Wimberly's exit from coaching not what she envisioned


By Keith Peters

Palo Alto Online Sports

It could have been an ending to any other school year for Pam Wimberly, who handed out some diplomas at Menlo-Atherton's graduation ceremony on Thursday and looked ahead to teaching summer school.

When Wimberly returns to school in the fall to resume her PE teaching duties, however, things will be very different.

For one, the 65-year-old Wimberly will not be standing on the basketball court for the first day of practice on November 1. After 42 years of coaching the girls' hoop team at M-A (she started in 1968-69 but missed two seasons), Wimberly will be a spectator for the first time.

That decision was made on June 1 when M-A Principal Matthew Zito informed Wimberly that her coaching career at the school was over.

"I will go on and teach my classes, and enjoy more things in life," she said. "I'm coming to grips with what happened."

What happened was, after two losing seasons, co-Athletic Directors Paul Snow and Steven Kryger, along with Zito, decided that Wimberly evidently had seen better days. Forget the fact she had compiled a won-loss record of 663-340 in her 42 years while becoming the third-winningest girls' hoop coach in California. Forget the fact she had won four Central Coast Section titles (1984, 1991, 1992 and 1993) or been runner-up six times. And forget that she missed the CCS playoffs only 10 times in 36 years since the section postseason began in 1977.

In 2001, Wimberly was named Girls' Basketball Coach of the Year by the California Coaches Association and was selected as one of 13 coaches honored with the Model Coach Award by the California Interscholastic Federation.

While no one wanted to state the obvious, going 10-16 this past season and 7-18 in 2010-11 while missing the CCS playoffs both times reportedly did not enamor Wimberly with a group of M-A parents who evidently wanted more. It was a clash of style over substance and the supposed weight of parental pressure apparently won out.

A statement released by Kryger said: "Pam accomplished many great feats over the course of her career and the M-A community is grateful for all that she did for hundreds of student-athletes. We feel this is the time to make the transition to a new head varsity coach for our girls' basketball program."

Somehow, that rings hollow. Coaches at public schools are removed from their position for verbal or physical abuse, lack of effort or causing more headaches than it's worth. Wimberly, however, was a role model with an exemplary career. It was never about the wins and losses for her.

"Six hundred wins wasn't a goal," she said. "I just started coaching the kids. It was never about the records. I know I fell short of 700 (wins), but that's not a big deal."

Wimberly had a tough day on Wednesday, as phone calls and e-mails flooded in.

"It was a tumultuous day," she said. "I got teary-eyed from what people said. There's been a lot of out-pouring of support."

One e-mail of support was sent to the entire staff at M-A by Dr. Jerry Brodkey, another veteran staff member and a fan of women's basketball from his days of growing up in Iowa, when they played 6-on-6.

Wrote Dr. Brodkey:

"Last night a friend sent me an email stating that Pam Wimberly had been relieved of her coaching duties at Menlo-Atherton. There was an article in today's Mercury confirming the news. It was hard to believe; Pam has been here long before even I arrived 30 years ago. Pam is not just another coach who works here a few years and then moves on. She has been a pillar of our community. I had some trouble sleeping pondering the news and thought I'd take a few minutes to express some thoughts. It is a busy time -- graduation, finals, all of us scattering for the summer. With all of this going on, I don't want this to go unnoticed.

"I am not sure why Pam was relieved of her coaching responsibilities, or how it was done. Perhaps these questions can be addressed in appropriate settings at a future time. Pam Wimberly is a record-setting, legendary basketball coach, but she has been so much more than that here at MA. I have watched her coach for so many years, sometimes with championship teams, sometimes with poor teams. At all times, she was a model of professionalism. I don't believe I ever saw her get a technical, never saw her lose her composure. She was a role model, not just for her players, but for other coaches, for parents, for fans. I would watch Pam during games, watching her as a teacher. Even in moments of great stress and tension she was positive, patient, and caring. I watched her and learned from her each time I saw her coach.

"At times, some of my students were on her teams. It didn't matter if they were students in my AP classes, or if they were students struggling in my most remedial math classes. She treated each student with respect. She would mold her players into a team, blending their individual skills and talents. I am not a basketball expert, but I was always impressed how these diverse individuals would come together under her tutelage. She taught her players how to win, how to lose, and how to be a family together. Pam was a critical mentor for so many young people through the years.

"Pam has been valued colleague. I have never envied the PE teachers with their giant classes and huge challenges. Year after year, she did her job. When my students would tell me they had Wimberly for PE, I knew they would be fine.

"Over the years I didn't get to see Pam as much as I would have liked. I was in the D-wing, she was in the gym. Each time I saw her or thought of her, I had the same thought: There goes a teacher's teacher, a coach's coach. Pam Wimberly, a true member of any Hall of Fame."


Like this comment
Posted by s
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2012 at 12:51 am

agesim, I hope people spread this around.

Like this comment
Posted by Wow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2012 at 9:43 am

No coach should be treated with such disrespect. It's too bad the parents of public school kids don't understand that private schools go after the more talented athletes, and some years that definitely affects the record. A coach can do a lot, but when the talent is at other schools, the top level that a team can attain is limited.

I've been coaching at several public schools on the Peninsula for over a decade. I've been offered jobs at private schools but have turned them down. The pressure to recruit is enormous even though it's supposedly against CIF/CCS/NFHS rules. I've lost promising players to private schools, and had parents question whether I knew what I was doing.

Frankly, parents are the problem. High school sports are great, but the kids who want to play at the next level (with the exception of football) have to play on a club team to get looks from college coaches. Some parents don't understand that dynamic.

Wimberly was treated badly. This could have been handled so much better. Shame on M-A and the parents who forced Wimberly out in such a disgraceful manner.

Like this comment
Posted by Old MP
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2012 at 11:28 am

There separate issues here.

- parent influence. It is overwhelming at some schools. However none of us know how much influence the parents had in this situation.
- "treated with disrespect." How so? The fact that she was not brought back to coach? The way that MA handled the communication with the coach? It is not disrespectful to change coaches and if the communication is done privately and in person. Change happens. Even the best coaches eventually have to move on.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 8, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Despite whatever reasons Ms. Wimberly was given by the powers to be, their timing was pretty rotten. She has been a legendary part of our local sports community for decades and did not deserve to be publicly humiliated just prior to M-A's graduation, in which she participated as a presenter. No one deserves that type of treatment, yet it was a characteristic Zito move...

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Yep, Sue's right on. I will always appreciate Ms. Wimberly's influence on myself & some of my friends. I hope she knows that we won't forget her! I know that the school authorities could've handled this much better, but they totally bungled it. "Change happens" - but it's not excuse for shoddy treatment.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2012 at 8:16 pm

M/A has a perfect right to replace any coach who fails in any period.

The decision was correct and in the best interests of the kids

Looks like she aims at litigation--she will lose

Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 8, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Well, Sharon, since you're from Midtown and not in the Sequoia HS District, you can't be familiar with Pam Wimberly's legacy. Have a heart....

Like this comment
Posted by Margaret
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 9, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Ms. Wimberly is a legend and has been setting an example for the young women on her teams and other coaches for years. Her firing shows the power of white, overprivileged players' parents. Principal Zito should be ashamed of himself, kow-towing to such pressures. You know who you are out there. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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