Paul Valencia notes that his positive experience in his high school football days, learning from coaches such as Dan Wood, continue to inspire him decades later
The relationships. The memories. The lessons.
This is why we play high school sports.
League titles? State championships? Oh, those are great for those fortunate enough to earn those achievements.
But they are just bonuses.
Last week, I attended my old high school’s football game to celebrate a man who was influential in the lives of so many people.
I saw some old teammates from David Douglas High School. I reminisced with a man who coached me 36 years ago. I visited with a former classmate who is on his own journey to the coaching Hall of Fame. Oh yes, his coaching career started at DDHS, with the help of that older coach.
Dan Wood was never my head coach at David Douglas High School. He would take over the program soon after I graduated from Southeast Portland high school. But I was there his first season with the program. He was our JV coach, my sophomore year, the fall of 1986.
I’m guessing I was one of the first recipients of his eye roll and a request to be quiet because I was being a little too much, well, me.
He would stick with the program for the next 30 seasons or so, including 26 as the head coach.
He won a lot more games than he lost. There were some league titles in there, too, but never any state championship runs. His Scots reached the quarterfinals once.
League titles are memorable.
State championships are legendary.
But we should emphasize that those bonuses — first-place finishes — while earned, are not necessary to enjoy high school sports.
It is my hope that every athlete in high school sports has the same positive experience I had back in the day, the same high-character coaches I played for back in the day.
Now in my 22nd year of covering high school sports in Clark County, I know of many coaches in the region, in many sports, who exemplify the best that our area has to offer teenage athletes. It has been a joy to share these stories of those coaches and their athletes through the years.
I can honestly say my own high school experiences helped pave the way for this career.
I recall the lessons Dan Wood taught me.
One was about sportsmanship after our team did something really foolish on the football field. Years later, I often write about great sportsmanship when I see it, to put a spotlight on the best behavior.
Wood’s biggest lesson to me came off the field, though. Dan Wood’s father was dying. It was during the football season, too. He was balancing his professional life, his coaching life, and his personal life. He was transparent with his players, explaining why he was missing some practices.
He gave so much that season, ensuring he was there for his own family, while making sure his football family remained part of his life, too.
I think back on that now, and he might have been the first man in my life to show such grace under pressure. He was not just a coach or a teacher. He was human. It was OK to mourn. It was OK to show love.
Wood was the perfect choice to take over as head coach a few years later.
And on Thursday, many of his former players came back to David Douglas to meet up with him again and celebrate his career with a brief halftime ceremony.
A Clark County resident was instrumental in the event. David Douglas coach Cal Szueber lives in Vancouver. He is the former Fort Vancouver coach, too. He said he always wanted David Douglas to honor Wood, but the pandemic kept delaying the plan.
Everything worked out this year.
Also there on Thursday was another Vancouver resident. Steve Pyne, a David Douglas graduate, is the head coach at Central Catholic.
Dan Wood was instrumental in Pyne’s development.
Pyne was helping out at David Douglas when Wood took over as head coach. Pyne had an offer to coach at another Oregon school but wanted to stay at David Douglas.
Nope, Wood said.
He said, ‘I’m not going to offer you a job. You need to go. You’ve got to get out of the nest and see how other people do things. You’ve been a David Douglas Scot your whole life. Time for you to go learn from somebody else.’ It was the best piece of advice,” Pyne said.
A couple years later, Wood did hire Pyne as his offensive line coach. Turns out, Wood’s son was about to become the quarterback. It was Pyne’s job to protect the head coach’s son. Talk about a confidence boost in a young coach’s career.
Now, Pyne and his Rams have won four state titles.
“I’m so excited that they are doing something to honor Dan for his long tenure here and all the things he did for so many kids,” Pyne said. “I love the guy. He’s my son’s godfather. I’ll do anything for him. I know he doesn’t want to be recognized, but he deserves it.”
Sure enough, Wood was uneasy with the event being called Dan Wood Night. He appreciated the gesture. He just thought that instead of him being thanked for his 26 years as a head coach, it should have been the other way around.
He said this was about parents who let him into the lives of their children.
“I’ll forever be grateful. In all true respect, God is good and it was one of the greatest blessings in my life. Having something called Dan Wood Night doesn’t make sense to me. It’s my chance to say thank you to them. Why I was blessed to be put in this situation, I’ll never know, but I’ll be eternally grateful for it.”
Then he looked at all the guests — former players and assistant coaches — who were standing near the end zone for the ceremony.
“It isn’t about the record at the end of the year. It’s about what kind of husband, father, brother, and son you are going to be 10 years from now,” Wood said. “All I have to do is look out there to see there were some pretty successful years.”
Or 36 years from now.
My high school sports experience meant the world to me. Which means my career has meant so much to me as I continue to search for positive stories to share with the community.
Here is hoping that 30 years from now, today’s athletes will be visiting with their coaches from yesterday, to thank those coaches for enriching the lives of so many.
Relationships. Memories. Lessons.
The purpose of high school sports.
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