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Coach Parks: the passing of a legend

Original post made on Aug 21, 2011

Long-time Menlo-Atherton football and wrestling coach Ben Parks passed away in his sleep Friday night. He was 77. Known simply as "Coach Parks," he has profoundly influenced thousands of students, not just the athletes he coached. He put kids first and nothing else was second.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, August 22, 2011, 8:14 AM

Comments (37)

Posted by Maria Flaherty
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2011 at 7:09 am

This is a huge loss to the community

Posted by Paul Naas
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2011 at 10:24 am

Was just telling someone about Coach the other day and, like always, they were amazed at the stories. We've lost a great man. We'll never forget you Coach.

Posted by Paradize650
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 21, 2011 at 10:26 am

I personally did not know Coach Parks, but I have many friends who went to M.A. and had nothing but motivating things to say about him. With cuts to school programs and many of the youth not having free, productive things to do, I hope that more "coaches" out there will surface!

Posted by laura jimenez
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 21, 2011 at 11:24 am

Coach park will forever be missed he changed many lives. Including mine! Coach parks turned my life around, after being involved with gangs and doing thr wrong thing. I was able to turn that around because of him. He tought me the value of life, he sat hours at a time with me before and after practice talking to me giving me advice. Helping m with my homework EVERYTHING! . I'm no longer involved with gangs im a single responisible mother, working and going to school. I'm as happy as I could be and I owe it all to coach parks. !

Posted by MA09
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2011 at 12:27 pm

As a student at Menlo-Atherton High School, you would first see Coach parks sitting at the door during the Principal's "beginning of the year" speech about rules. Then the first day you needed a substitute he would be sitting there in the chair and some kids would cut class or fall asleep when they realized he was teaching the class that day, but if you were like me, one of the kids that just sat down, kept my phone in my pocket, and listened to the man speak pure wisdom about life, you would know that this guy had way too much to offer for even a long 77 years that he lived.

I was not a mature adult by any measure in High School, nor was i making even the slightest positive decisions, however Coach Parks always found a way to move me with his stories and knowledge of life.

It's a safe bet he could bring a man to his knees with toughness, but he could also do the same with his voice and mind.

He was as spiritual as the pope, but not necessarily in a religious way, just in a life way. He just beilieved if you did well for others, your life would be pleasant and you would be comfortable.

He had something about him that you just plain old respected. whether you're an expelled kid transferring in from another school on your first day, or a parent of a kid looking for directions around campus, he was always welcoming, and i always kept an eye out for him even if he was talking to somebody, because he would make time for you, he knew even the slightest gestures could turn a kid from being down to feeling like they ran the world.

When I was busted for talking on the phone in the hallway one year, and was sent to his disciplinary room, i explained my situation and that i didn't even want to miss class for my phone violation. He calmed me down, he said sometimes you get dealt a lousy hand, it's what you make of that lousy hand that determines who you are, not the lousy hand itself. Later that day, i went in to the class i had missed. It turns out that teacher was so happy that i came in and needed assistance, she bumped my overall grade up for pure morale reasons. Now if that isn't magic, I don't know what is.

from that day on, i lived with a bit of reservation. Thinking before doing things. trying to determine if my next action will land me in a position i definitely do not want to be in, nor do i want others to see me there. I would go on to graduate high school which to me, was a pretty big accomplishment at the time.

My point is that Coach Parks was a humanitarian beyond all others. I know what some people might be thinking while reading about him, that he's a stereotypical gym teacher that only helped you if you were on the football team or a jock or something.
You didn't need to be on the football team, nor did you even need to like sports. He was there as a life coach. not a football coach, a PE coach, or a substitute. If it weren't for Coach Parks' extremely contagious compassion and love for peace, equality, and people, I can confidently say M-A would be much less of a special place.

Posted by Rolly Steele
a resident of Woodside
on Aug 21, 2011 at 12:42 pm

This will not be an easy thing for any of us who were close to a man that was bigger then life. Whether it was being conditioned to death, delivering food for the needy or simply receiving one of those famous "hey there big fella" all of us were enriched, tempered and made better human beings by the passion, love and pure love of life that was ever present in Coach.

He taught me to respect the content of a person's character without concern for the color of their skin. When you attempt something give every bit of your ability, effort regardless of the challenge, and above all never quit until they have pull you off.

