“Shooter’s shoot, Hes!  Keep shooting!”

–  Herb Justmann (1943 – 2021), my high school basketball coach and lifelong friend

Herb Justmann passed away peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday morning.  He leaves behind two of the most impressive young men I will ever know in his sons, and he leaves an impact on many, most personally for me and our son.

He always made sure we knew the why.

With Herb, we always knew the “Why.”  We do this because…  We’re running because…  You’re starting because…  I took you out because…  In leadership and coaching, if the team knows the why, they rarely will question the what, and if / when they do, it will be easier to answer or consider their input, because everyone understands the why.

He knew we were kids…

…so he found a way to make it fun.  I hated defense — my teammates would ask, “Hes, how do you know, you never played it…” — but somehow, someway, Herb made learning it and practicing it fun.  Is my memory romanticized by 41 years of distance?  Perhaps.  Still, I remember we laughed a lot in practice and on the bus trips, and even during the games.  We were pretty good, (Top Ten in the state) and it gutted us the few times we lost, but he never let us lose sight of the fact that it was a game. 

…yet he never treated us like children.

Some may have thought we were too friendly with our coach, or that he wasn’t enough of a disciplinarian.  They’d be dead freaking wrong.  We knew who the boss was, just like your employees do you if you’re in leadership.  He didn’t have to remind us, just like you don’t if you’re worth your salt as a leader.  He led.  And we followed him, growing as players and young men, and accordingly, some of our successes in our careers are tied to the example he set for us.  Did he light us up or give us a harsh look if we screwed up?  Yes, yes he did.  Did he yell at us?  You bet he did.  He was never demeaning, though, always constructive, reminding us of how much he expected of us, how capable we were, how much he trusted us, and how well prepared he knew we were — he treated us like we were men, members of something bigger, and so, we were.

He was himself, always and in all ways.

Long-time subscribers might remember a tribute to another friend of mine, whom I described as being “uniquely, terrifyingly himself at all times.”  With Herb, it wasn’t terrifying, it was simply predictable and, for me, refreshing.  This whole trend of tip-toeing around everyone’s feelings and giving every player a participation trophy is a crock of crap, for the most part, and it’s a crock that Herb didn’t have any interest in sampling from.  Again, though, never demeaning — never bad intentioned.  A throwback?  Probably, but if that’s true, he was a throwback to a time that was better.  End of sentence.  Just better.

He was loyal and he appreciated loyalty.

There’s probably not a lot to add here.  Herb Justmann was one of the most loyal people I will ever know, and he appreciated those who showed him, and others, loyalty.  I thought for most of my life that Dick Heston was the most loyal Brooklyn / Los Angeles Dodgers fan ever, but Herb trumped Dad in that category.  Loyal when they were good.  Loyal when they were less-good.  Same with the Hawkeyes.  Same with his family.  Same with his friends.

He made an impact.

Our son lit up when Herb was in attendance at his high school games, and he commented how much it probably meant to Herb when his team won the state championship last Spring.  Wyatt only met Herb a handful of times.  But he knew the impact the man had on me, and he experienced the way Herb poured into him during those few meetings.  Herb talked with him about his game, about the game, and in those 20-30 minutes of interaction — he made an impact on another generation.  It’s not a coincidence that Wyatt’s best high school game was played with Herb in the stands, just as it’s not a coincidence that many of my best moments have Herb’s fingerprints on them.

For nearly 17 years, this blog has been about making a difference — and intended for Difference Makers.  There is one less Difference Maker in the world today.  My prayer over all of us is that we might find a way to leave an impact something like the one Herb Justmann left at Heston House.

Shooter’s shoot, Herb.  And you shot the lights out, Coach.



  1. Ron Hunerdosse says

    Those reflections are as heartfelt and thoughtful as can be!! They convey a message of a man that impacted a generation of boys that he helped shape into men. Enough said. RIP Coach.🙏🏻
    Ron Hunerdosse, former assistant coach of Herb Justmann

  2. Larry Bartruff says

    Sorry to hear this Steve. Great tribute. Well said and so true. I learned a great deal from Herb and have thought of him often in my working career and sporting endeavors. He was certainly an influencer. He will be missed.

  3. What a beautiful tribute to a true Difference Maker!

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