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Thanks, Coach

April 20th, 2013 · 3 Comments · Football

Because of Bob Dueker, I have not eaten a doughnut in more than 40 years. Because of Bob Dueker, mostly, I have exercised three times a week for more than 40 years.

Have to give that guy some credit as probably the most influential coach/teacher I had, in my youth.

And the strange thing?

I didn’t particularly like the guy, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t like me. Or worse, hardly noticed.

Robert “Bob” Dueker was a hard-ass coach/teacher back when you were still allowed to act like that in a high school.

He had been a college basketball player, at Valparaiso, if I recall, and he carried himself like a professional athlete. (And, if memory serves, he said he was the last guy cut by the ABA franchise in Los Angeles, the Stars. This would have been in the late 1960s.)

Tall, lean blond guy with a sort of surfer’s buzz cut. I don’t think I’m out of line by having an impression he was vain. The girls were aware of him, certainly. Probably could have had a career in Hollywood if he hadn’t seemed to get so much satisfaction from coaching and teaching. He was maybe 30 then. Maybe a bit younger.

Let’s start with the doughnuts. Dueker taught a health class for the guys at Los Angeles Lutheran High School; I think we were juniors.

This was at a point in history when conventional wisdom about diet and exercise was changing. Up till then, it was lots of red meat and starches and dairy. Weight lifting (even for football) was thought to lead to a sad state of “muscle-bound” rigor, and running a lot was for track athletes.

Dueker was not shy about telling teens what not to eat. Doughnuts were high on his list — perhaps because they were what most of us had eaten for breakfast. (I sometimes had four Winchell’s chocolate doughnuts before school.)

Dueker declared that the human body needed 48 hours to process a doughnut, because it was just such a lump of fatty dough.

I don’t know if that statistic is accurate, but it sounded plausible, coming from a guy who clearly was in top shape, and it stuck in my head. Within weeks, I gave up doughnuts. Haven’t had one since. Mind, I eat junk, but doughnuts are not among them. (Even dealt with some awkward situations, socially; someone brings in doughnuts to the office, a nice gift … and I don’t eat one. Sometimes I even tell people why: Bob Dueker’s “48 hours” stat.)

He also taught driver’s education, and the math on a safe following distance. The folly of driving 10 mph over the speed limit on a short trip was something he demonstrated mathematically.

As a coach, he was mostly about getting in shape and letting you know what you did wrong. No friendly chit-chat, with him. Without doubt, a fair number of young men need someone like that in their lives (at least for a year or two). A “no whining, no excuses, get it done, don’t expect praise” sort of guy. That was Dueker.

He mainly concentrated on basketball, but he was an assistant coach on the football team, and I remember him shouting at the varsity players, straining on a hot and smoggy August day in L.A., that we should all “stop complaining because I haven’t seen a single guy pass out yet.”

During my senior season, we were decent (5-4), but we were annihilated 48-6 by Harvard-Westlake. After that game, he told a disheartened team that we had embarrassed him and the school (perhaps in that order). It did not do much to brighten spirits. (And, truth be told, we had been badly coached leading up the game; we practiced to face a 4-4 stack defense, and Harvard ran a 6-1 front, something like that, and by the time we figured out how to block it we were being thrashed.)

A lot of us were afraid of him. Not that he might strike someone, but that he would be disappointed, contemptuous perhaps — and we would know. It was easy to do. What was curious is why we should care; he was never the head coach of a team I played on. But he had that sort of impact on us. On me.

He also, though, was a guy who had absorbed the concept of aerobics, which had just been written about by a former military man, and as time went on his players and teams probably were in better shape than the opposition. He won some CIF basketball titles in the 1980s. (In this 1987 Los Angeles Times story on his son, Troy, we can see the type of player who spent a lot of time with Bob Dueker. The son was known for his “work ethic”.)

At the end of my high school career, after the baseball season ended in my senior year, I remember him asking me — in one of the rare times he spoke to me — if I was happy not to be at practice. I thought about it and said: “Actually, it seems like I ought to be suffering at least three times a week.”

I believed it then, and now, and I hope Bob Dueker took it as compliment. I had not meant it as one, then, but he (more than any other coach; and I spent more time with others) had somehow communicated to me that sitting around was not a good life plan.

I am no paragon of  physical fitness, but neither have I done nothing.

I do not know where Bob Dueker is, or what he is doing.  A basic search seems to indicate least 10 Robert Duekers in the U.S.  One of them is a businessman in Simi Valley; could be him.

The one I dealt with in high school set a high standard for the rest to live up to.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeff // Jun 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I played basketball with his younger son, Chad, my first two years at Orange Lutheran. That was in ’90-”91, but at that time Bob was a businessman based out in the SF valley

  • 2 Ashley Lake // Aug 3, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Your Bob Dueker lives on Ashley Lake in Montana. He’s a jerk and most around here dislike him. Thinks he’s above everyone and is a “know it all”

  • 3 Rick Kamrath // Jan 17, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Sounds like we were close in age. I didn’t have Dueker as a coach; I did have him for a religion class, and you described him well. His hair was more “Redford” than “buzzcut” in 1969, and for his posturing, we rebellious kids nicknamed him “God” behind his back. Still, I honor his work in trying to point us the right way. Good to hear your memories.

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