But sports were. Lyle hung a basketball hoop on the garage of the house he and June had bought on Marr Street when they married, and Bob and Dick became good enough to play in high school for Fritz Lautenschlager, Peg's father. Bob broke both ankles playing football and never was quite right as an athlete again, but Dick became a star, the leading scorer in school history. He went away to college at Richmond but eventually transferred back home to nearby Lakeland College.
By 1970 the three youngest children, Cathy, Jim and Tom, were the only ones left in the house on Marr Street. Bob had married and was living upstairs in the duplex next door. Dick came home from college to visit. In the middle of the night he heard his father get up to go to the bathroom. Then he heard his mother scream.
"What I remember," says Tom Diener, "is my mother, downstairs, shouting, 'Lyle! Lyle!' and Dick, trying to revive my dad, saying, 'Breathe! Breathe!' Dick's hollering at him. I can remember how long it seemed to take the ambulance to come. I was 12, and I can remember it like it was yesterday."
Lyle Diener died of a heart attack in his son's arms, on the floor of his house. He was 49. All of the Optimists came to his funeral.
f all the kids, Tom missed his father the most. He was the youngest and had had the least time with him. He also was the last child living with his mother in a house that now seemed unfathomably large. "Bob and Dick helped out," says Tom. "But it was all my mom. She's a tough lady." Eventually Tom went to Wisconsin--Stout, and his mother was alone.
June had kept up her license, and she went back to work as a hairdresser. She also worked in a department store downtown. The grandkids had begun to arrive. Bob had two children already--Danny and Angie--but his marriage foundered, and the kids went to live across town with their mother. Meanwhile Dick and his wife, Sara, had Derek (now 27, and a former Army basketball player), Drew and Drake. Bob remarried, to a former runner named Vicki Julka, and they had a son, a skinny ball of fire named Travis, and then Rachel and Brittney. Everyone lived close by: Bob right around the corner and Dick eight blocks away. The hoop that Lyle had hung for his sons now became the center of the extended family's life.
"It would snow at night, and we'd go to church, and then they'd shovel it out," June recalls. "Sometimes they'd put rugs down on the driveway so they could play." June even put up an eight-foot hoop for the smaller kids.
"Girls or boys, it didn't matter," says Rachel. "If you went out there, you had to play for real."
All the cousins played, even Danny, Bob's son from his first marriage, whom Travis and his sisters came to look on as a big brother. "He was the one who drove us to all of our games," recalls Brittney. "Danny was one of us."
Gradually Travis began to assert himself in the games. He was short and impossibly slender, but he was developing a formidable shooting range and he simply never stopped moving. "He's confident because he's worked so darn hard," says his uncle Tom, "and he's always been an underdog."