What fun IÕve been having …
With Davis High mentor and all-time athlete Ralph Villanueva deservedly heading into the schoolÕs Blue & White Foundation Hall of Fame on Saturday night, it was entirely my pleasure to catch up with the 1963 graduate for a recent article (see The Davis Enterprise, Sept. 7).
But after talking with Villanueva, I realized how much the 64-year-old coach has meant to me over the years Ñ and IÕm not even one of his former students.
Villanueva was one of the first people I met upon arriving in Davis in 1979. He was the Blue
Devil football coach and, as editor of this fine daily, I assigned myself to RalphÕs Boys.
I watched an even-handed Villanueva point out problems, then work with the kids to eliminate those shortcomings. He was full of praise at the right times, taught work ethic and, in the end, got the most of out of his players.
Familiar names Ñ Peter Lillington, Donny Pappa, Steve Swimley, Steve Chastain Ñ were members of VillanuevaÕs DHS team that went 9-0 in the regular season. It was my privilege to follow that bouncing ball until the playoffs. A previous commitment forced me to hand off our Devils to then-sports editor Bob Dunning.
Why Bob couldnÕt bring them home against eventual section champ Cordova, IÕll never know. But what Villanueva brought to these kidsÕ lives IÕll never forget … and I know they never did.
As a Blue Devil student, Villanueva excelled in baseball, football and basketball. He was the top scorer on a 21-0 basketball team, the key to 1962Õs 7-1 football team and pitched, fielded and hit DHS to an undefeated baseball season.
Being your leagueÕs top player in three sports in one year is a feat few have accomplished, none before or since at Davis High.
As a coach, he took DHS to a 1995 section basketball championship. There wasnÕt a sport he couldnÕt teach.
And there didnÕt seem to be a student he couldnÕt help.
ItÕs VillanuevaÕs contribution to the kids as a counselor, that stands Ralph apart from most.
Look at what our local high school is today. It has Villanueva written all over it. Don and Judi Eernisse, as one of the many Davisites who have been affected by Ralph, said it best:
ÒAsk the many teammates, friends and athletes he has coached, (the) students he has taught and those that he has counseled. One need not look very deep into the stuff that makes Davis High School what it is today to find RalphÕs legacy.Ó
In covering his Õ79 footballers, just by observing him, he made me a better man.
I considered a different, more patient (but more pointed) style of coaching. I realized Ñ watching him Ñ that high school sports are a learning experience. I changed my approach, without recommendation from Villanueva (but certainly with unspoken influence), how I covered prep athletics. I appreciate prep sports more Ñ and began to praise and admire the women and men who give so much to mentor our kids.
Ralph and I were laughing Thursday morning, exchanging stories at StarbuckÕs, about some of the student-athletes that have passed through his classes and teams, some of whom I coached before turning them over to The Master.
ÒI liked every kid I ever had,Ó Ralph told me. He swore that was true. I told him I didnÕt doubt that, such is Villanueva … a guy that sees the best in all of us.
Just I was about to take a sip of whatever it was Villanueva told me to order (IÕm a fish out of water at StarbuckÕs), the coach added …
ÒI liked Õem all, except this one kid Ñ and his dad …Ó
I almost choked.
I didnÕt pursue who he was talking about, but all the way home I was thinking, ÒGeez, who is this tandem that Villanueva didnÕt care for Ñ and how could anyone not get along with one of our communityÕs icons? Now I think he was pulling my leg.
Anyway, Ralph, thanks for everything. Welcome to the Hall of Fame.
ÒItÕs my honor,Ó he told me, proudly. ÒAnd it feels good.Ó
While I Have You Here: Blue and White Foundation President Rochelle Swanson says tickets remain available for SaturdayÕs DHS Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Table sponsors for $800 receive preferred seating for 10. Individual tickets are $50 and can be purchased through Nancy Peterson at (530) 219-2427 … Donors can ÒThank a TeacherÓ by sponsoring a teacherÕs attendance to the ceremony ($50). … Reception begins at 6:30 p.m. with the program under way at 7:30 p.m. Hurry.