CINCINNATI – Long before the mega-contracts bestowed on the current generation of professional athletes, sports stars needed off-season jobs to augment their earnings.
For that reason, among others, including the fact that Cincinnati was a great place to raise a family, many players of bygone eras stayed here after their careers, planting off season roots in assorted business ventures. Which helps explain how Brooklyn born Conrad David Dierking came to be a lifelong Cincinnatian.
Connie, who has passed away at 77, was first lured to Cincinnati by Coach George Smith to provide the underpinnings for what became a UC Basketball dynasty.
Bearcat and Royals teammate Oscar Robertson suggests the ‘Cats might well have won their first NCAA Championship were it not for Connie suffering a foot fracture during “O’s” sophomore season. Connie nevertheless went on to be the Syracuse Nationals' first-round pick in 1958, the fifth player taken overall. That would translate to millions today, not so in the NBA’s Paleolithic period.
What Connie earned or didn’t earn on his day job didn’t matter. Whereas today’s athletes indulge themselves and their egos with recording contracts, reality shows and dance clubs, guys like Connie Dierking needed a real off season job.
And love paved the way. He met and married Suzy Wachendorf whose father was a real estate developer who caught the crest of bowling’s growing wave of popularity. When his father-in-law built Losantiville Lanes in 1960, Connie was installed as General Manager. To the uninitiated, bowling was big in those days and at the time of its ribbon cutting in 1961, Losantiville, located in Golf Manor, was a veritable palace. A setting fit for teammates like the Big “O”, Adrian Smith, Tom Thacker, George Wilson and Jerry Lucas to occasionally gather. I have to think that it was because of those off-season pursuits that those icons of the time, developed an easy going amiability with civilians like myself.
Which is consistent with Oscar’s stunned reaction when I called him with the news this morning. “What a nice guy”. I can’t believe that. The last time I saw him he was doing great.” I pointed out to Oscar that guys of his generation generally don’t whine about their relative infirmities. “Yea, well that’s true too.”
To the end, Connie was hard to miss. Though slightly stooped in recent years, nothing could diminish the visual impact of that shock of thick blonde hair (which gave way to white over the years) camped casually atop his 6-9 frame. I’ll always consider it a high honor that he always seemed glad to see me when our paths crossed. But scores of Cincinnatians undoubtedly share that feeling.
My deepest personal condolences to his entire family and many, many friends.
Thomas-Justin Memorial is handling funeral arrangements .
Visitation is Friday, Jan. 3, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Thomas-Justin Memorial, 7500 Montgomery Road.
Mass of Christian Burial is Saturday, Jan, 4, at 10 a.m. at All Saints Catholic Church, 8939 Montgomery Road.