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We Will Always Call Him Coach


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Oct 1, 2010 8:59 AM


Section 103B, Row 2, Seat 1 will never be filled. It's the seat in Pauley Pavilion that Wooden occupied to watch basketball games after he left coaching — now officially retired in his honor for all UCLA sporting events.

Last spring, UCLA was busily planning to pull out all the stops in a birthday bash for Coach John Wooden, who would have turned 100 on Oct. 14. How could we appropriately thank this extraordinary teacher who served as head men's basketball coach from 1948-1975 and had brought us 10 national championships in 12 years, a feat that will never be equaled? How could we show the boundless love and respect we all shared for the man we simply called Coach (and he must have liked that, since the title of Wooden's first best-selling book was They Call Me Coach)? How do you appropriately honor the author of the deceptively simple Pyramid of Success, a blueprint for a well-lived life that inspired thousands, perhaps millions, of people around the world for decades — and still does?

Sadly, we never got the chance. Coach passed away on June 4, 2010.

Instead, the Bruin family honored Wooden with a memorial that took place on June 26 in Pauley Pavilion. It was a moving celebration of Coach's rich life that was at times joyous, at times sorrowful. Speakers on the program — including sportscasters Al Michaels, Dick Enberg and Vin Scully, UCLA head men's basketball Coach Ben Howland and former Bruin basketball players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar '69, Keith Erickson '65 and Jamaal Wilkes '74 — drew both laughter and tears as they relayed their favorite Coach maxims or stories.

When the nearly two-hour-long ceremony ended with a video chronicling Wooden's life, viewers were left with one final image of Coach, smiling and waving from the balcony of his little condominium in Encino. The lights were still low as the entire audience in Pauley rose to its feet, applauding.

One last standing ovation for the man we will always call Coach.

— Wendy Soderburg '82



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