To be thankful for what life gives you, because their are a lot less fortunate out there. And they need our help when ever we can afford the

And to respect my parents.

I know if there is a god that he's gonna be in great condition in about 6 weeks.

Love to Ben and Ralph, Rolly

Posted by sharon jones
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 21, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Uncle Ben, I am so blessed to have had you at my house a few weeks ago. I'm even more blessed, that my son Billy had the opportunity to meet his great uncle. Thank you Tina, Gerry
Ann,Rhonda, Ben & Ralph for sharing your dad with so many people. I know now that he is reunited with his best friend, Aunt Gerry and he's happy. He missed her so much. We love you all!!!
Sharon Jones. winston salem north carolina.

Posted by Patrick Bedwell
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Coach Parks, you were an extraordinary influence to so many of us. Your generosity and kindness, as well ability to push and inspire, was boundless. We are in your debt, and will never forget you.

San Francisco

Posted by Gary Heward
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I was a 13 year old freshman at MA in 1969. MA had had a rough year with the ethnic and socioeconomic differencesleading to riots and fights. There was an assembly and Coach Parks said, "Don't let me catch any of you participating. Nothing good will be accomplished by any of this."

A few weeks later, some huge football players started kicking and hitting me--all in good fun--except for me. I was terrified--I admit it. And there was Coach Parks with his little plastic whiffle ball bat. He smacked those football players with the bat and asked them if they wanted to put on the gloves and have a piece of him. They weren't having any of it. I was the little white kid that Coach Park jumped out to protect. I didn't have a lot of interaction with him after that, but I will never forget him coming to my rescue. He was a good man.

Posted by CSC
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Coach kept me in shape, earned my eternal respect for his view of life and protected me several times from those who would do harm. He did all that for me and much more for every student that came his way. Not to mention the community at large.
Definitely need more people like him in the world now. He'll be missed.

Posted by Tom Woods
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2011 at 8:14 pm

No church or high school will be able to hold the congregation of folks desiring to pay their respects to this legend of a man. He was the spinal cord, as well as the entire muscular system, of M-A in the midst of a racially charged riot in the first few weeks of our freshman year in 1974; he put a chalk line down and no one, absolutely no one, dared cross that line or even approach it. He accepted nothing less than the best of us all, and that's the best challenge any man can give. If one is very lucky in life, one gets to meet a man of such integrity, conviction, unfailing strength, and indelible character at least once in life. Our M-A and mid-peninsula community got Coach for well past forty years. May we never take for granted true heroes that live a life of excellence every single day rather than climb a mountain and reflect back for the rest of their lives. Coach's life was saved by God's intervention many years ago and he lived up to the promises he made that day, surely Coach heard "Well done" friday night by his boss. Well done, coach, well done. We remaining on earth all agree.

Posted by Mr Fischer
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm

In my times at M-A High. I wrestled for Coach Parks,.... and MA "of course",...but the training was ours, I always felt better after a zemi or whatever we called that restoring drink, I needed it to walk home down Ringwood Ave to Hollyburne Ave,in Menlo Park. Wrestling kept me healthy and straight, Like the previous poster Gary Heyward said ,Coach Parks had his wiffle plastic bat in 1969.He had it 1976 as well. He used it to huckle buck us into classrooms between periods, We were so blessed to have had that attention then,..........Because ,today its outta control I am grateful. Thank You Coach Parks, You will aways be in my heart. R.I.P.

Posted by Joe Fontana
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2011 at 9:34 pm

One of the memories you will leave me with is you treated all of us as if we were the most important people on Earth. Your expectations were nothing less than the best we are capable of...although our hearts are very heavy right now; we feel your presence even more and can only imagine an assembly of Angels clapping and chanting "STICK".
I love you Coach.

Posted by F. Chapman, class '71
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 22, 2011 at 5:31 am

Thanks for being there Coach. Speaking just for myself, you really made a difference in my life which will always be remembered and appreciated. Although they don't know it, your "lessons" live on in my children.

Posted by Dan Barnes
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 7:45 am

Coach Parks was truly an inspiration to everyone he touched. He demonstrated with every breath what we should all aspire to. Deepest condolences to all his family, to which I think we all felt a part of.

