63 Years In The Classroom And Still Teaching

08 April 2015 Written by  By Jack Ferrill
Published in April 2015 Articles

I was born August 3, 1926 in Stockton.

My dad had been a semi-professional baseball player in a couple minor leagues and almost signed with the Cardinals. He was a local athletic hero who held the record for number of strikeouts by a Contra Costa County pitcher. While I was growing up, he was working with the City of Stockton Parks and Recreation department.

I was born during the Depression. Life was hard, and everyone was struggling for survival. but there was a wholesome quality about society in those days that we seem to have lost. Nobody locked their doors. We never went to bed hungry, but if we wanted anything special we had to figure out how to get it for ourselves. We used a wood-burning stove for both heating and cooking, so my brother and I would scrounge through shipping yards, collecting whatever pieces of wood we could find that had been knocked off pallets or containers. We couldn’t afford to buy ice for our icebox, so we also hung around the railroad siding by the ice plant, while crews were loading blocks of ice into train cars carrying perishable goods. We were collecting whatever shards of ice would be knocked loose during the process. Sometimes the guys would generously knock a few extra pieces loose for us. When I was 12 years old, I began cleaning the pool and locker rooms at Stockton Municipal Baths. Everybody wore knee to shoulder bathing suits in those days until the Second World War changed everything. My wages were erratic; I might earn a dime for my troubles. Sometimes I got paid “in kind.” A ticket to the baths was worth a dime and my payment would be a free swim. The city distributed cards in those days showing the number of swims a person had coming. Sometimes I would do odd jobs for the groundskeepers and they would tell management to credit me with a swim on my card.

I always loved athletics and when the members of the Stockton High School Tarzans football team showed up at the pool, I would follow them around like a puppy. They were good human beings and were always kind to us little kids. Some of them worked summertime jobs as lifeguards, so I got to know them well. One of the lifeguards, Ralph Wright, was ranked nationally in the 200-meter butterfly. Ralph was a good swim coach as well as a great swimmer and volunteered his own time to coach the Tarzans swim team. Ralph himself taught me the butterfly, so in high school I lettered in swimming all four years. During my junior and senior years I was the league’s 100-yard butterfly champion. Our team was the section conference champs. I also played football, and during the 1943-44 football season, we were undefeated and untied in Sac-Joaquin Section league.

The City of Stockton only had one high school, which became jammed with students during the war because of the huge growth of Stockton’s population due to the area’s shipyards and airfields. When the war broke out, I immediately tried to enlist in the Marines. My brother was a Marine, and kept telling my folks not to let me.

I couldn’t get in because the draft board was receiving more than their quota of young men trying to enlist in the Marine Corp.

When I turned 18, I was facing the prospect of being drafted into the Army when one of the recruiters told me he would take care of me. I’m not sure how it happened, but I ended up enlisting in the Navy, served one day, and then  camp and advanced infantry training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, which is about 50 miles north of San Diego. This was followed by 12 weeks at the Sea School for Marines where we trained for duty aboard Naval vessels. We learned how to conduct ourselves on landing parties, man small vessels, and operate the various naval guns and cannons. My subsequent duty assignment included serving as captain’s orderly or flag officer orderly on a heavy cruiser, called the CA-69 USS Boston. It was a real fighting machine — one of the first cruisers to have heavy 8-inch cannons together with 5-inch guns, quad 40 mm and duel 20 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns. I was assigned to the 20 mm starboard gun-12.

I was part of a dozen soldiers scheduled to go overseas in relief of combatants. However, the battle for Iwo Jima ended, so I spent the rest of the war on that cruiser serving as orderly for the captain, the executive officer, and occasionally for the commodore. We were part of the occupational force in charge of securing coastal Japanese ports including Hiroshima, which after the bombing was a bleak desolation interrupted by an occasional structure. The stricken city made me aware of the wisdom of the military specialist who said to be sure never to fight a war in your own country. “Always do it in someone else’s country,” he said. I figured that was good advice after seeing what warfare actually could do. We saw little combat. Fighting was sporadic by that point and destroyers were the Pink Line — the first line of defense against rogue air attacks.

The war ended, and I was mustered out of the Marines August 16, 1946 but was a life-long patriot. I still belong to the VFW and the American Legion. I enrolled for classes at Stockton Junior College, which was on the University of the Pacific (UOP) campus offering the same classes as UOP and even taught by the same professors. I paid for classes out of my own pocket; I was saving the GI Bill for the more expensive education to follow. I pursued my athletic passions and ended up lettering both junior college years in Football and Swimming. When I joined the Stockton Junior College Cubs swim team, I found that it was tough work trying to keep up with the skinny kids who had come of age while I was in the Pacific. Nevertheless, I was an important part of the team’s success because we took the Northern California Junior College championship two years in a row.

