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Coach John Wooden's legacy celebrated at local public schools, on campus

"How many of you know who John Wooden is?"
The question was posed by fourth-year sociology student Courtney Hawker to 31 eager youngsters in Suzy Kim's class at the UCLA Community School. One child raised his hand. "The UCLA basketball coach," he said shyly. "Right! And today is exciting because it's his birthday," Hawker said. "How old do you think he would have been?"
"Um, 65?" guessed one little girl. "A lot older than that," Hawker told her. "He would have been 100!" The children gasped, eyes wide. "Today would have been John Wooden's 100th birthday," Hawker continued. "That's pretty cool, right?" "Yeah!" the class proclaimed enthusiastically.
Had he been alive, Coach Wooden undoubtedly would have enjoyed the scene. Hawker's appearance before the rapt audience of fourth- and fifth-graders at the UCLA Community School in the city's Pico-Union/Koreatown neighborhood was part of a daylong celebration that took place Thursday, Oct. 14, on what would have been Wooden's 100th birthday.
The day of activities, organized by the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC), began with 14 UCLA undergraduates who volunteered to travel to the UCLA Community School and also to University High School in West Los Angeles to talk to students about the legendary coach and his Pyramid of Success.
As someone who always considered himself a teacher first and foremost, Wooden no doubt would have approved of the message the UCLA students were trying to impart to the youngsters: Work hard to overcome adversity, and you can achieve your dreams.
That message is a very personal one for Tyler Trapani, Wooden's great-grandson and a walk-on on the UCLA men's basketball team. The third-year history student discussed his great-grandfather with a group of 9th- and 10th-graders, who seemed surprised to learn that Wooden originally taught English and that he considered himself a teacher rather than a coach.
When asked about what his great-grandfather would have thought about the celebration, Trapani said, "I'm sure he'd rather have people just go about their business. He'd say that you don't need to learn about him, you just need to go out and do what you're capable of doing. But I thought it was great. If it wasn't about him, it could have been just about working hard and overcoming adversity. Fortunately, he was the name behind it."
Velainor Tibangin, a fourth-year senior majoring in linguistics and psychology, hoped she had made an impact on the 7th-, 8th- and 9th-graders she talked to at the UCLA Community School. "I definitely emphasized education and the impact John Wooden had on our university and society," she said. "And I think at the end of the day, all of them will go home tonight and do a little research themselves — and become future Bruins, hopefully."
In the evening, the entire campus community was invited to a reception in the lobby of the John Wooden Center, where they enjoyed birthday cake and displays of Wooden memorabilia. They also witnessed the unveiling of a portrait of Wooden by artist Tom Pinch, which hangs on the north wall of the center's lobby.
The crowd then moved into Collins Court for a celebratory program that began with a moving video of Wooden's life. This was followed by former UCLA basketball star Keith Erickson, who relayed several fond memories of Coach, including the story of a morning he had spent with Wooden in West Los Angeles. Remembering that Wooden's daughter Nan wanted her father to eat "good food," Erickson suggested a restaurant that served salads.
"Coach said, 'Salad? Are you kidding? We're going to the Apple Pan, and I'm going to order,' " Erickson said. "So we went in and sat down, and Coach orders double hickory burgers, fries, well done, and chocolate cream pie for dessert. And I said, 'Coach, what will Nan say?' And he looked at me very sternly and said, 'Who's going to tell her?' "
UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero announced that the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame would have a new addition by the end of the month — a replica of Wooden's beloved den in his Encino condominium, the place where he entertained so many visitors over the years. "All the artifacts that will be in there are in fact artifacts that Coach actually had in his den," Guerrero said. "I can assure you with the highest degree of confidence that that will be the place for anyone who visits UCLA."
Three members of Wooden's family — his daughter Nan, son Jim, and Jim's wife, Carleen — came to the podium to thank the crowd for honoring their father. "As Daddy said, a simple thank you is worth a thousand words," said Nan, looking skyward. "So from our family, and there are 31 of us here, we thank you. Happy Birthday, Daddy."
UCLA women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell and men's basketball coach Ben Howland addressed the crowd before asking their respective staffs and teams to stand and be acknowledged. Other activities included a performance by the UCLA a cappella group Random Voices, a tug-of-war contest and a T-shirt giveaway. The evening was capped by music from the UCLA Bruin Marching Band.
Marci Brooks, a transfer student from Pasadena Community College, was thrilled to be at the celebration. "I feel very privileged to be here at a time when something is going on. One hundred years of anything is monumental, and 100 years of the winningest coach in history? How fortunate am I to be a new student at a time like this?"
USAC president Jasmine Hill, who served as emcee of the reception along with her internal vice president, Stephanie Lucas, was pleased that the event turned out so successfully. "We'd been talking about this since late June," she said. "The memorial happened, and we needed a way to get students together to commemorate [Wooden]. It was summer, and not everyone was here. So we said, we have to do something while students are on campus. And we're so glad that students responded the way they did and came out."
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