School more important than world record, says coach

By Paula Schlueter Ross

It’s official: “The longest basketball marathon is 77 hours, 7 bball1.gifminutes, 7 seconds, set by students of Heartland Lutheran High School in their gymnasium, Nebraska, United States, from 4 to 7 July 2008.”

So reads the certificate from Guinness World Records, received in August by Coach Lloyd Wagnitz on behalf of the LCMS high school in Grand Island, Neb.  Wagnitz plans to officially present the award to the school during its first basketball game of the year Dec. 4.

The “Basketball Extravaganza 77,” as it was called, also was designed to raise money for the school’s new building, which houses classrooms and its first-ever gym.  Players accepted donations from sponsors, with a goal of raising $27,000.  As of Oct. 21, the fund was still growing and totaled more than $62,000.

“Every time I think about closing the account because we are at the end of receiving funds, here comes another donation,” Wagnitz said.

Playing basketball for a little over three days straight wasn’t an easy feat, he admits.  After 10 hours of continuous basketball, the two dozen players – ages 15 to 23 — wanted to keep going, even though their coachbball2.gif wasn’t so sure they should.

“I saw in their eyes that they were starting to question if they could do it,” Wagnitz told Reporter.  But he “continued to encourage the players, said a prayer, and pressed on,” even though he was “sick with grief” and “guilt” for hours, and even “broke down in tears” to a parent, who assured the coach that the boys really wanted to keep playing.

The “Red Team” included past Heartland students, plus a current golfer and two current wrestlers; the “White Team” was made up of current Heartland basketball players and four incoming freshmen players.  The teams kept score to keep things interesting, according to Wagnitz, and were allowed one five-minute break per hour played, in keeping with Guinness rules.  Instead of resting every hour, though, they played 36 hours without a break, then rested — and slept — for three hours.  A day-and-a-half later, they took a two-hour break, and had another brief break before ending it all at 7:07 p.m. July 7.

Wagnitz says “God had His hand in this event all the way” and also credits the players, who “were willing to do whatever it took” to help the school raise needed funds.

The “Basketball Extravaganza 77” Web site at features photos and testimonies from the players, including Brett, a former Heartland Lutheran Red Hornet, who said he played “to honor all of my teachers, family, and friends that supported me when I was enrolled at Heartland Lutheran High School.  They all encouraged me to be the best I could [be].  By playing this game we are raising money to save the school so more kids can attend and have a great experience.  This is a great thing God is doing with this school and I want it to continue.”
The Web site and quotes from players “tell everyone that the main purpose was our school, not the record,” acknowledged Wagnitz, whose life has changed dramatically as a result of the “Extravaganza.”

Because of the success of the funding drive — and Wagnbball3.gifitz’s integral role in its planning and execution — the coach was offered a full-time position as the high school’s development director.

He “prayed for signs” that would let him know if he should give up his bank job, he said, and four times God sent the message: “yes, go where your heart wants you.”

Wagnitz began serving in the new post Sept. 1 and says, “I am excited for the new adventure and, as I did for the Basketball Extravaganza 77, I am putting all of my life into God’s hands!”

Posted Oct. 30, 2008

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