Sports

Encouraging words about teamwork that rang true

Nearly 50 years ago this week, my Paly High basketball team won an unforgettably taut South Peninsula Athletic League title game in a packed gym against a strong Sequoia High team led by future Golden State Warrior Charles Johnson.

Those memories came flooding back in recent days as I mourned the passing on Feb. 3 of my beloved coach, Clem Wiser -- a great man on the court and an even greater man off the court.

Coach Wiser's numbers speak for themselves -- winningest coach in Paly history with 401 victories and nine league titles. And of course, coaching us to a 70-68 win over Sequoia in the 1967 league title game.

But the truest number for Coach Wiser's impact is on the hundreds of Vikings players he coached for nearly three decades at Paly.

In fact, what I remember most about that 1967 season was how Coach Wiser -- a soft-spoken son of rural Kentucky who would lean back calmly on the bench during games and casually throw a roll of tape in the air-- always focused on boosting the confidence of players who were not the team's stars.

Those confidence boosts paid huge dividends in that 70-68 victory when Mark Daley hit the two pressure-packed free throws in the final seconds for the win.

Throughout that magical season, Coach Wiser and his assistant coach Ken White never discouraged my then-ridiculous NBA dreams.

Instead, they encouraged lessons of hard work and teamwork I have carried for a lifetime -- from my post-law school days leading the Gray Panthers in our fight for senior citizens to my current job in the U.S. Senate trying to find common ground.

I kept in touch with my old coach over the years and was fortunate to catch up with him in person just a couple years back when the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing at my alma mater with Silicon Valley tech leaders to discuss mass surveillance and the digital economy.

I recalled for a few minutes at the start of that hearing how fans were standing three- and four-deep for that 1967 game. And I reminisced with Vikings pride how Coach Wiser remains the gold standard for teaching basketball players on and off the court -- and for always being available to help all of us with his advice and good counsel.

Predictably, Coach Wiser sat humbly in the back of the gym as I showered him with deserved praise that prompted loud applause from all those there that October day who loved this man.

As I think back on that special moment when I got to thank my coach and role model for all he meant in my life, I think about two phrases associated with athletics' long-standing impact.

One of those phrases is that "sports builds character." More hard-bitten types have tweaked that phrase to say "sports reveals character."

In my treasured experience with Coach Wiser, I learned that both phrases are true.

Playing for him built the character of all of us who had that honor of knowing him and who will always revere him. And every moment spent with Coach Wiser revealed his character as an extraordinary man.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2017 at 4:17 pm

I enjoyed rethinking my High School years at Los Altos High School. Makes me wish that I had played a sport.


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