Friendships & Holiday Ball Drive

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Friendships kick off Holiday Ball Drive

Brent Muth has a favorite quote from the old “Our Gang” TV show, spoken by Stymie: “You only meet your once-in-a-lifetime friends . . . once in a lifetime.”

Brent was a lucky Little Rascal for he met his first once-in-a-lifetime friend early on, while in kindergarten. It was not long before he and Mike Sandoval were, as Brent puts it, “thick as thieves.”

Recess, club soccer, chess club, basketball; Brent and Mike were inseparable from Poinsettia Elementary through Balboa Junior High through Buena High.

As seniors, in 1988, their Bulldogs varsity basketball team lost only three games. Brent credits his best friend for the season to remember: “Mike was the greatest athlete/game player I’ve ever known. When Sandoval was on your team, you always felt that somehow, some way, you were going to win.”1friendshipWooden

Oftentimes, friendships wane after high school. Not theirs. Even with Mike off to Stanford and Brent taking a winding educational road to Fresno State, they remained brotherly close. Mike was the best man at Brent’s wedding; Brent is a godparent to Mike’s daughter, Megan.

One of the many special things about Mike, Brent shares, was this: “He was not just my best friend – he was that special best friend to a lot of people.”

Specifically, Mike was also the best friend to the other three members of their “Our Gang”-like group of five guys who grew up together: Mark Franke, Adan Valencia, and Craig Rasmussen.

Tragically, the gang lost its leader in 2009 when Mike passed away from a blood clot after undergoing Achilles tendon surgery. He was 39.

Last year, Brent donated a basketball in tribute to his fallen comrade to my annual Holiday Ball Drive. This year, he had a grander idea. He recently invited the ol’ gang of Mark and Adan and Craig, plus a bunch of other friends, to his home for a backyard party of sports competitions. He called it “Ballapalooza.”

“Bring a ball,” Brent told his guests and they did, collectively donating more than 20 new basketballs, soccer balls, and footballs in Mike’s honor to “Woody’s Annual Holiday Ball Drive” to bring joy to disadvantaged youth.

Brent is a Phys Ed teacher and knows about kids without. Early in his career, he worked in a low-income school district and would routinely go to a big-box sporting goods store to buy athletic shoes for his most disadvantaged students.

Brent’s stories echo the inspiration behind the Holiday Ball Drive. About 20 years ago, I was at a local youth basketball clinic when NBA All-Star Cedric Ceballos presented autographed basketballs to a handful of lucky attendees.


A few of the hundreds of balls generous readers donated to “Woody’s Annual Holiday Ball Drive” last year.

Leaving the gym afterward, I happened upon a 10-year-old boy who won one of the prized keepsakes – which he was dribbling on the rough blacktop outdoor court, and shooting baskets with, while perhaps imagining he was Ceballos.

Meanwhile, the real Ceballos’ Sharpie signature was wearing off.

Curious why the boy had not carefully carried the trophy basketball home and put it safely on a bookshelf, I interrupted his playing to ask.

“I’ve never had my own basketball,” he answered matter-of-factly between shots.

That Christmastime, thinking of that boy – and other boys and girls who do not have their own basketball to shoot, soccer ball to kick, football to throw – my Holiday Ball Drive was born.

Once again, I am encouraging you to drop off a new sports ball – or balls – at any local Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, youth club, or church and they will find a worthy young recipient.

Or drop balls off (weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 20) – or have mailed-shipped to by and the likes – at Jensen Design & Survey at 1672 Donlon St. (near Target on Telephone Road in Ventura) and I will take it from there.

Also, please email me about your gift at so I can add your generosity to this year’s tally.

Who is your own Mike Sandoval, the once-in-a-lifetime friend – or special teacher, coach, mentor, role model – you can honor with a “Ballapalooza” donation to a kid in need? Together, Our Gang can spread a lot of holiday cheer.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …