SPOKANE – Shann Ferch must pause to count the books he’s written.
“I think it’s six now,” he says, searching for the titles.
It is six – American Copper the latest to print and receive numerous accolades – but the award-winning author has two more in process, one of which should be published later this year.
Ask Ferch, one of Montana’s best basketball players ever at Livingston’s Park High School, his favorite memories from the hardwood, though, and games and statistics come flooding back.
“Our team shot 27 percent, so you kind of think, ‘What if you shot 31 percent?’” Ferch said, recalling Livingston’s 59-51 loss to Glendive in the 1982 Class A state championship. “That was a tough one. The next year was (Ferch’s brother) Kral’s senior year. I think he had sort of pent-up desire, because he had been to the state tournament four times but never come away with it. By the time that one rolled around that was 104-64 against Deer Lodge, so a 40-point win in the state title. I think Kral had 45 points and 20-something rebounds and five dunks. It was sort of a party.
“Junior year, I think we got third. That was that great game against Hardin, Jonathan Takes Enemy, 104-102 without overtime and no 3-point lines, a lot of running and shooting. Then senior year was the 99-97 double-overtime against Butte Central at the Bozeman fieldhouse, Max Worthington Arena.”
The Class A boys basketball state tournament returns to what-is-now Brick Breeden Fieldhouse this week, but it will be hard-pressed to live up to that 1985 championship, one of the best games in Montana’s basketball history. Shann Ferch scored 39 points, capping a senior season in which he averaged 28.7 points per game.
“That was great with all the close friends from Park High – John Moran and Mike Kokot and Randy Petrich and Jim Lane and all the other guys,” Ferch said. “It’s one of those that I felt like, at the end of regulation and the first overtime, that there’s no possible way that we could win this game. We were down substantially in the last minute of both of those, but it came through. It was a great moment.”
Ferch has a long and distinguished basketball career, which included stops at Montana State, Pepperdine and the Bundesliga, a German professional league. It was that time in Germany where Ferch began to successfully transition to academia.
Education was a “no-nonsense” responsibility in his parents’ household when he was growing up, but Ferch didn’t really embrace learning until he met his wife, Jennifer, and read her list of 10 influential books, works like A Tale of Two Cities, Les Miserables, Candide, War and Peace, Anna Karenina and the Lord of the Rings series.
“Meanwhile, basketball was sort of ramping up in different ways. After Pepperdine, I had the opportunity to play in Germany in the Bundesliga. That’s just a full-time job, but it’s also a blessing. It was just our first year of marriage, we traveled all over Europe, we were reading all the time,” Ferch said.
Ferch read Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer while in Germany, which is “probably what really started the learning,” he said. He returned to Pepperdine to get his master’s degree and later a doctorate in psychology in Canada. He’s been a professor of Leadership and Forgiveness Studies at Gonzaga for 21 years, where he has watched Mark Few turn the Gonzaga men’s basketball program into one of the best in the entire country.
“When I first started teaching at Gonzaga, it was the old Kennel, and it was the gym that I played against when I was at Pepperdine,” Ferch said. “That was smallish and two levels of bleachers, basically. You could get in as faculty with your faculty card and bring whoever you wanted. I could bring 10 people, nobody would blink, because it was never full.”
“Everything’s changed, and the whole dynamic’s changed, and it’s very hard to get tickets now,” he added, laughing. “It’s totally, completely changed, and it’s been great for the city and great to watch high-level basketball consistently ever week.”
Ferch takes in the games, staying in touch with the team and occasionally working with individual players. He still gets his own time on the court, too, playing five days a week.
“Just good guys that get together and somehow, I don’t know how it happens, but all of us can get off work enough and play in the middle of the day,” he said.
But basketball is no longer his life like it was when he was in second grade getting up jump shots from “literally two feet away” or high school trying to out-duel Hardin’s Jonathan Takes Enemy. It’s just fun now, filling in the gaps between Ferch’s other passions: his family, his education and his writing.
Even if he must pause to count the books he’s written.