Posted by David Oliver #80
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 8:55 am

Coach, you had an incredible impact on my life. You were a one-of-a-kind and those of us you worked with are forever grateful and changed because of you. Thank you for believing in me at a time that was so crucial in my life . . . very sad to say goodbye . . . "zeemee zeemee zuzu"

Posted by Don Scherba
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2011 at 9:19 am


Your presence in my life has made a profound impact on who I am today. You are an amazing human being that always put others ahead of yourself, always. Through wrestling at Sequoia High School with you, I've learned a great deal about myself and what it takes to be a good person. I give my condolences to your family. -Donnie Sequoia High School 2007

Posted by Michael Kearns
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 22, 2011 at 11:06 am

He gave us the power to become champions those four years in high school ... and then on to the rest of our lives.
M-A Wrestling, class of '74

Posted by Chris Hill
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 11:41 am

He never let me get away with one of my "excuses". He never let me walk the Toyon run (RUN THOMPSON RUN). He never stopped pushing me, and even up to Friday 8/19/2011 I still reffered to him as the "mean coach". I never really thought of him as a man that cared enough to NOT let me get away with the excuses and the lazy behavior of a 13 year old. I owe that man a lot for what he showed me. I am shook by his passing only because he was such a wonderful role model. God bless the family and all of his extended family. He surely will be missed. You all have my sincere condolences.

Posted by Jay Gertridge
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm

As a member of Coach Park's first football team at M-A, I was fortunate to get the inaugural dose of what everyone loved about the man. Thanks for the life lessons, Coach.

Posted by Al Steenvoorde
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm

When I coached football at Capuchino, I had the opportunity to coach with Ben in his last high school all star game and it was a great experience I will never forget. He was a wonderful influence on all.

Posted by Jack Gleason
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm

The 30 yr. M-A Class of '78 Reunion was where I last spoke to him, and when I told Him "...You taught me that "Loosers" are the players in Life that don't have it in their heart to do the best they can with what they have to work with -- dispite Winning!" and he thanked me, then laughed loudly saying "Well...not if it ment LOOSING THE GAME, You must be talkin' about Frank Moura!". His was the only P.E. class I ever got an "A" in, it's where I learned to DANCE! It's where I once asked "Man Coach...Do you ever stop moving?!?" and He beamed, saying "The day you stop moving is the day You start, KEEP MOVIN' GLEASON!!!" Forever in My Heart, He will R.I.P. Thank You for everything Coach Parks.

Posted by Bob Bramlett
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Aug 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I can not imagine anyone having anything but the kindest of words to say about the measure of this man. In one summer my limits were challenged and pushed and I found a greater man inside that I never knew. I will forever be grateful.
When I think of Maya Angelou's "when great trees fall" I will think of Coach.

Posted by Rocky Barbanica
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 4:42 pm

This man helped me conquer many fears - ... and scared the crap out of me from time to time :-) I love him for who he was and what he showed me - '74-'78 had some rough times - there was no barrier with him. We were all the same - that turned me around on so many things and the way I look at people - Thanks for all that, Coach Parks - RIP!!!

Rocky - M-A '78

Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Aug 22, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

It was my honor to be on M-A's wrestling team under the guidance of Coach Parks in the early 1990s. Although Coach Parks took a tough-love approach to the athletes in his charge, he somehow also managed to demonstrate a genuine caring for the students and was an incredible mentor and friend when needed. I will always have the utmost respect for Coach Parks and will appreciate what I learned from him both as a wrestler and as a human being. He will always be one of the strongest and most honorable men I have ever met and had the privilege to learn from. My deepest condolences to his family -- he will be missed.

Posted by Mr. Ironic
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm

RIP Coach Parks

One lasting memory: During summer football training sessions we did weightlifting after running and practicing and I was dead tired trying to bench press. Coach Parks is right above me and says "do 10" and I do it and I think im done then he says "one more" I do it then he says "one more" lol he did that about 10 more times. I sat up and Ill never forget he said "dont underestimate yourself kid you'll never know what you can do until you try". I applied that statement to my life. Oh yeah and he would wear about 3-4 sweat suits at one time in the summer and could run more laps than 90% of all high school kids lol.