I also played center on the school’s football team playing against linemen who were much larger than my high school opponents had been. I began getting a series of injuries including bruises, abrasions, and torn ligaments. When I moved up to varsity I discovered that the team was coached by my old high school coach, Larry Siemering. A guy named Lou Bronson was quarterback on the team. Lou and I became friends. He married a gal named Mary Breeden, whom we all called Norge. I had known Norge before Lou knew her, because her dad had been athletic director in Stockton and was my former boss. Lou and Norge were married for 66 years until recently when death finally “did them part.”

I earned a baccalaureate degree in Physical Education from UOP in 1950 and three years later received my master’s degree. Following graduation, I accepted a job in Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp but ended up backing out because Lou Bronson called me on the phone and said he was working with the Liberty High School football team in a place called Brentwood and desperately needed a capable line coach. He invited me to come to Brentwood, talk to him, and look the situation over.

That was 63 years ago and I’m still here. They say that a wise decision is one that you are later glad you made, and taking that job with Lou Bronson was one of the best decisions I ever made. I coached football for him, plus track, swimming, and basketball. I had never been involved with competitive basketball, but I’m a quick learner. One big advantage I brought to coaching is that I always got along well with the Hispanic kids. While growing up, Stockton was culturally diverse before diversity was cool, and I became close friends with a number of Hispanic guys; our shared love for sports drew us together. In college, my minor was Spanish.

Lou retired in 1963, but I continued coaching and teaching. The years 1963–1964 were good ones. Jerry Miller, young man out of Chico, was a gifted athlete in every sport and a great quarterback. I made him my backfield coach and in 1965, the Liberty Lions Football Team was undefeated and untied. In 1969, we had another undefeated season. Jerry was a marvelous football coach and an outstanding basketball coach. In 1970 he left us to take a series of collegiate coaching positions and became head basketball coach at a community college in Fairfield.

In 1973, I became Liberty High School’s department chair for athletics plus the school’s assistant athletic director.

I joined the Association of California Athletic Directors, and was formerly vice president of the North Coast section. In 1984, I became principal. I retired in 1990, though I was still on the district payroll as manager of Liberty’s Athletic Hall of Fame. My retirement lasted for only for two weeks. Roy Ghiggeri, who was head of the Liberty High School District’s

Independent Study program invited me to I started it and 25 years later am still working with it.

It always felt good helping the kids be successful or, even if they didn’t win the championship, to have a good time with sports. In my opinion, you really couldn’t enjoy the game unless you played to win. In my philosophy, hard work and dedication are the keys that unlocked the door to success in every area. My players respected me more than they liked me, which was just fine as far as I was concerned. I never intended to be their “buddy.” One of the players later said that the football team was a commando unit and I was the sergeant.

I carried my on-field standards of discipline and hard work into all parts of my life. I was once substitute teacher in Mrs. Lopez’ Spanish class when the teacher was to be absent for two weeks. Some of my football guys were in the class, and I imagine they expected the two weeks to be a walk in the park. One of them was Bill Bristow, who later became superintendent of the Brentwood Union School District. Bill reported later that it was the hardest two weeks of Spanish he ever had. I made sure they learned a lot of Spanish during Mrs.Lopez’ absence.

A lot of fine athletes came though our program during the years that I coached the team. Floyd Reese played right guard on the ’65 team and then became an All-American defensive lineman at UCLA. He subsequently coached at UCLA for a couple seasons, and then was an assistant coach with the Vikings. Floyd got a job with the Tennessee Titans before they were in Tennessee and eventually rose to become the team’s general manager.

My wife, Jacque, and I became close friends with Bill Bristow and his wife, Patty, after he became school superintendent. Floyd’s mom had been Bill’s administrative assistant and a close friend, so the four of us took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee to watch the Titans play. We spent the entire week as guests at Floyd’s house. He treated us to a limousine tour of Nashville’s tourist sites including a show at the Grand Ol’ Opry. And Floyd, himself — the Titan’s General Manager — not only gave us a tour of the facility, but gave us passes to go down on the field where we watched the entire game from field level, right along with the players. I felt like I died and went to heaven! Seeing what Floyd had made of himself warmed my heart.

During my career as athletic director, my wife, Jacque, sometimes complained that I was never at home, and that was at least partially true. However, she remained loving and faithful during all those long absences while I was at some team practice, event, or celebration. I had met Jacque Burton when I was in high school, but didn’t get to know her well until we were in junior college together. Jacque had been raised on a dry-land farm in Marysville, Kansas. She and her family were chased out of town by the Dust Bowl, and she joined the “Grapes Of Wrath” immigrant movement to California when she was eight years old. We were married August 7, 1949 so we’re coming up on our 66th anniversary. We have four children — two boys and two girls.

People wonder when I will finally retire, but they’ve been wondering that for the past 25 years. The only thing I’m planning right now is to let them keep wondering.

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