Tribute Story

Merlin Nice: He was Some Little Giant


Sometimes the reality of life gets in the way of remembering some of life’s past.

Merlin Nice was a key member of the Wabash 1982 National Championship basketball team. He was named to the All-tournament team partly due to his making all 24 free throws during the tourney.

He was a rugged, gritty player, and as you will read in the following paragraphs, a beloved teammate.

He was a four-time letter winner, two-time MVP, and won the Pete Vaughn Award. He was named to the Wabash Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.

Moving back to the Ft. Wayne area, Merlin, a graduate of Southwood High School, became a successful business person and gave back to the community through his church and as a basketball official, and rose through the officiating ranks to work multiple high school and collegiate level, including national tournaments. He also found time to be a fan in the stands and watch Little Giants games.

Wabash was going to honor the ‘82 team last March, but the pandemic caused a postponement to this season.

That event last Saturday then became a memorial to Merlin Nice when he unexpectedly passed away on Jan. 12.

Members the ‘82 team, and his coach, took a few minutes to reminisce. His full obituary can be read as part of this story on

Mac Petty - Head Coach

Words about Merlin Nice can’t explain enough what I think of him. I recruited Merlin because he was a good student first and a real good basketball player. I went to see him play and was impressed immediately. The rest is history because I’m grateful I was able to coach him for four years. If, like me, you have read the many tributes already written on many social outlets, you too are aware of how well thought of Merlin was. All I know is that we became good friends after he graduated, and I feel blessed by that. He would text and call me about many things related to basketball. I followed him during his time as a referee, and he was one of the good ones. I would go scout opponents and there would be Merlin doing the game. It was a pleasure to watch him. He officiated the way he played, under control and knew what he was supposed to do. Merlin was not a stranger on campus even after he graduated. He came back for many functions and continued to support the basketball program in many ways. It was especially meaningful to celebrate with him and his teammates at the National Championship reunions. When I shook his hand I could never believe how big they were. And if he hugged me it was a bear hug for sure. As I say these things I can see him with his big smile and pleasing personality. What a great guy. Merlin took up golf and bonded with Rem Johnston who encouraged him to join Orchard Ridge. So, golf provided us another opportunity to get together and share some more memories. A few years ago, he called and invited me up to Fort Wayne because the D-III national championship were being played there. I stayed with him, and we went to the games. And when we talked, he would tell me about his siblings Becky, Daniel, and David, wife Susie and his church. If you knew Merlin you knew how much he loved people and cared about them. Such a fine man - I was blessed to coach and call as a friend. I will miss his calls and texts. I realize he is gone but the memories of him will be with me until I see him again. And when I do I’m sure I will get a great handshake and bear hug. To all his teammates, managers, and coaches we were fortunate to have Merlin in our lives. Please take care of yourself. It’s tough on a coach to lose a player. Like losing one of your children. Rest in peace big guy, we love you very much.

Dave Clark - teammate

Merlin was a great guy. We were roommates during the ‘82 season, with Jim Beagle and three others. We had a great time. He was just a genuine person. We remained friends throughout, and I talked to him a couple weeks before he died. He was always a happy guy - always had a good story to tell. He was just a tremendous guy. From a basketball standpoint, he couldn’t run, he couldn’t jump, but he could always score and always rebound. You couldn’t get around him. He was just a great teammate. I just really loved the guy. He was such a competitor, he hated to lose, and would do anything for you.

Kyle Foyer - teammate

Merlin has been defined, and only in Wabash terms, as a true gentleman. That’s as good an explanation and definition of him as we could give. He was a long time client, and a very close friend of mine. I loved Merlin. He was a great teammate, a great friend, and I will miss him greatly. My heart settles - he was just a wonderful guy.

Pete Metzelaars - teammate

A quiet, competitive guy. There was a fire that burned inside him that you could never tell by looking at him from the outside. A great competitor. His name epitomizes him - Nice. He was a nice guy, a really great guy, super, super competitive when he was on the basketball court. He was a great part of the National Championship. Came on as a sophomore, started. He did whatever we needed to be done. If we needed rebounds, he got rebounds. If we needed him to score 20 points, he scored 20 points. If we needed him to make 30 three throws in a row, he made them. Whatever was needed to help the team win, he was gonna do it. That’s really the way he lived his whole life.

Mike Holcomb - teammate

Merlin was a great teammate, a great person. As one of the captains of the ‘82 team, he looked up to us, but quickly became one of us, and was a key part of the championship team. He was the guy who got anything done that was needed. He scored, he rebounded, he made free throws. He did a lot of the little things as well, and I know that after ‘82, he was the captain, and filled that role very well. He was a winner.

