If you went to high school in the San Fernando Valley during the 1960s, ’70s, or early ’80s, you remember their names. We called them Coach.
They were a post-World War II generation of no-nonsense, tough, dedicated men who staffed the athletic departments of older, established high schools in the Valley, and the new ones opening to meet the influx of families moving to suburbia.
These men didn’t stay at their schools for a few years before moving on to see if the grass was greener at another school; they stayed with one school until they retired.
Loyalty and commitment meant something back then to men like John Haynes, Dick Whitney, and Dean Cadwell at Kennedy High; Jack Neumier and Daryl Stroh at Granada Hills High; and Skip Giancanelli and Ralph Stam at El Camino High.
Roy Jae and Lonnie Lee at Reseda High; Hal Lambert and John Furlong at Taft High; Rudy Lugo and Doug “Mac” Mackenzie at Canoga Park High; Ken McKenna and Bill Rankin at Monroe High; and Wayne Sink, baseball coach at Birmingham High for 32 years, who passed away recently at 87.
“These men were the shoulders the next generation of coaches, my generation, stood upon,” said Bob Francola, varsity football coach at Kennedy High for 25 years, from the mid-1980s to early 2000s. “They built the Valley and made our schools the most respected, competitive sports programs in the city section.”
Francola was a new teacher at Birmingham High in 1972 when Sink asked if he’d be interested in helping him coach the B-football team.
The hours were long and the extra pay added to an already low teacher’s salary wasn’t much, but nobody got into teaching for the money. Francola jumped at the opportunity.
“Meeting Wayne was the turning point in my life,” he said. “I’ve never met anyone so focused and committed to be the best possible coach, teacher, and person he could be.
“He was incredibly motivating. He’d gather the team around and sit on the grass with them, sharing what he called moments of necessity for them to consider.
“He knew how teenagers could be. Things were only important to them for a limited amount of time. Wayne could look in their eyes and sense when their minds were not there on the football field or baseball diamond.”
He would tell his teams there were appropriate times to think about other things — family, school, the good-looking girl in their social studies class — but he had them for 2 ½ hours after school, and every minute of that time he wanted devoted to him and their teammates, period.
A moment of necessity.
“At that time, the district didn’t have as many people involved in maintenance as it does now,” Francola said. “Wayne cut the grass, landscaped the fields, and did all the little things to make the facilities better so the kids were proud to be playing sports at Birmingham,” Francola said.
Not a day went by that Sink’s yellow and white Ranchero wasn’t parked by the baseball field with coach working to make it one of the best diamonds in the city, he said.
His former players remember him as a no-nonsense but fair man who gave everyone a shot at playing, and treated the kid sitting at the end of the bench the same way he treated his best players.
“There’s a lot of moving around in coaching today, chasing the dollar at the biggest private schools, which pretty much rule the turf today,” Francola said.
“We weren’t bouncing around from school to school. We were hunkered down in one place because this was a labor of love for us. We weren’t doing it for the money.
“I was in it for the kids because the guys I respected from that generation, men like Wayne Sink, were always in it for the kids. They taught me this job isn’t all ‘x’s and ‘o’s. We were also teaching commitment, discipline and loyalty.”
Moments of necessity.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at email@example.com.