Friday, February 7, 2020

In Memroiam: Dick Schnittker

Dick Schnittker (1928-2020)

Dick Schnittker, a three-sport standout at Sandusky High School who went on to star at Ohio State and win a pair of NBA championships, died last week at age 91.

Schnittker died of natural causes at his Green Valley, Arizona, home Jan. 12.

Schnittker was named to Sandusky High’s inaugural hall of fame class in 1990 before playing football and basketball at Ohio State and winning NBA titles with the Minneapolis Lakers. But the seeds for his competitive legacy were planted in northwest Ohio.

Schnittker grew up on Kelly’s Island and had three brothers. Lyle was the youngest, then Dick, Max and Bill, the oldest.

“Bill was the worst. He was the instigator,” Dick’s wife, Barb, remembers Dick saying.

One day, Bill challenged his younger brothers to see who could venture the furthest across iced-over Lake Erie. The brothers fell in.

Knowing their mother would be upset to learn of their game, the brothers built a fire to dry their clothes. Unfortunately, their mom smelled smoke on them when they returned home and sussed out the real story. The Schnittker boys were promptly sent to their rooms without supper.

The competitive nature that drove Dick to walk on the ice eventually drove him to athletic success at Sandusky High. Schnittker became a star in football, basketball and track as a Blue Streak.

In track, he broke the school record in the high jump multiple times between 1941 and 1945. That athleticism transferred to the football field, where Schnittker played tight end well enough to earn a football scholarship offer from Ohio State, and to the basketball court, where he led the Blue Streaks to a Sweet 16 appearance as a 6-foot-5 forward.

Despite the scholarship offer in football, Schnittker opted to try out for basketball at Ohio State. Not only did he make the team, he quickly became the Buckeyes’ best player. He averaged 18.4 points per game in three seasons, leading Ohio State to the Elite Eight in 1950, his final season with the team.

“He’s wonderful,” Ohio State basketball coach Tippy Dye once said of Schnittker. “What else can you say about that guy?”

He even made his mark on the Ohio State football program in 1949. When OSU’s starting tight end was lost for the season due to injury, Schnittker stepped in and caught a touchdown pass against California in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1950.

The NBA’s Washington Capitols made Schnittker the fourth pick in the 1950 NBA draft, but he was drafted by the military after one season. After two years in the military, he rejoined the NBA as a forward with the Minneapolis Lakers. His first season in 1953 overlapped with the legendary George Mikan, and the Lakers won back-to-back championships in Schnittker’s first two seasons with the team.

That was a few years after he met Barb, to whom he was married for nearly 70 years. They were introduced by mutual friends in the summer of 1949, right before Schnittker’s final college season. Barb went to Stevens College in Missouri but lived in Ohio.

Upon meeting Dick, she immediately noticed his tall, athletic build.

“Where’d you meet your little friend?” Barb quipped at the time to her friend, Nancy.

After Dick was drafted into the military, they quickly married. When Dick became a Laker, they bought their first home in Minneapolis.

Dick’s role with the Lakers was limited at first — in ’53, he didn’t play until the NBA Finals — but he became a reliable scorer as his career progressed. He averaged 10 points per game in his second season and 11 in his third. He averaged eight points per game for his career.

Barb loved being a Laker wife. She particularly enjoyed attending games with the other players’ wives and the local celebrity she accrued.

“The recognition was really special,” Barb said. “I could go to the grocery store and they knew who I was. It was a great time. We had a wonderful time.”

Dick enjoyed his life as a basketball player, but he valued his family’s future above all else. When the Lakers began considering a move, he took a job selling adhesives for H.B. Fuller in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with an eye toward a stable family life.

“He had a opportunity for this job and the future,” Barb said. “He always thought about us first.”

The Schnittkers built that life in Green Bay, where they lived for seven years. They had a son, Richard Jr., nicknamed “Riff,” and discovered their passion for God. The Schnittkers started by hosting bible studies at their home, but eventually Dick bought an old building and turned it into the Green Bay Community Church.

Riff remembers hauling materials while his dad revamped the church’s basement, which was filled with water three feet deep when the Schnittkers bought the building.

All the while, Dick maintained his love for sports. The Schnittkers always made the trip to watch Ohio State’s football team play Wisconsin in Madison. Riff remembers meeting players on the sideline thanks to his dad’s status as a Buckeye legend.

Schnittker also played golf for most of his post-playing days. He was pretty good at that, too. Grandson Kevin said Dick recorded three holes-in-one during his life.

Dick’s status as a former Laker particularly impressed his friends at the golf club in Green Valley, where the Schnittkers moved in the early 1990s to be closer to Barb’s mother. Riff followed suit and brought the three Schnittker grandchildren with him.

As he aged, Dick committed even more time to taking care of his family, but never lost touch with sports. He enjoyed golf until a neuropathy left him unable to play. His family gathered to watch the Ohio State-Michigan game at his house each year. Who he was watching with meant just as much as who won the game.

“Pretty much dad included me in everything he was doing,” Riff said. “He was a very good teacher with tools, with sports, with just about anything.”

That’s how his loved ones will choose to remember him. Not as the star athlete he was in his early days, but the committed family man he grew to be after he called it quits. Even in death, Dick’s surviving family members are confident he’s focused on family. Dick’s grandson, Brian, died of leukemia a few months before his 17th birthday. The Schnittkers are comforted by the idea of Dick and Brian making up for lost time.

“I think we’re all happy (Dick) is up there with (Brian) now,” Kevin said.

The rest of Dick’s friends and family will cherish his memory, whether they remember him catching touchdowns and swishing jump shots or building churches and teaching life lessons.

In Barb’s case, she’ll remember the support he showed her for nearly 70 years. The couple would’ve celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary in February.

“When I think about Dick, I just love him to pieces because he let me be who I was, and he always took care of me,” Barb said. “We were a team — that is what I’ll remember.”

Sandusky High School graduate Dick Schnittker was a standout basketball player at Ohio State who went on to win two NBA championships with the Minneapolis Lakers. He died this week at age 91.

- Jimmy Watkins, Sandusky Register -