to scrimmage with other schools, such as Homer, Nikiski, Soldotna and Kenai Central. Leman said the added exposure to game situations improved his team, and their opponents liked the fact that they didn’t have to travel.
“We were on bigger floors, the kids traveled together, it was kind of a bonding thing for them,” Leman said. “In the end, we always felt we had great support from the whole Peninsula.”
That type of practice and competitive atmosphere led to 13 Peninsula Conference crowns and a state berth in 17 of the 18 years that Leman coached the girls squad. The only year the team didn’t make it? Leman’s inaugural season in 1990-91, and the first year the team did make it was the only time they failed to finish third or higher at the state tournament.
But one of the memories that sticks out the most for Leman came in his first game ever as a coach.
“We went to Seward for a tournament and got beat eighty-nine to eleven,” he recalled. “It was a loss by seventy-eight points, and that stuck with me for a while and not in a good way. But it was enough to motivate me, and I realized I had to learn a few things.”
Leman’s star daughter, Whitney, also recounted a loss that stuck with her. In an endowment game her junior year, the Ninilchik girls were faced with the Homer varsity squad, which was a Class 4A team then. The Class 2A Wolverines battled hard but were handed a close loss.
“I didn’t know what it was like to lose,” she said. “But maybe I needed that, and that stuck with me.
“Afterward, one of the Homer’s girls dads came up to me and said, just think how they feel, and how happy must they feel. I had never seen it that way.”
Schollenberg led the Wolverines to a Class 2A state championship all four years of her high school career, and was named Player of the Year three times, a first for small-schools athletes. She also received MVP in every tournament Ninilchik competed in for the duration of her sophomore, junior and senior years.
Schollenberg recalled that winning tournament MVP was not a personal goal then. But at the Yakutat Invitational her sophomore year, Schollenberg said she received some inspiring words from her father.
“After the game, my dad was treating my ankle and he said there’s an MVP trophy and you can get it if you step up and be a leader,” she said. “That’s when I thought, ‘Oh if he thinks I can do it, I must be able to do it’.
“It was a really cool looking trophy, and then on the plane home, they announced it that we won.”
The 2003 high school graduate then took her talents to UAA for her freshman year. That season’s highlights included providing the assist on a game-winning basket at the Great Alaska Shootout tournament, as well as icing a 61-58 victory over Clemson in the championship game with a pair of free throws.
Schollenberg said she stopped playing after one year to save her eligibility and finish school. She eventually transferred to Eastern Oregon, where she played for two years before tearing her Achilles tendon in early 2008.
“One of the hardest things I had to do was being injured and helping from the sidelines,” Schollenberg recounted.
Graduating from Eastern Oregon in 2008 landed Schollenberg back in Anchorage, where she continued playing basketball on city league teams and at the YMCA, allowing her to revisit old UAA teammates.
Since returning home to Ninilchik last year with husband, Jason Schollenberg, Whitney has kept busy as a stay-at-home mother with 2-year-old son, Parker, and a photography business on the side. She also collaborates with current Ninilchik boys coach (and former Eastern Oregon player) Nickolas Finley on hosting open gyms.
Looking back at her father’s success, Schollenberg believes the root of it all comes from the many hours he put into the Ninilchik basketball program, which likely translated to an innate ability to relate to players in game situations.
“I think my dad’s stats speak for themselves,” Schollenberg said. “It’s not like he was just handed phenomenal high school girls basketball players and athletes. It just doesn’t happen in Ninilchik, Alaska. I think that speaks to the kind of coach and man he was.
“He just knew how to communicate with women. All the teams I was on and the teams I saw from the sidelines, the girls just respect him. It was never an issue.”
As the hands of time are certain to do, Dan had to retire in 2009 with lingering health issues, but he still can be seen out on the water, getting in a hard day’s work on the fishing vessels. Of course, that doesn’t mean he and wife Jamie haven’t had time to enjoy themselves.
“In the past year we’ve done some musical tours,” he said.
With trips to Nashville, Tennessee; Oklahoma; New Orleans; Arizona; Reno, Nevada; and Las Vegas, the couple has enjoyed such acts as Fleetwood Mac and Elton John, as well as annual rendezvouses with youngest daughter Krista in Disneyland.
Additionally, the family now has welcomed grandchildren into the mix, which Leman described as a special time in his life.
“We started building this house in 1986,” Leman said. “We’re still here, and we couldn’t imagine going anywhere else. It’s a good time for me in wintertime, instead of coaching I get to be a fan.
“We’re just getting started.”