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We Will Always Call Him Coach


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Oct 1, 2010 8:59 AM

Wooden's Wee Fans



Once upon a time, there was a kindly teacher named Mr. Wooden. A wise old owl, he sent two of his students, Inch the Inchworm and Miles the Mouse, on a quest for the true meaning of success. Along the way, Inch and Miles meet the hardworking Axelrod the Ant, the cooperative Betty the Bee and the determined Fred the Frog, among others, and learn "how to try 100 percent to be their personal best."

So goes the tale of Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success, John Wooden's first foray into children's books. If the themes in this illustrated story ring a bell, that was the intention.

"Here's [Coach's] Pyramid of Success for the first time in a form that 4th-graders could absorb, like and perhaps use in life as they get older," explains co-author Steve Jamison.

"Coach absolutely loves this book," Jamison says, admittedly still referring to his frequent collaborator in the present tense. "First of all, he wasn't in it; it wasn't about him." Second, the very fact that it was for kids delighted him. "Children come to you … ready to learn, and he loved that."

The book's journey started a decade ago, when Wooden's granddaughter Cathleen Trapani, an elementary school teacher (and mother of Bruins hoopster Tyler Trapani), suggested making his Pyramid of Success relatable to kids. Meanwhile, Jamison was getting a similar nudge from friend Peanut Louie Harper, a former professional tennis player and mother of two.


Coach and his beloved wife, Nellie, with Frank Sinatra, left, and Tom Bradley, right, in 1973. Photo by UCLA Photo.

"For selfish reasons, I wanted this book — as a parent," says co-author Harper, who created the Inch and Miles Sportsmanship Tennis Festival based on the kid-friendly version of the pyramid. "Coach Wooden's philosophy ... feels like things my parents raised us on, the same values."

Since the picture book's publication in 2003, there have been three Inch and Miles chapter books, each focused on one block of the pyramid. But only the original boasts a "hidden" gem.

"As a little surprise for [Coach]," says Jamison, "I had the illustrator [Susan Cornelison] do kind of a special nod to Nellie [Coach's wife]." On the tree with Charlie the Chimp is a carved heart that reads, "Nellie + J.W."

"Coach didn't see it first time through when he saw the final book," Jamison says. "But when he did see it, he just loved it. ... And he just loved pointing it out."

— Sandy Siegel '72



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