Legendary Franciscan University of Steubenville basketball coach Henry “Hank” J. Kuzma, 86, died Sept. 13, following a brief illness.
Kuzma’s affiliation with Franciscan University spanned more than five decades. As an innovative young basketball coach hired by the College of Steubenville in 1954, Kuzma once led his teams to win 56 home games in a row. In 1958, the 24-1 Barons were named the No. 1 Small College Basketball Team in the U.S. by the United Press International Board of Coaches.
Kuzma left the college the following year but returned as basketball coach in 1978. When the university dropped intercollegiate athletics in 1981, he channeled his on-court strengths as coach into new endeavors. Kuzma served as the university’s alumni director, director of corporate and foundation support and director of development. He was involved in every capital campaign and was instrumental in raising funds for the J.C. Williams Center and most of the newer buildings on campus.
Remaining a faithful friend of Franciscan University his whole life, Hank, along with his beloved wife, Kay, supported the University’s mission in innumerable ways, especially by his attendance at important events and frequent words of encouragement.
“Franciscan University owes a huge debt of gratitude to Coach Kuzma,” said the Rev. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, president of Franciscan University. “He spent the majority of his professional career here, first as a nationally ranked and respected basketball coach, and then as a highly successful fundraiser and ambassador for the university. Hank’s impact goes far beyond his success on the court or in fundraising. He was known throughout the Ohio Valley and beyond for his honesty, integrity and willingness to help with a wide range of civic and Catholic causes. Our entire university community extends its prayers and support to his wife, Kay, and their children and grandchildren. We will miss him greatly.”
In 2001, Kuzma was voted into the Lou Holtz Hall of Fame. In 2008, he took his rightful place in Franciscan University’s Baron Hall of Fame along with his entire 1958 basketball squad.
The honor he cherished the most took place on July 19, 2011, when Franciscan University unveiled the Henry J. Kuzma Court in Finnegan Fieldhouse.
“I would never have dreamed of this,” said Kuzma of the recognition at the time. “I’ve seen other coaches get the floor, but I never expected it.”
Franciscan University Athletic Director Chris Ledyard compared Kuzma to another legendary basketball coach – UCLA’s John Wooden. “He is our local John Wooden. Both showed us, without fanfare, what it means to be virtuous in sports and how to be virtuous as a human being.”
Ledyard credited Kuzma with providing him the advice and direction he needed to pilot Franciscan University’s successful return to intercollegiate athletics in 2007. Today, Franciscan University hosts 16 men’s and women’s teams in NCAA Division III and rugby. Ledyard added that as a young coach, Hank put the College of Steubenville on the national map.
“When I go to NCAA national conferences, I still meet people who remember Coach Hank and his legendary feats in the 1950s,” Ledyard said.
Paul Giannamore, an ’84 alumnus and Herald-Star staff writer, described Hank as “one of the greatest people most of us will ever be privileged to have known,” in an editorial published Sept. 20, in the Herald-Star.
Giannamore continued, “Never, ever, did he toot his own horn. We all do it from time to time. Hank simply didn’t. He didn’t talk about himself. His stories weren’t about his own greatness but about relationships and the way people worked with one another in different situations at different times of his life. … His mind was focused on others, on studying them and motivating them, rechanneling the qualities that made him a tremendous basketball coach into every minute of his life away from the court.”
Many people attended his visitation held on Sept. 18 from 3-8 p.m. in the Finnegan Fieldhouse. The Mass of Christian Burial for Hank was on Sept. 19 at 10 a.m. at St. Peter Catholic Church in Steubenville.