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A tribute to Coach Parks: the passing of a legend

Original post made on Aug 21, 2011

Longtime Menlo-Atherton football and wrestling coach Ben Parks died in his sleep Friday night. He was 77. Known simply as "Coach Parks," he had profoundly influenced thousands of students, not just the athletes he coached.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, August 21, 2011, 9:18 AM

Comments (19)

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Posted by MA09
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Aug 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm

As a student at Menlo-Atherton High School, you would first see Coach parks sitting at the door during the Principal's "beginning of the year" speech about rules. Then the first day you needed a substitute he would be sitting there in the chair and some kids would cut class or fall asleep when they realized he was teaching the class that day, but if you were like me, one of the kids that just sat down, kept my phone in my pocket, and listened to the man speak pure wisdom about life, you would know that this guy had way too much to offer for even a long 77 years that he lived.

I was not a mature adult by any measure in High School, nor was i making even the slightest positive decisions, however Coach Parks always found a way to move me with his stories and knowledge of life.

It's a safe bet he could bring a man to his knees with toughness, but he could also do the same with his voice and mind.

He was as spiritual as the pope, but not necessarily in a religious way, just in a life way. He just beilieved if you did well for others, your life would be pleasant and you would be comfortable.

He had something about him that you just plain old respected. whether you're an expelled kid transferring in from another school on your first day, or a parent of a kid looking for directions around campus, he was always welcoming, and i always kept an eye out for him even if he was talking to somebody, because he would make time for you, he knew even the slightest gestures could turn a kid from being down to feeling like they ran the world.

When I was busted for talking on the phone in the hallway one year, and was sent to his disciplinary room, i explained my situation and that i didn't even want to miss class for my phone violation. He calmed me down, he said sometimes you get dealt a lousy hand, it's what you make of that lousy hand that determines who you are, not the lousy hand itself. Later that day, i went in to the class i had missed. It turns out that teacher was so happy that i came in and needed assistance, she bumped my overall grade up for pure morale reasons. Now if that isn't magic, I don't know what is.

from that day on, i lived with a bit of reservation. Thinking before doing things. trying to determine if my next action will land me in a position i definitely do not want to be in, nor do i want others to see me there. I would go on to graduate high school which to me, was a pretty big accomplishment at the time.

My point is that Coach Parks was a humanitarian beyond all others. I know what some people might be thinking while reading about him, that he's a stereotypical gym teacher that only helped you if you were on the football team or a jock or something.

You didn't need to be on the football team, nor did you even need to like sports. He was there as a life coach. not a football coach, a PE coach, or a substitute. If it weren't for Coach Parks' extremely contagious compassion and love for peace, equality, and people, I can confidently say M-A would be much less of a special place.


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Posted by David Oliver #80
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2011 at 8:58 am

Coach, you had an incredible impact on my life. You were a one-of-a-kind and those of us you worked with are forever grateful and changed because of you. Thank you for believing in me at a time that was so crucial in my life . . . very sad to say goodbye . . . "zeemee zeemee zuzu"


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Posted by Jose Bonilla class of 05
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 22, 2011 at 9:48 am

Still can't believe the bad news, but what matter is how we remember coach parks. My prayers goes out to his family. Let's keep coach parks legacy alive by leading as a roll model just like he was. Love you coach Parks I will always remember the lessons you gave me in training camp. STICK!! STICK!! STICK!!


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Posted by Tom Boeddiker M-A '69
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Good Bye...Coach! We feared you as students in the 60's, and as adults, training with you in the 80's & 90's, you taught us love and compassion for our fellow man. You are truly "one of a kind"!


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Posted by Arch Conservative
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Ben's tale of taking Joe Montana boar hunting in the Monterey/Hollister area mountains is a classic.
Great man and will be sorely missed.


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Posted by Richard Weiner
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Aug 22, 2011 at 1:21 pm



From a distance, he was known for his birthday marathon fund raising runs, his half-century dedication to M-A as a multi-sport coach and athletic director, his conditioning work with 49er greats from Cedrick Hardman to Ronnie Lott and Joe Montana, his post coaching legacy of working with troubled kids. But for those of us who were apart of generations of wide-eyed students to cross his path at the M-A athletic department, he was the stuff of legends. His jugs of carrot juice. Jogging in place. The sweaty wrestling room with those crazy sand-filled weights. And those eyes. They knew. And because of those eyes, we all knew too. Coach would be there for you no matter what. His own sons just smiled and accepted the fact that they were to humbly share his time with legions of newly adopted siblings. Most of us had never met someone outside our own families who cared so much. And he was so so proud of all of us once he saw the adults he had pushed us to become. A surrogate father to us all.
There was a classic Coach Parks story, when he was trying to get Bubba Paris into offseason shape for the 49ers: Bubba had missed a workout session or two. So Coach, as the story went, hid in the bushes outside Bubba's home and confronted him the next time he appeared. Bubba never missed another Coach Parks workout. We all knew Coach would do that to us, too, if and when we got out of line. It was all about love and respect and giving back and of course hard work. His legacy lives on in all of us. Good thing, too, because Coach Parks was way beyond one of a kind.


