December 2, 2020

All in the family

Webster University basketball players Maggie and Danny Zehner continue their family’s hardwood legacy

Maggie Zehner

Junior point guard Maggie Zehner (right) continues her family’s basketball heritage at Webster University. Photo by Gale Whitehead.

Many Webster University basketball players may feel like their team is a second family. For junior point guard Maggie Zehner and freshman forward Danny Zehner, that family sentiment continues beyond Grant Gymnasium.
Maggie Zehner and Danny Zehner are the most recent family members to carry on a long basketball tradition. Their sisters, father, uncles, grandmother and great-grandmother played through high school, and some played in college.
The family’s deep basketball roots started 89 years ago in Little Rock, Ark., with Maggie and Danny’s great-grandmother, Beulah Hopkins.
In 1922, Hopkins barnstormed through Arkansas with an all-women’s basketball team. She was a pioneer of sorts because basketball was in its infancy and women players were rare. It’s been a family affair ever since, as Hopkins became the first star in the family tree.
“She played on a traveling team when she was 16 in Little Rock,” said Claudette Reifsteck, Hopkins’ daughter. “They traveled by train back then. She wore bloomers up to her knees, long black socks and a long-sleeve blouse. She was really something.”
Reifsteck said her mother had a reputation for being an outstanding shooter.
“The story goes — when she got the ball, it was two points,” Reifsteck said. “You just knew she was going to make it.”
Hopkins’ family eventually moved to St. Louis, where Reifsteck played basketball at McKinley High School.
“I wasn’t all that good, but I could score some,” Reifsteck said. “My mother was a superstar basketball player.”
Reifsteck’s daughter and Maggie and Danny’s mother, Tammy Zehner, did not play high school basketball. However, she married Steve Zehner, who played basketball at Bayless High School in St. Louis. Steve Zehner also played one year of ball at Jefferson College.
Steve Zehner had four brothers who played high school and some college basketball. The tradition continued with Steve and Tammy’s four children — Sherry, Molly, Maggie and Danny — as they all started playing basketball at an early age.
Steve Zehner coached all four of his children from grade school until high school. The three sisters played together for many years on their father’s teams. As the youngest of the three girls, Maggie Zehner played on her older sister’s teams.

Danny Zehner

Freshman forward Danny Zehner hopes to play right away for the men's basketball team this season. Photo by Gale Whitehead.

But at home, a fierce rivalry was brewing between Maggie Zehner and Danny Zehner.
“I’d always beat Danny one-on-one up until high school when he got bigger than me,” Maggie Zehner said. “I didn’t want to play him anymore after that.”
Danny Zehner has a different outlook on what happened.
“In the sixth grade, Maggie would win when we played each other,” Danny Zehner said. “But after that, I got bigger and I started winning. It’s completely false that she always beat me. But I guess she is pretty good.”
The three sisters all played together for one season at Oakville High School in St. Louis. Maggie Zehner was a freshman, Molly Zehner was a junior and Sherry Zehner was a senior when their team reached the district final. Maggie Zehner said it was the best year of basketball of her life.
Three years later, Molly Zehner and Maggie Zehner reunited at Webster. They played together for two years before Molly Zehner graduated last spring. And now, Maggie Zehner and Danny Zehner are at Webster to carry on the family’s basketball legacy.
“I wanted to come here because I was comfortable with the guys, and they had been talking to me since my junior year of high school,” Danny Zehner said. “My sisters helped with me coming here, but I came here on my own.”
Reifsteck said she loves watching her grandchildren play, even though the game has changed quite a bit since she and her mother played.
“It’s not like nowadays where my grandkids are so good,” Reifsteck said. “We did wear gym shorts when I played like they do, but that’s about it.”
Danny Zehner and the Webster men’s basketball team begin the regular season with a game against Bluffton University on Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. at Grant Gymnasium.
Maggie Zehner and the Webster women’s basketball team open the regular season with a Nov. 18 game versus Concordia University Chicago at 8 p.m. at Grant Gymnasium.

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