For those of you who don't know, my father passed away in 1998 very suddenly of a heart attack. He was very well known in the town I grew up in, partly because he was a chatterbox (in the best way!) and partly because he ended up playing football in the NFL. He was a real hometown hero in that sense, and even though he has been gone a decade, I still have strangers (when they realize who my father was) share the craziest memories they have about what a great man he was.
This weekend my dad's high school football coach is being recognized and a fundraiser is being held to raise money to build a bust of him in the local stadium. He is a bit of a legend in Fremont, and was a very influential person in my father's life and I wrote this letter in tribute for the ceremony this weekend.
Growing up, everyone in Fremont seemed to know my father, John Woodcock. When I was young, I didn’t think anything of it, it was just the norm. As a teenager it annoyed me because, well, let’s be honest, what doesn’t annoy a teenager? But as an adult, now that he is no longer here, I am grateful for the memories that others choose to share with me. Professional football made my father well-known, but it was his heart, his drive, and his dedication that made him a success. And these weren’t just qualities he was born with.
When I think of my dad I feel incredibly fortunate. Even though he was only in my life a short time, he had a tremendous impact on the way I see the world. Growing up he was not as lucky to have such an influential father in his life. Raised by his mother in a house with three sisters, he certainly knew more than most about what it was like to be a woman. This of course worked out well for my mother in the end, but ask anyone who knew him and they would certainly tell you that he was also an incredible man. Much of that has to do with his involvement with the Washington High football program, and more importantly Coach Ingram.
My mom said, Coach Ingram was not only a mentor to my dad, but he was a father figure in a way that is so uncommon today. She said Coach was like E.F. Hutton, and when E.F. Hutton spoke, everyone listened. During her years at Washington High School when she dated my dad she said Coach must have had eyes in the back of his head as he seemed to know all and see all. He always had the scoop on every guy that ever played for him and knew their strengths and weaknesses. He taught them to strive, to be something more then they were. Whether it was to be quicker, stronger, faster, or smarter he pushed them to be focused on their game.
Back in the day, my dad would tell me, football ruled at Washington High School and it was a great time to be a Husky. He loved playing in the “old stadium” to a capacity crowd, and hearing the marching band at halftime. It was a legendary time and they had a legendary coach. His players were as disciplined as they were tough. There was no “jaking” – a term used to call out someone who wasn’t giving it their all – and there was no room for quitting. You can bet there was no sugar coating on Coach I’s team. If you weren’t performing, you weren’t playing, and he held everyone to the same standard. It was all about the team and there was no individual showboating allowed. Terrell Owens wouldn’t have made it a day playing for Coach Ingram.
Even after my father graduated and was no longer playing for Coach Ingram, he still came back to train with him in the off seasons of his professional career. It wasn’t easy for my dad to come back to Fremont after a long season and start the rigorous training all over again, but it was this that my dad always appreciated and credited Coach Ingram for -- he kept him in shape, grounded and focused year after year. His expertise and advice went way beyond the high school years and extended into his adult life where they formed a friendship. Coach I became someone my dad wanted to succeed for.
Today I know that feeling well. In my own life, I often think of my father and hope that he would think of me as a success. He taught me well and I know that some of my father’s most valuable lessons came straight from the Coach’s mouth:
• Always give 100%. The minute you don’t someone else will come along who is better, faster, or stronger than you. Always be humble and always be learning.
• Be Coachable, not defensive. There is nothing worse than someone who can’t accept constructive criticism. Take feedback with gratitude because it only makes you better if you listen to it.
• But most notably – Always do what you said you were going to do. Personal integrity isn’t just important, it’s all you have.
They are rules to live by, and I am proof that they don’t just apply in football but also in life. I am the product of my father, but so much of who he was and how he was shaped is all Coach Ingram, and for that influence, my whole family is grateful.
I was a cheerleader at Mission San Jose in the 90s and although we loved to show our school spirit, our football team was never what you would call dominant --but my dad never missed a game. He couldn’t have been more supportive. In his heart he was a Husky through and through, but he also knew that he had to do what was best for his team -- and at that time “his team” was my mom and I -- and that meant showing his MSJ pride. I think sometimes it must have pained him to have to sit on the sidelines and root for the Warriors, but true to form he always did what he said he was going to do – and I don’t even think Coach Ingram could fault him for that.