A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, June 7, 2010

Farewell, Coach

Who says lightning never strikes twice? As Doug Oakley reports elsewhere in this paper, the Berkeley school board scheduled interviews for possible successors to Berkeley High principal Jim Slemp, who is retiring after seven years. But only half of the candidates showed up.
I'm getting an eerie sense of déjà vu, because something similar happened back when Slemp was hired. The board had offered the job to another candidate named Patricia Christa, and she accepted. But a few days before she was due to begin, she got cold feet and backed out. So they turned to Slemp, instead.
And get this: When he was hired, he became Berkeley High's sixth principal in four years! This job is obviously a hot seat that nobody wants.
Part of the problem is Berkeley's tradition of internecine warfare between those who are liberal and those who are really, really liberal. They make up for their lack of substantive political disagreement with paranoia and personal attacks. You can't blame someone for not wanting to step into that hornet's nest.
One of the happy exceptions was the late Harry Weininger, who died May 31 at age 76. Among many other things, Harry was the longtime president of the Berkeley Democratic Club (the "moderates," in Berkeley terms). But that didn't stop him from being friends with people on the other side.
"He was a real peacemaker," says Councilwoman Susan Wengraf. "He was able to talk to everybody, regardless of their political attitude. And that made him an invaluable bridge builder."
In other Berkeley political news, happy birthday to Councilman Kriss Worthington, who turned 56 on Thursday. His friends will fete him on Monday with a big party that celebrates him as "The Most Dangerous Man in Berkeley."
Hearing this, former Worthington aide Jesse Arreguin, who now holds a council seat of his own, quipped, "That must make me the second most dangerous man in Berkeley!"
Finally, a sad farewell to John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach, who died last week at 99. He reminded me of the late, great Cal football coach Pappy Waldorf, who also won a ton of games and - like Wooden - did it the right way.
Both men were throwbacks to a golden age that probably never existed, when coaches saw their primary job as molding character, with winning coming in a distant second.
Unlike martinets like Bobby Knight or Mike Leach, who regularly unleashed streams of profanity and abuse at their players, neither Wooden nor Waldorf ever uttered a curse word. The strongest thing Wooden ever said when he was upset was "Goodness gracious sakes alive!"
He was the Good Father - stern but fair, and completely loving. He famously started the first practice of every season by announcing, "Gentlemen, today we're going to learn the proper way to put on our socks and shoes."
Ostensibly, it was to avoid blisters. But there was a deeper purpose, one that the players would come to realize only decades later: It was a Zen lesson on how to live your life.
His point was that everything - even something as trivial as tying your shoelaces - should be done with total focus and dedication. It's called living in the moment. He was like Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid," teaching Daniel-san "Wax on, wax off."
And now he's gone. Goodness gracious sakes alive.

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