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Posted by Pam Guzy '77
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm

WOW! THE Bear of my existence...such a big figure in my life you are, Coach. You taught me and supported me in every move I made in your presence and beyond. You took me to athletic camp. You got me to school at 6:30am every morning to join your voluntary fitness hour, with a smile, every time, on both our faces. sweaty hugs, sweaty smells in your wrestling room. you said girls can work out like the boys, and you did, work me out of my inhibitions to pour it on in every work out, because to you, every work out, every move in life was a privilege. You ran 40 miles on your 40th, and we were there, privileged to be cheering and inspired for our 40ths. i am 52, and i move for you, persevering as you showed us, giving as you walked the talk, every step, taking fitness to a new level for all of us lucky enough to have sweat with you. i love you, always did. feeling your love, special ultimate coach of life. your peace is felt by all you touched. i was lucky to know your family, and to be welcomed into your home, and your sons' lives. Hi Ralph and Benji. i love you, and send loving arms around you in our heartfelt joint grief and remembrance of a most remarkable man. love, love, love even stronger, as he showed us.


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Posted by Carl P. Schmitt
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm

In the 1970's, we were soccer players. Long hair, little discipline,and bandanas. Coach Parks scared us, but every now and then we had to work out with him. That giant smile, while running like crazy. It has stuck with me since. The soul of M-A.

All good thoughts to his family.

Carl Schmitt


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Posted by Rudy Silverberg
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm

M-A Class of 71, Mr. Parks you will forever live in my heart as a true hero. Your incredible will, determination and good deeds are what we should all strive for. Thank you..


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Posted by Bill Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 22, 2011 at 10:13 pm

So stunnded to hear of the passing of Coach. We all know he was a figure almost larger than life itself. I cannot help but recall time after time his presence, his sense of decency and respect for others came into play in the turbulent times we were in back in the '70s.
Coach Parks will forever be in my heart and soul and my condolences to the family and to Ralph and Benji. Coach, you leave a very large footprint here in our world. We will always remember.

Class of 1975


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Posted by Tom Owen, '84
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 22, 2011 at 11:24 pm

The stories above are wonderful testaments to the man, and they span decades. Coach Parks is synonymous with M-A. A true role-model to students regardless of background and personal history by his work ethic, dedication and commitment to the students. He will forever remain a bright star in MA history and the folks in heaven are going start running some laps ;-)

Our thoughts and prayers to "the rest" of his family.


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Posted by Steve Garvey '72
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Aug 23, 2011 at 8:18 am

It is sad to hear about Coach Parks. If you went to MA, you knew who he was. If you played for him, you wished you didn't know who he was. At the end of the day, you were proud you did !!!

Class of 1972


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Posted by Nick Yaranon
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2011 at 8:48 am

Coach Parks was my first football coach at Edison High in Stockton. Our team was made up mostly of kids from the projects in South Stockton. Tough, at risk kids who could go either way in society. Coach made us feel wanted, respected and loved. He did it through tough love. He taught me how to be a man and that for that I will always be grateful that he came into my life when he did. I owe all of my success to him. God bless you Coach.


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Posted by Margo Ritter
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 23, 2011 at 11:33 am

There was only one ! I have always admired Coach Parks. He was always so supportive for the thirty-six years that I was on the Board of the Boys and Girls Club, I will be forever grateful. He was never too busy to help. I was honoured in 2001 to be a recipiant of the Coach Parks Circle of Giving Dinner. My thoughts and prayers are with his wonderful Family . Margo Ritter, Mother of Jim, Dar and Jennifer


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Posted by Cindy Smith
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2011 at 11:24 am

Coach Parks,was always was trying to make peace at school. When things got bad he would talk to calm every one. He would also start dancing to get everyone together I always admired him


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Posted by John Barbour
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Aug 24, 2011 at 11:46 am

My first impression of Coach Parks, in his first year, was negative. As a freshman on the cross country team in the fall of 1968 (as was prior commenter Steve Garvey -- Hi, Steve!) we returned from a big meet after dark -- muddy and wet, ready to hit the showers and get home. The football team had just lost (they didn't win a game that season) and the coach was having his say in the locker room, forcing us to wait on the bus for some 20 minutes. We were not amused.