RIP Coach you are def one of a kind

Posted by Tom Moore
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm

I was a soccer player during Coach Parks' early years at M-A when he was the football coach, so from a sheer functional point of view I was outside his direct sphere of influence. But, in fact, very few on campus were left untouched by him. Whether you "liked" him or not -- and, btw, what did we really know then? -- you were aware of him. In talking with my friends who were on the football team, after a game or a practice, I confess I was attracted and at the same time a bit repelled by the intensity of the man. That was my youth speaking - all too full of an insecurity to step up and see what Coach Parks was all about. I'm not saying you had to like the man - but I believe he commanded a level of respect that one could learn from - regardless of whether you agreed with him or not. I missed an opportunity there. Fortunately, many others did not.

Class of 1972

Posted by Bill Brown
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Coach Parks we will always remember you with love and respect, just as you gave us love, respect and guidance as you coached us, taught us respect for others, and were always there for us. I recall many times you taking us under your arm and teaching us what was the right thing to do. God bless you and your family, and know that in Ralph and Benji you raised them right!

Class of 1975

Posted by Bill Due
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Yah,respect,due to you.

Posted by Larry Strawther - MA '70
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 11:38 pm

I remember Coach Parks from Day 1 at M-A. I was a junior but I also worked as a sportswriter at the Redwood City Tribune, so I got to see him from many directions, beginning with summer football practice before school started. M-A had had some racial problems in our sophomore year - Fall 1967, some sit-ins and protests that made the national news -- and Parks was hired the year after - 1968-69, I'm sure partially because he was black, but I'd like to think more so because he was dynamic. Because he certainly was.
His energy and enthusiasm were at times over the top for many, but he did change the thought process at M-A. Where 30-40 guys were in football before, 50-60 were in it his first year. And he started the after school weight lifting/training class which was jam-packed. I can still remember him leading the group out of the schoolgrounds and around the neighborhood -- the infamous Toyon run, as someone else said.
Parks wasn't the best coach with the x's and o's, -- in those early days he often got too emotional on the sideline -- and we barely broke .500 that first couple years. But he was tops in reaching his players hearts and souls.
Where football coaches before seemed to keep to the PE offices behind the gym, Parks was a presence in the M-A hallways, in the quad, in J-Bldg. Everybody knew Coach Parks.
That big booming voice of his could be mean, but I remember it more often as being friendly to all.
His personality was so strong, so vibrant, it not only transcended race, it made others do so as well.
He probably struggled more than he let on those first years, but he was still a leader, he was indefatigable, he was a school treasure.
Thank you, Coach Parks, for giving it your all.

Posted by Rod Scherba
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2011 at 11:29 am

As a member of Coach's wrestling teams in the early 70's Coach helped teach me the value of hard work (I puked my guts out during my very first Coach Parks workout)and commitment that I'll always carry with me. In later years my wife and kids were also fortunate enough to have been introduced to Coach and his values through some volunteer work with Coach Park Charities. Thanks for the inspiration and lessons Coach, the community and world are a better place thanks to you. Rod Scherba, M-A Class of '75.

Posted by Bruce Brunger
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I was Class of 1979 at Menlo-Atherton High School, when Coach Park headed the Football and Wrestling teams there.

I'll always have fond memories of him "torturing" us in workout conditioning circuitss at MA....You could never complain because he practiced what he preached, and he was ALWAYS in motion, jogging in place even when he talked with you in a hallway, etc.

He even had abdominal surgery once (I think it was to remove a polyp or a cyst from somewhere in his abdomen, I think....painful stitches in his side)...and so we all thought we could take it easy in our PE workouts, thinking he'd be out for a week or so.

But no.....Good ol' Coach Parks came back to class after only 1-2 days after the major surgery, surprising the heck outta us all, still jogging in place like he always did (even with stitches in his side!) yelling at us to keep exercising harder: "Guys, I'm lucky to be ALIVE, and NOW you ALL are gonna wish you we're NEVER BORN once I get done with you on this workout circuit!" (LOL) Oh, man he made us workout SOOO hard that day! (LOL) He was great!

May he live long in our hearts and memories...He really touched us and inspired us!

Posted by Sha'Reese Milligan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I am glad that I was fortunate to know Coach Parks. He was a great influence on my lives and the lives of other. Always a man whose action were tuff but meant well. He strived to make sure he kept all of our lives on the right path. He was a man of wisdom, strength and love. I will always remember and thank him for pushing me to reach my goals. Rest in peace Coach Parks... You will be missed.

