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UCLA

We Will Always Call Him Coach

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By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Oct 1, 2010 8:59 AM


Farewell to a Friend

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Coach and Miss Val share a laugh during a 2006 UCLA Magazine photo shoot in Wooden's memento-filled condo in Encino. Photo by Gregg Segal.

They called him Coach. They call her Miss Val. He won 10 NCAA basketball championships. Valorie Kondos Field's women's gymnastics teams have won six NCAA titles. They inspired each other. They taught each other. They were friends. And they continue to show us all what it means to be a Bruin.

The first time I met Coach Wooden was at our home. My husband, [Associate Athletic Director] Bobby Field, recalls the incident in more detail. From what he remembers, I "nagged" him for days to invite Coach Wooden to dinner. Bobby didn't want to, because he felt Coach must be hounded with constant invitations. I insisted, "He can always say, 'No, thank you.' " Coach indeed appreciated and accepted the offer.

When he came to our home, Bobby introduced me to Coach, who said, "Oh, I certainly know who your wife is." Of course, I was deeply flattered. Shortly after that night, I asked Coach if I could bring the gymnastics team over to his home. That started a relationship between Coach and UCLA gymnastics that grew with every year.

I'm often asked, "What is the one key thing you learned from your relationship with Coach Wooden?" To quote Coach: "Goodness gracious, sakes alive! Where do I begin?" If I had to encapsulate all that I have absorbed from my friendship with Coach, it would be to understand that we are constantly learning from others, the good and the bad. One of the gravest mistakes we can make is to try to be someone else, or to be better than someone else.

When I was in the hospital visiting Coach during his last days, we had a moment alone. He was in terrible pain because his legs were on top of each other. He asked me to move his leg. Mind you, his voice was very weak and not easy to understand. I moved his leg an inch or so, and he grimaced and cried out from the pain. He asked me to move it more, which I did ... and again he grimaced and cried out. I said, "Coach, I'm hurting you." At which point he very clearly said, "I asked you to move my leg; I never said it wouldn't hurt." His mind and sense of humor were strong until the end!

On Coach's last day, his family was in the hospital room and a handful of us were in the waiting room. At 6:45 p.m., they came and told us that Coach had passed. The students had planned a rally for 8 p.m. We were very concerned that it would disturb the other patients in the hospital, but at 8 p.m. the family all went down, and Bobby and I were there, standing off to the side. I can honestly say that one of my proudest moments of being a UCLA Bruin was witnessing our students standing across the street, so respectful, so reverent. They did the roll call that they do at basketball games — "Co-oach Woo-den, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap" — and then they did an eight-clap. They held up candles in a moment of silence. And then they all simply and quietly dispersed.

It was so poignant, we were all sobbing — for Coach, whom we unequivocally honor, respect and love; and for our students, who will carry on Coach's legacy and all that it means to be a UCLA Bruin.

— Valorie Kondos Field '87
UCLA Head Women's Gymnastics Coach

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