Following his graduation from Cedar Crest High School, where he played football, basketball, baseball and a year of soccer, Lou Zeck Jr. worked for about a year at Bash’s Jewelry store, before starting a 48-year employment with the City of Lebanon Water Department. During that time, Dave Booth asked him to get involved as a basketball official, and after thinking about it, he decided to do it, something he did for the next 12 years.
“While doing that, John Wilson asked me to get involved with a girls’ biddy basketball league he was starting,” said Zeck. “I had never done anything with girls, but since I had two young daughters, and they were interested in basketball, I agreed and that lasted 10 years.”
“The way that worked was a bunch of fathers got together with about 45 girls and started games on Saturday mornings, that went till seven or eight at night,” Zeck continued. “From that point, we expanded the program and a year later had about 124 players involved, ranging from kindergarten to seventh grade. We were the refs, coaches and clean-up crew.”
It was during that time that Zeck took his first airplane ride with the team to a tournament in New Orleans, that he described as quite an experience for everyone. Little did Zeck know that Wilson would be approaching him again, this time it was to get involved in the YMCA Midget Baseball League that had 32 teams and needed more umpires.
“I said ‘yes’ again, spending the first few years with Bruce Kilmoyer, before I started our own group and took on the position of scheduling the guys, with this year being my 50th season of doing that,” said Zeck.
The Lebanon County Umpires Association did a few legion baseball games two years ago, but never did any Twilight League games. They also did some 40-plus games and teener leagues, plus the Little Leagues and Babe Ruth Tournament games in Palmyra, when they had teams from several states playing games there.
“Things have changed drastically over the years, especially when you look back to the YMCA League that had those 32 teams, but I really don’t know why there are so few now,” Zeck said. “On the other hand, there are travel ball teams that didn’t exist in the past, where parents have to pay lots of money, and that has hurting our teams.”
Every referee, umpire, etc. knows that, on close calls, the best he will ever get is 50 percent agree, with the call and 50-percent do not.
“My philosophy, regardless of the sport, is I’m there to do the game and don’t care who wins or loses. I make the calls the way I see them,” said Zeck. “When the game is over, I get in my car and go home thinking, ‘Did I do my job and do it right’. Certainly there are times I felt I didn’t, and could have done better, but it’s also nice if a fan says to you on the way out you did a good job, because we all appreciate that kind of support.”
Another group of people Zeck feels should be recognized and supported are the coaches who are volunteering their time to teach the game, and having fun with the kids, and that’s the way it should be.
As to when he might consider ending his on-field and scheduling duties he replied, “All I can say is I’ll keep going until I feel I can’t do the job properly and the same goes for the assignment duties, but at this time, I’d say it won’t be for another few years in both cases. My dad, who was a big sports fan, said to me following graduation to be sure to give back, and I feel that’s what I’ve been doing.”
In 2007, the Central Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame selected Zeck as the winner of the Mathers/Sollenberger Community Service Award, then in 2018, he was inducted into the Chapter’s Hall of Fame.
“I didn’t do any of the things I did for the money,” said Zeck. “I did it to be around the kids and watch how they improved from their early years and kept improving at the high school and college level. That was the big payoff for me.”