Posted by Max Ball
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm

It's interesting to me how many of these comments are for people who never actually played directly for coach - speaks to the breadth with which he impacted the community.

I both wresteled and played football for Coach - 6 seasons plus offseasons. I can speak to the depth of impact he could have on you. He always pushed and you always dug a little deeper. Throughout my life it has been easier to try things without fear because thanks to him every afternoon it was time to push your boundaries and find yourself doing yet more than you ever thought you were capable of.

He loved to win and he loved the stars who could carry his team. But what he loved most of all were the people who overcame difficulties and pushed themselves despite challenges. Every day there were more stories - kids with no money who still managed to get to school and participate, blind wrestelers, wrestelers with one leg. Through the years he had worked with someone who had overcome every imaginable challenge. Every day there was a time when you were lying on the floor gasping for air and he would have another story. Afterwards, you would get back up and go push yourself some more - If those guys could do what they did anything he asked of us was easy.

Like so many who have read or posted here, I lost my second father the other day.

Max Ball MA - '78

Posted by Murray Hunt
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Coach Parks was the faculty adviser of the Key Club for many years. Although my older brother (Dave Hunt, ’70) had always thought the world of Coach and couldn’t say enough good about him, I think my first exposure to Ben Parks was as a sophomore Key Club “pledge” in 1973, shortly after my own father had passed away. At my first club meeting, Coach jogged into the classroom where the club met. He was wearing a hoodie and sweats and carrying that whiffle bat. He had arrived a few minutes after the meeting had started. As he entered the room, he shouted, “Stand up! Stand up! Stand up!” slamming the bat on a desk and sporting that trademark smile, whereupon the whole room stood and applauded. To say that he demanded respect would be an understatement. And little did I know that he would take on such a formative role in my own life in the absence of my father.

In 1975, as a senior, I became the Key Club president. I remember one night when our club leadership was assembled at my house for a planning meeting. Coach gave the other guys some assignments to work on while he took me on a private walk around the block. Imagine being schooled so personally by that man! He put his huge arm around my shoulder and told me, among other things, that the club couldn’t just be about fun, but that it had to make a difference in people’s lives. We took his counsel to heart: under Coach’s tutelage that year, the club did some amazing things—things so outstanding that the club was recognized for the first time at the Key Club convention for nearly 500 clubs throughout California, Nevada, and Hawaii as the top club and “Club of the Year.”

Many other awards came our way at that convention, including one for Coach Parks as the “Best Faculty Adviser.” I recall that, as members of our club had gone to the convention stage to receive various awards in front of a thousand or so boisterous high schoolers, each of us had tried to make an awkward impression on the beautiful “Sweetheart” (sexist as it may sound today) handing out the trophies, trying, for example, to plant a kiss on her cheek, or some other “cheeky” thing. But when Coach Parks went up to get his award, true to his gentleman code, he politely took the young lady’s hand and gently touched his lips to it, like a truly chivalrous knight. The audience went absolutely nuts! What an awesome display of grace for the rowdy crowd to behold!

Coach treated everyone with respect, regardless of color, creed, or gender. He set an example of respect and love, not just for the school, but for the whole community. These are just a few of my poignant memories of his influence. Clearly, his influence has been felt by thousands and will be felt for generations. God bless him and his family!

Posted by Tom Giampietro
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Dear coach parks family and wrestling family, I was gifted to work with coach for three years in the early seventies, the great m-a wrestling programs were due to coaches recruiting and hiscabilitybto motivate, I thank you coach for allowing me to take your spot as head wrestling coach, I will never forget you, bobby, cornelious , Clint, Willie Andre, Pete, Lars, Thor, Daryl, Kevin, Connie, Marc, Raith,

Posted by Tom Giampietro
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 7, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Dear coach parks family and wrestling family, I was gifted to work with coach for three years in the early seventies, the great m-a wrestling programs were due to coaches recruiting and hiscabilitybto motivate, I thank you coach for allowing me to take your spot as head wrestling coach, I will never forget you, bobby, cornelious , Clint, Willie Andre, Pete, Lars, Thor, Daryl, Kevin, Connie, Marc, Raith,

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