Before they were Lakers, some sportswriters referred to Oswego athletes as “Zielmen,” a testament to the influence of legendary Coach Max Ziel on the college’s early athletic programs.
A World War I veteran and Alabama native, Ziel started his colorful coaching career at Oswego in 1921 and retired in 1957.
A semi-professional baseball player and member of the National Basketball Hall of Fame, Ziel is also remembered for organizing one of the first night
football games in the country. He coached all three sports at Oswego and remained a fixture long after retirement.
“He was my second father,” remembers John Canale ’47, M ’50, a SUNY Oswego Athletic Hall of Famer who played basketball and baseball under Ziel. “He made me — out of my sports and academics — what I never would have become without him.”
Ziel was known around campus and town as a character: humorous and outspoken with an intense coaching style.
“He was an excellent teacher,” Canale says. “You may be his friend when the game is not on, but once that game is on, he was a taskmaster.
“Even though he would be very abrupt and caustic in a way, he always taught a lesson,” Canale says.
While he was respected as a coach, Ziel’s teams were not known as powerhouses. The physical education professor’s campus reputation was built largely on his classroom charisma.
Students dedicated the 1956 Ontarian to Ziel, an “athlete, soldier, coach, teacher and generous friend.”
He passed away in 1987.
Ziel was honored posthumously as a charter member of the inaugural SUNY Oswego Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2001 and the gym in Laker Hall is named in his honor.
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