Jim Beagle - teammate

Merlin was a super guy, a super teammate, a super person. There were all the behind the scenes things from practices, bus rides and all the campus activities. I was one of his roommates also and there are just so many memories, like refereeing at the Crawfordsville Boys and Girls Club. We would do five or six games a day, and he wouldn’t make a call. The fans were all over me, and he just said “we get paid by the game, not by the call.’ He was a true friend, a fantastic teammate and we will miss him.

Dave Bromund - teammate

The first word that comes to mind about Merlin is his name - Nice. Such a great guy, a great person. He was the ultimate competitor on the basketball floor, and was always the guy that got the job done, no matter the need or the moment. He was a great classmate, a great roommate, a great Wabash Man.

Chris Denari - teammate

I had the opportunity to catch up with Merlin nearly every year, at one Wabash function or another - usually at a golf outing. He was a great friend and a great teammate, and he loved Wabash so much. I was also his teammate the year after the national championship year, and he was the same fiery competitor. He led the team as captain and led by example. He was a great person, and I know he went on to serve Wabash in many other ways, and also was a huge contributor in the Fort Wayne community, as an official and as a person. He will be truly missed.

Merlin Nice Obituary

MERLIN WILLIAM NICE, 60, passed away unexpectedly on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. Born in Warsaw, Ind., on Jan. 17, 1962, he was the son of the late Joseph R. and Joy E. (Wertenberger) Nice. Merlin graduated from Southwood High School in 1980 and earned his AB in Economics from Wabash College in 1984. Merlin was a man of many passions with a heart as big if not bigger than his 6’5” frame. First and foremost, Merlin was a man of God and reflected Christian living in his daily life. He consistently set the example for others to follow. As a multi-sport varsity letter athlete at Southwood High School, Merlin was well known and respected throughout Wabash County. Put athletics aside, Merlin was a well-balanced student both from an academic and school activity perspective. Because of Merlin’s high school achievements in both academics and athletics he was accepted to Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., where he continued to excel in academics and pursue his passion to play multiple sports. Wabash College was a perfect fit for Merlin and Merlin was a perfect fit for Wabash College. While Wabash College is known for its strong academic ranking, little did Merlin know that he would play on the 1982 NCAA National Championship basketball team. Up until a few years ago, he held the record for the most consecutive free throws (24) made during any NCAA tournament. Merlin was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He received the Pete Vaughn Outstanding Athlete award and was inducted into the Wabash College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000. Once Merlin graduated and left collegiate basketball, he turned to officiating at both the high school level and all college division levels. As his Wabash College coach commented, “Merlin officiated the way he played, under control and he knew what he was supposed to do.” He refereed NAIA National Tournaments and multiple post season Division 3 assignments, as well as, refereed a record 13 conference championship games in the NAIA Crossroads League. He retired as an active official in 2019. Merlin was a devoted member of the Emmanuel Community Church in Fort Wayne where he and his wife became members in 2011. Merlin served as a referee in the church Upward basketball program touching many lives along the way. Merlin was a member of the Orchard Ridge Country Club as well where he made instant friendships not to mention increase his love and passion of yet another sport. He also served on his neighborhood’s Board of Inverness Commons grounds management team. Merlin was a top sales account manager for Univar Solutions for 27 years where he managed accounts in northeastern Indiana. Merlin was a natural leader, team player and mentored many new account managers. As many of his customers said “If Merlin said he was going to do something, I could take it to the bank”. Merlin is survived by his wife, Susan Hedback-Nice of Fort Wayne; siblings, David (Jane) Nice of Paulding, Ohio, Rebecca (Mike) Jamrog of Midland, Mich., and Daniel (Susie) Nice of Mobile, Ala.; and stepmother, Elaine Nice of North Manchester, Ind. Additionally, Merlin was blessed by several nieces and nephews, Joy Coughlin, Audrey Stechschulte, Isaac Nice, Natalie Jamrog, Emma Jamrog, Logan Nice, Carly Rivers and Art Pace. Through marriage Merlin is survived by several step brothers and sisters, Jim (Carol) Hedback, Steve (Chris) Hedback; stepchildren, Terri Ruehl Young, Thomas (Holly) Tuttle and Brandon Weddle; step grandchildren, Shar, Danny, Rachel (Josh), Lauren, Brook, Delaney, Drew, Brady, and Molly; and several step great-granchildren, nieces and nephews. “In the end, Merlin was a devout Christian with a BIG heart and BIG smile and an unforgettable sense of humor. Once you met Merlin you never forgot him. We are at peace knowing he is resting in his Savior’s arms and receiving his reward for his good and faithful work here on earth. He was loved and respected by many and was only loaned to us from his Creator for a much too short of time. May you rest in peace Merlin William Nice. We will always cherish you and the memories you created for us.”