Sports Columnist Forges Bond with Legendary Coach
By Ken McAlpine
Special to The Ventura County Star (June 8, 2013)
(Ken McAlpine lives in Ventura. His magazine articles have earned three Lowell Thomas awards, travel writing’s top award.)
John Robert Wooden was teacher, mentor and friend to many, but few have gotten to the heart of Wooden (and, with Wooden, it’s the heart that matters) like Woody Woodburn.
Woodburn’s new memoir “Wooden & Me: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to ‘Help Make Each Day Your Masterpiece’ ” is a marriage made in writing heaven. Two men cut from the same Midwestern cloth — woven with integrity, honesty and a need to do for others — Woodburn, a national award-winning columnist, and UCLA coaching legend Wooden forged a special bond, and a friendship that lasted over 20 years.
Woodburn first met Wooden as a youth basketball camper in 1975 and the magic begins here. But this is not a book about basketball. Wooden’s gift was to see the bigger picture, and Woodburn possesses the same gift. The result is a book that moves and motivates and makes you care about the not-so-simple values that make this world a better place.
John Wooden’s sporting accomplishments were almost beyond belief. His won-loss record, his NCAA championship wins, we could list the numbers here, but Coach made little of these accomplishments. “What was the biggest highlight of your career?” he was once asked, Woodburn shares. “When Nellie married me,” he said.
This was a man, writes Woodburn aptly, of “rare grace.”
Woodburn’s prose also is rare grace. Wooden was larger than life because he didn’t try to be; Woodburn writes a lovely book because he has a simple, unselfish aim.
“Coach helped shape my life, and grandly,” writes Woodburn. “My friendship/mentorship with him was a precious gift, one that came wrapped with a bow of responsibility to share with others the life lessons he shared with me the best I can strive for is to pay forward in some small measure by sharing his wisdom with others ”
That Woodburn knew Wooden doesn’t distinguish him from hundreds of others: what distinguishes Woodburn is he cares about people and good things. Wooden knew this, and so the two became real friends (Woodburn has a stack of letters from Coach that he keeps in a fireproof safe along with other pen-and-paper family heirlooms).
Wooden’s friendship deepened to include Woodburn’s two children through their growth into young adulthood. Because they were real friends, “Wooden & Me” touches every chamber of the heart. At times the book is funny and upbeat, at times, poignant and sad. Woodburn often got through his own difficult times with help, actual and inspired, from Coach, and Woodburn returned the favor. Together they raised friendship to an art.
The value of friendship, honesty, integrity and hard work, these are things that always merit reminding and are evident throughout the pages of “Wooden & Me (currently available through www.WoodyWoodburn.com). Indeed, Woodburn turns the lessons he learned from Wooden into lessons we can all use.
“Remember, Woody,” Coach told him more than once, “good things take time — and good things should take time. Usually a lot of time.”
This book is a very a good thing.