The next year I had Coach Parks for PE. Being small and without much raw speed or strength, I tested into the lowest group, which proudly called itself the "reject reds" since we wore red shorts; it was populated largely by what we'd now call 'nerds and druggies'. Coach Parks had a 'final exam' up his sleeve: to pass, everyone had to run the 7.8-mile Bay-to-Breakers race in San Francisco come May. Being a runner it was a piece of cake for me, but said 'nerds-and-druggies' were aghast. Little by little, Parks got everyone to believe they could do it, and interest began to build. The day came, we all went up together, everybody finished, and you could have cut those folks' pride with a knife it was so thick. That was the beginning, of course, of Parks becoming a runner himself, and I had to love him for that. In later years I'd sometimes see him when I'd do a workout at the track, and he always remembered who I was.

I'm grateful to many at M-A, including my own Coach Yanicks plus superb teachers & others less charismatic than Mr. Parks -- but he symbolized the best of M-A for many, and a salute to him is in a sense a salute to all fine and dedicated educators. Peace and thanks, Coach Parks.

John Barbour
Gloucester, Massachusetts
Class of 1972 (and still a runner)


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Posted by Bruce Brunger
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Saddened by the recent Passing of Coach Parks:

I was Class of 1979 at Menlo-Atherton High School, when Coach Park headed the Football and Wrestling teams there.

I'll always have fond memories of him "torturing" us in his trademark workout conditioning circuits at MA.....You could never complain because he practiced what he preached, and he was ALWAYS in motion, jogging in place even when he talked with you in a hallway, etc.

He even had abdominal surgery once (I think it was to remove a polyp or a cyst from somewhere in his abdomen, I think....painful stitches in his side)....and so we all thought we could take it easy in our PE workouts, thinking he'd be out for a week or so.

But no…..Good ol' Coach Parks came back to class after only 1-2 days after the major surgery, surprising the heck outta us all, still jogging in place like he always did (even with stitches in his side!) yelling at us to keep exercising harder: "Guys, I'm lucky to be ALIVE, and NOW you ALL are gonna wish you we're NEVER BORN once I get done with you on this workout circuit!" (LOL) Oh, man he made us workout SOOO hard that day! (LOL) He was great!

May he live long in our hearts and memories…He really touched us and inspired us!


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Posted by Howard Goodell
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Aug 24, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I have to start with my first remembrance of the previous poster John Barbour (Howdy neighbor -- we should get together sometime -- I worked 6 years in Gloucester). My first cross country workout -- on one of those great wooded trails that made me love Plato's practices -- I was totally exhausted and sure everyone else must be too -- when you came waltzing around the bend fresh as a daisy and left me in the dust. Grrrhh!!

Coach Parks was cool, and caring, and infuriating -- all to the max. I had him for PE one year. After umpteen "ten more" pushups, then it was "five more" and "three more" and "one more" again and again and again and again beyond all belief. You hated him, but you couldn't help loving him, and no way you wouldn't respect him.

I read several American Revolution era bios recently. It might not have succeeded without a man as universally respected and unshakable as George Washington. Coach played that role in the crucial first years of United MA. No one I know deserved more credit for the fact we remained one school, and that so many at-risk kids stayed on the path to a good life. From early morning making sure no one started school without breakfast, to when the last exhausted athlete went home, and countless times in between when slackers and troublemakers feared and so many got a ration of encouragement, Coach was the life blood of MA.

Coach Parks's generation of coaches believed "no pain; no gain". That's probably a bad idea for non-athletes; it turns a lot of people off exercise. (Not in my case -- Plato Yanicks had the same philosophy, but his cross country gave me a lifelong love of running and staying active.)

Look back at your parents and teachers and coaches, and their mistakes are crystal clear (to my kids, too ;-) Yet decades later, most of that washes out. I remember mostly who cared intensely about teaching and did it well -- Frau Parker and so many others at MA -- and about us and the whole community -- hard to beat Coach for that. It sucks about teaching that much of the good you did kicks in too far away in years and distance for you to know. We should take opportunities to let coaches and teachers and all our other benefactors know how we appreciate their work. Coach Parks left quite a legacy.

Howard (Howie) Goodell
Salem, New Hampshire


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Posted by Wayne Newson
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Oct 12, 2011 at 11:21 am

My life experience under Coach Parks was extraordinary. I learned so much more about life from being around him. Coach Parks had a way of making you feel that "fail" does not mean failure. That your chances in life were not over, if you would "get up" and try again. No matter what I thought I was about to lose or have lost in my life ...pieces of my heart, faith in tomorrow, tragedies or health, I would hear Coach Parks' voice ringing in my ear " Get-Up!!...Don't quit" ..."You only lose when you quit" I took that advice to heart then and now. I do thank God for giving us such a warm and caring person.


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