For the Karsten family, the buzz for the 70th Concordia Invitational Tournament is building. Concordia Nebraska alum Kyle Karsten beams with pride when thinking back to the celebrations of four straight CIT championships with his Bulldog teammates from 1989 through 1992. He made his way onto the CIT stage roughly 20 years after his father Darwin Karsten last starred on the hardwood at the Concordia Seminary of St. Louis in the late 1960s.
This time around, Darwin and Kyle will serve as supporters while they watch a third generation of the family compete at CIT: Concordia University Wisconsin senior Grant Karsten.
Says Kyle, “Coming back to the Nebraska campus – I’m thrilled. I’m so excited. My wife will be there, and she knows how big of a deal this is for me. I haven’t been back to another CIT in Nebraska since I played. It’s not the same gymnasium we played in, but I’m looking forward to it because I’ve never attended a game in the new gym. I haven’t had the opportunity to hang out at the Grant Schmidt banquets like the guys around Nebraska get to. It makes you feel a little detached, so I’m excited to be a part of whatever it’s going to look like. We’re making a full-blown weekend out of it.”
The passion and enthusiasm Kyle holds for the event hasn’t wavered since the Bulldogs enjoyed a 77-63 victory over Concordia St. Paul in the 1992 CIT championship game, his final CIT experience as a player. Thirty-one years later, and a couple of CIT cancellations in between, Darwin, Kyle and Grant will be together inside Friedrich Arena on a campus that will always mean a great deal to Kyle. Allegiances are a bit torn, but bloodlines trump everything else. At the 2020 tournament held in River Forest (Grant’s first CIT appearance), Kyle wore a Concordia Nebraska shirt – underneath a Concordia Wisconsin shirt.
These are the types of dynamics that have made CIT special since the very first one took place in 1951. It’s not uncommon for some to have mixed allegiances – or for others to bounce between institutions that make up the Concordia University System. As an example, current Bulldog men’s basketball coach Ben Limback has won CIT titles leading two different Concordias while current Concordia Chicago Director of Athletics Pete Gnan graduated from and played at Concordia Nebraska and later was the head men’s basketball coach at Concordia Wisconsin.
But what the Karstens share is decidedly unique. As Kyle points out, former Concordia Seminary head coach Eldon Peterson was the founding father of CIT and had the opportunity to coach Darwin from 1966-69 (with one year of vicarage during that time). In other words, the history of the Karsten family helps tell the history of CIT, an event that has always served as an avenue for praise of our Lord and Savior, as well as intense competition. The Karstens have lived it.
“You get to hoist four trophies – that’s unique,” Kyle said. “We also got to host a CIT. My son, because of COVID, is never going to get to host one in Wisconsin. To be able to just play for it is special … I think back to my freshman year and we were taking our lumps. We went 7-23, but two of the wins were at CIT. Brent Cumber single-handedly pulled the game out (in 1989). We don’t have four championships if that one doesn’t take place. We put a lot of emphasis on it. That’s a pretty special memory.”
Kyle was known for his 3-point marksmanship (48 percent as a junior and 39 percent as a senior) – and so too was his father. Darwin could light it up prior to the advent of the 3-point arc. As one February 1969 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch detailed, Darwin had broken the Concordia Seminary school record for career scoring with 1,379 points in 59 games, an impressive average of 23.4 points per game. Darwin also once made a school record 26 consecutive free throws. Kyle will tell you that perimeter shooting runs in the family. Grant is knocking down 3-point tries at a 37.2 percent clip this season for the Falcons.
Those who saw Darwin play haven’t hesitated to let Kyle know that his father could ball. Originally from Falls City, Neb., the eventual pastor Darwin Karsten was named to the CIT all-tournament teams of 1966 and 1967. Says Kyle, “The guy could shoot and the guy could score. Everyone I’ve run into that watched me play and now watches my son play, they’ve all talked about, ‘Man, your dad could play.’ My dad’s pictures are still in the archives at the Seminary. He’ll be the first to remind you that most of his shots were beyond the 3-point line, but there was no 3-point line. That’s kind of funny.”
As a sign of the impact Concordia Nebraska had on Kyle, he and his wife Jeanne named their son Grant in honor (at least in part) of Kyle’s head coach, Grant Schmidt. It just so happens that Schmidt owns more CIT championships (16) than any other coach in the history of the event. Said Kyle of Schmidt, “Grant had a huge impact on our lives, not just on the basketball court.”
Kyle grew up in Eureka, Mo., and chose the Bulldogs after also being recruited to Concordia in Mequon. He had gone to camps at Concordia Seward, where one of his aunts was a coach at the time. Schmidt was then a high school coach, but he saw Kyle play at a Bulldog basketball camp and a mutual interest developed. The journey that followed saw Kyle contribute to the great rise in Concordia Nebraska basketball and started him on his career path in teaching. His experiences introduced him to his wife and to friendships that continue today.
The Karstens can debate about who can shoot the ball better, and Kyle can brag about the championships he won back in his day, but none of that is what’s most important. That CIT can bring them altogether in the making of more memories is really what it’s all about. Three generations of Karstens give meaning to the Concordia Invitational Tournament.
Says Kyle, “The camaraderie, the history and the adrenaline of those packed gyms that come with it, it’s special. I’m not sure if everyone understands the magnitude of CIT. My son Grant knows how big of a deal it is. I don’t know if everyone thinks of it as being as big of a deal as we did. I really think it should continue to be a big deal.”