Saying goodbye to a basketball tradition

By Robert Stevens

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Before Walton, before Alcindor and before Wooden, there was
Marienthal.

Saturday against Washington State, Bruin basketball will say
farewell to its No. 1 fan, Michael Marienthal. After five decades
of service, Marienthal will retire from his post as UCLA’s official
basketball scorekeeper.

"It just sort of started as a joke about 25 years ago,"
Marienthal said. "People would ask me, ‘When are you going to
quit?’ And I would answer, ‘Oh, not until I get 50.’"

It’s just two games until Marienthal gets those 50 years and his
career turns into one for the record book. Hired in 1946 by
then-athletic director and basketball coach Wilbur Johns,
Marienthal has seen 11 NCAA championship banners hung, countless
legends in the making and some of the best college basketball in
the sport’s history.

And he has not received one penny in the meantime.

"They’ve offered me compensation and I’ve refused it,"
Marienthal said. "I wanted to be a volunteer. Whatever they would
have paid the scorer – which is up to about $60 a game – I wanted
them to use in the school, in a scholarship or for the kids.

"I didn’t need it, so I gave it. I wasn’t a rich man, but I feel
that you should try to give your school back something for what
they gave you."

Over the past 72 years of his life, Marienthal has witnessed
both highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies.

Marienthal came from a family in which neither parent had a
college education. In 1942, after being chosen as first-team,
All-City guard for the Los Angeles High football team two
consecutive years, UCLA offered Marienthal a scholarship to play
football.

In his first year at UCLA, although only sophomores were
technically allowed to play on the varsity team, Marienthal earned
a spot by playing well and by the rules. Knowing that he needed to
have sophomore academic status to play varsity, Marienthal took
advantage of an early February high school graduation date and
signed up for 22 units at UCLA that spring semester – a full
semester earlier than he was supposed to enroll. He then proceeded
to sign up for two consecutive summer sessions, making himself
eligible for the fall football season.

It was a good thing, too, as Marienthal’s squad was the
first-ever to beat USC and make it to the Rose Bowl.

But Marienthal’s football career was cut short by history -
World War II intervened. As a member of the Naval ROTC, Marienthal
was sent to fight in the Battle for Okinawa.

"I don’t think the kids today are as responsible as they were in
my day," Marienthal said. "Remember, I was 18 years old when World
War II came on … so that made us mature in a hurry. These kids
haven’t gone through anything like that and I hope they never
do."

In Okinawa, Marienthal saw his playing career slip away as he
lost his left leg and part of his right to a Japanese mortar
shell.

"I lost 29 men that night," Marienthal said. "I was very lucky
to come out of there …. My platoon sergeant gave me his belt and
I put a tourniquet on both legs myself. I never went
unconscious.

"You can’t imagine it. I think about it once in a while by
myself and I can’t imagine I went through all that."

Marienthal spent the entire next year in the hospital, healing.
The biggest surprise came when he returned to UCLA and everyday
life.

"Things were so bad in the marine corps, in terms of 2nd
lieutenants getting killed, that if you just lost a leg and got out
of there alive, you felt fortunate – if you can believe that,"
Marienthal said. "So when I came home I really didn’t feel any
shock until I saw all of these able-bodied people."

Football coach Burt LaBruerie was the first to welcome
Marienthal back to UCLA.

"When I couldn’t play anymore (LaBruerie) asked me to be a
part-time coach to start with … and then he made me a full-time
coach," Marienthal said. "He’s the one who gave me the confidence,
who said ‘You can do it with one leg as well as anybody.’ And he
proved right."

Upon his return, Marienthal was also asked to be the scorekeeper
for the basketball team. While his primary sport at UCLA had been
football, Marienthal also had been the catcher for the varsity
baseball team, as well as a player on the junior varsity basketball
team. Because all his friends were still playing basketball after
the war, Marienthal decided to team up with them, at least in
spirit, by keeping score.

Two years later, the new basketball coach on the block, a man
named John Wooden, asked him to continue keeping score for his
teams.

"When Wooden was coach, I was like one of the intimate fam-ily,"
Marienthal said. "I had a tremendous amount of reverence for John
because I was there in the locker room, there in the beginning when
he professed this philosophy of winning and doing your best. A lot
of it rubbed off on me, although it had nothing to do with
basketball. It rubbed off on me in my work in the schools."

And Wooden held, and still does hold, a similar regard for
Marienthal.

"I just liked him," said Wooden, who has won more NCAA titles
than any coach in history. "I liked his honesty, his reliability;
and I liked the type of person he was. Mike is a very courageous
person. He stood on his own feet in spite of the problem he had in
World War II losing a leg and almost losing the other one.

"It was amazing to me the way he’d get things done … climbing
up the stairs in the old gym on the third floor where we had our
games for my first years at UCLA.

"One time, coming up for the game in the old gym … he fell and
broke the artificial limb. But he carried a spare one in the trunk.
So he got someone to go out and down to the trunk of his car to
bring up another one," Wooden added. "He got right up there kept
score of the game."

Although Marienthal continued keeping score for UCLA, he quit
college football coaching for high school football coaching. High
school coaching led to high school teaching, and being a teacher
led to being a principal. All in all, however, it led to 35 years
of some of Marienthal’s proudest moments.

These teaching experiences were so important to him and his
students, that Marienthal refused to let himself be bothered by the
outside world during school time.

"I said, ‘Don’t ever call me out of the classroom unless we have
a fire or a national emergency,’" recalled Marienthal.

Marienthal is looking forward to his last game. Days have gotten
harder, drives have gotten longer and, although he can deal with
today’s game with as much ease as he did half a century ago, new
rules added over the years have made his job a little more
difficult.

"In those days, it wasn’t as complex," Marienthal said. "There
weren’t any team fouls and there wasn’t any of this seven fouls
before you get a one-and-one, 10 fouls before you get a two-shot
foul and so on and so forth. There wasn’t any of that. A foul was
just a foul … It was much simpler than it is today."

FRED HE/Daily Bruin

Two score, 10 years and 11 national championships ago, Michael
Marienthal began keeping score for the men’s basketball team.

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