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.

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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 Amazon.com 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 woodywriter@gmail.com 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 WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

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” …

Ball Drive is Rolling Along

STRAW_CoverWoody’s highly anticipated new book “STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” is NOW available! Order your signed copy HERE!

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Decking the Halls with Balls of Jolly

Basketballs are bouncing in, footballs are spiraling in, and soccer balls are bending in like Beckham kicked them for my annual Woody’s Holiday Ball Drive.

This year’s running tally has already topped 250 balls, yet that is one less than it should be. In years past, I could always count on Jerry Nelson to donate a top-of-the-line basketball. Always a basketball, which made sense because Jerry was a longtime local referee.

Some of the gifts for kids!

Some of the gift balls for kids this year!

Sadly, I received an email earlier this week with these words from Jerry’s eldest son, Erik: “Dad has blown his last whistle.” Gerald passed away at age 84 on Dec. 6.

Jerry was much more than a referee. He was a dedicated educator, youth coach, Scout leader; avid tennis player with an email address gntennishack; and was involved with numerous service clubs.

After my memoir “Wooden & Me” came out, Jerry sent me a note incorporating one of my favorite Wooden-isms: “I read your book quickly, but not in a hurry.” He signed off, “Your favorite Westpark referee.”

That he was. Jerry will be missed, but his basketball donation this year won’t – I am giving an extra Spalding in his honor.

Another Jerry (Mendelsohn) and his wife, Linda, donated a dozen basketballs and a dozen soccer balls. Importantly, three of the couple’s four grandchildren – Garrick, 6; Dannika, 3; and Parker, 2 – helped with picking out the balls and delivering them.

“The older two remember why we do this every year and Parker got his first taste of what ‘giving’ is all about,” Jerry shared. “Linda and I were beaming with pride at these three and their desire to be of help in making this holiday season brighter for those children in need.”

Tom and Christina McEachern similarly had their grandchildren – Helios, 12; Preston, 5; and Sadie Grace, 2 – in mind while donating two soccer balls and one basketball.

Sandy Aberle started a new tradition by asking the seven children attending her family’s Thanksgiving dinner to each bring a ball to donate.

In memory of her mother Janice Manjoras, Sherrie Basham donated three footballs and four basketballs, noting: “My mom loved Christmas and always donated to a cause for kids.”

Pamela Carter similarly donated a basketball in memoriam: “This is my first Christmas without my Mom. We were blessed to have our parents until they were 97 (Dad) and 96 (Mom). No matter what age they are when they leave, it is not easy.”

Nancy Rickman donated a mix of 25 basketballs, volleyballs and footballs “in memory of my friends Dorothy Jue Lee and Allen W. Jue.”

Donna and Loren Jonkey dedicated a basketball “in honor of our son Jeff (a LBPD officer), who suffered a heart attack in June and was given a second chance at life.”

Andrew Sherman gave “a basketball in memory of Mike Sandoval, who left us way too soon, and a baseball in honor of Richie Rubenstein, who is battling multiple myeloma.”

From Jim Cowan, a veteran: “This year I would like to dedicate the ten basketballs to members of the Armed Forces, both past and present, for their service and sacrifice in preserving our freedoms that are too often taken for granted.”

Kate Larsen donated three soccer balls, sharing: “Thank you for making it easy to pick out just the right thing to get kids off their sofa, turning off their phones, and going outdoors to enjoy running around.”

No, the thanks belong to everyone – too many to mention all in this limited space – who has generously contributed.

There is still time to drop off a new sports ball at any local Boys and Girls Club, YMCA or at Jensen Design & Survey at 1672 Donlon St. (near Target on Telephone Road in Ventura) weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 21. And please email me at woodywriter@gmail.com so your donation can be added to the final tally.

Let me close with this wisdom from John Greenleaf Whittier: “The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.”

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Column: Holiday Ball Drive

 ‘Holiday Ball Drive’ is kids’ stuff

Editorials are generally as disposable as the newsprint on which they are printed, and yet one that appeared in The New York Sun in 1897 might as well have been carved in granite because it remains relevant and favored well over a century later.

BallDriveHeadlined “Is There a Santa Claus” it began with a letter from young Virginia O’Hanlon:

“Dear Editor –

“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”

The Sun’s reply included the now famous line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and continued: “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

Indeed, how dreary would the world be with no Virginias – and, alas! no Briannas, Sarahs, Mitches and Myas.

In the spirit of love and generosity, “Woody’s Holiday Ball Drive” officially kicks off its annual efforts today to bring a small measure of joy into the lives of disadvantaged children.

The seed for this endeavor was planted about 20 years ago at a youth basketball clinic when former Ventura College and NBA star Cedric Ceballos awarded autographed basketballs to handful of lucky attendees.

Leaving the gym afterward, I happened upon a 10-year-old boy who had 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 he hadn’t carefully taken the trophy basketball home to put safely on a bookshelf, I interrupted his playing to ask.

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

1ballsAt Christmastime, visions of that boy – and other boys and girls like him, who don’t have their own basketball to shoot or soccer ball to kick or football to throw – danced through my head. So I asked you dear readers to help make the holidays happier by dropping off a new sports ball (no batteries required) at a local Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, youth recreation center, fire department, Special Olympics chapter or house of worship. The organization’s leaders will see that the gifts wind up in deserving young hands.

Over the years you have responded like MVPs – Most Valuable Philanthropists – and I am once again asking you to deck the halls with sports balls. If you participate, please email me at woodywriter@gmail.com so I can add your generosity to this year’s tally.

It is not only kids who receive the gift balls, some of the most inspiring donors have been kids, too.

Kids like 10-year-old Sarah and 8-year-old Mitch who emptied their “Jar” of chore money to buy a soccer ball and football to donate.

Kids like 12-year-old Mya who used babysitting money to buy seven soccer balls.

Kids have used their birthday money to buy gift balls and one boy asked his grandparents for a new football – and could he please have it a week early so as to have time to donate it to someone who otherwise wouldn’t get a Christmas present?

Kids like 9-year-old Brianna, who wrote me: “I saw your wish list in the newspaper and I wanted to help. I know how important it is to help others. So this year I saved money by collecting recyclables. So I was able to give: 5 basketballs, 2 footballs, 2 soccer balls, 1 volleyball, 1 bag of baseballs, 1 bag of softballs. I hope this helps.”

What The Sun declared more than a century ago it says here today in The Star: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and kids like Brianna, Sarah, Mitch, Mya and other amazing kids like them exist.

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Wooden&Me_cover_PRWoody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Check out my new memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”