DeCleene left his mark on De Pere basketball
Tribute held for longtime coach
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – For 22 years, it was Larry DeCleene’s mission to teach young basketball players the basics of the sport.
The longtime De Pere coach got immense pleasure in watching the boys and girls in first and second grades crack a smile while playing the game. DeCleene never sought recognition.
On Saturday, Dec. 3, prior to the De Pere boys’ basketball team’s season opener against West De Pere, an on-court tribute was held for DeCleene, who passed away unexpectedly on Oct. 17 of this year at 68 years old.
DeCleene’s wife, Barb, his children and grandchildren gathered as DeCleene was honored by the De Pere boys’ and girls’ basketball programs and the Redbird Basketball Booster Club.
Barb DeCleene was presented with a game ball and it was announced that the annual basketball clinic that DeCleene taught has been renamed the Larry DeCleene First and Second Grade Skills Clinic.
DeCleene’s legacy will live on forever within De Pere basketball.
DeCleene’s widow was moved to tears by the announcement.
“It was so nice,” Barb DeCleene said after the tribute to her husband. “It was very emotional. Very, very nice.”
It means a lot to the DeCleene family to have the clinic renamed in his honor. For DeCleene’s son, Charlie, it’s important his dad’s name will be forever attached to something he was so passionate about.
“I know they mentioned it in the speech that a lot of people thought he was the third most important person in the program besides the two head (varsity) coaches for men’s and women’s,” Charlie DeCleene said. “The first and second grade specifically means a lot to us, because it wasn’t only about skills — it was about having fun.
“I think that’s probably been the neatest thing for us over these last seven weeks since he passed is how many kids have reached out or adults that have kids that have said, ‘That’s where I fell in love with basketball. I remember your dad, and that’s where I truly found my passion for basketball.’ Four kids that are playing today reached out to me and told me the same thing.”
De Pere boys’ basketball varsity coach Brian Winchester noted that the majority of his players on this year’s team had DeCleene as their first coach in De Pere.
“Larry was extremely influential,” Winchester said. “There are literally thousands of kids — whether they made it to varsity basketball or not — who remember Larry and the fun that they had in first- and second-grade skills clinics. He did a lot of our summer camps as well for our first-, second-, third- and fourth-graders, and so he was instrumental in helping to build our basketball program and grab those kids and make it fun for them. Certainly Larry’s going to be missed, but his impact is going to continue to live on.”
Keith Coleman started the First and Second Grade Skills Clinic with DeCleene back in the mid-1990s. He knows the impact firsthand that DeCleene had on the De Pere basketball programs.
“Larry is so well thought of in the community,” Coleman said. “I’ve been here for 50 years, and I don’t know of a person who is so well respected and well liked by parents and the kids. He just had a following of people. He just had a very charismatic personality.”
The DeCleenes used to live just a half block away from De Pere High School, so that made it easy for Larry to get to the gym every Saturday morning to teach the young players.
“It was crazy. You would see 150 kids out there with basketball, and they were just having the time of their lives,” Barb DeCleene said.
According to his wife, it was big for DeCleene to teach the youth and give them proper direction on the court.
“It was so important to him that the kids had the basics,” Barb DeCleene said. “He didn’t want them to just jump into games. It was very important to him that they learned the skills first. The other big thing was he wanted every kid to have a basketball in their hands.”
DeCleene was a physical education teacher and retired from the Green Bay School District in 2018. It long after that he hung it up as the skills clinic coach.
DeCleene was all about loving life and living it to the fullest.
“We found something after he passed away and it said, ‘If it’s not fun, I don’t want to do it,’” Barb DeCleene said. “That’s kind of what we based his eulogy off of, because that’s what his life was about.”
The DeCleene family is starting a memorial in Larry’s name. In conjunction with the Redbird Basketball Booster Club, the family is going to come up with an award that will recognize kids who put in high effort during the skills clinic — something DeCleene really valued.
Also, the DeCleene family will be coming up with a pair of scholarships (one for a girl and one for a boy). They will be handed out annually to players in the basketball program.
“He didn’t like things being about him,” Charlie DeCleene said. “He didn’t like being the center of attention, so the fact that they figured out something of renaming the name of the clinic I think is perfect. It’s not big and flashy, it’s perfect.”