Legendary GSHS coaches honored by gymnasium dedication
In a ceremony filled with corny jokes, inspirational messages, two standing ovations and a few tears, the gymnasium at Glenwood Springs High School was dedicated Friday as the Chavez-Spencer Gymnasium.
This is the gym where the legendary basketball coaches Bob Chavez and Harlan Spencer drilled aspiring players and honed the high-performing teams that made this town famous for basketball in the 1960s, `70s and `80s.
The two coaches retired in 1989, ending their careers with a total of 648 victories.
Athletes molded by their leadership gathered Friday night to applaud the men and cheer the rededication of the gym that holds so many proud memories.
They first gathered at a spaghetti dinner served by members of the GSHS swim team in the the multi-purpose room, where one wall was covered with newspaper clippings and photographs from the Chavez and Spencer era.
“Bob Chavez was probably the most influential person in my life, besides my parents,” said Jon Baranko of Milwaukee, who played with the GSHS 1984 state championship team.
“He had this incredible ability to get you to achieve things you never thought you could. These are the lessons that carry me through life,” said Baranko, who traveled to Glenwood Springs just for this event.
Cheryl Amichaux Dunlap, now of Silt, was one of the players on Spencer’s first GSHS girls basketball team in 1975-76.
She wonders, now, if Spencer wasn’t stuck with coaching the girls program. “If he was, he never showed it. He was always there for us. He knew everything, but he was quiet about it. We really looked up to him,” she said.
After dinner, the coaches and players and their families drifted over to the gym, where the Demon girls were trailing Faith Christian High School of Arvada in the first round of the Demon Invitational basketball tournament.
Chavez and Spencer sat together on the bottom row of the home side bleachers, with little Jordan Chavez squeezed between them, watching the action.
The game ended with a remarkable upset, giving the Demons a 41-39 victory and setting the scene nicely for the ceremony to follow.
GSHS principal Mike Wells briefly took center court, and invited everyone in the room who had played for either of the two coaches to stand. All over the gym, proud men and women stood for applause.
Then Wells introduced Nick Massaro, a former GSHS principal and Roaring Fork School District superintendent, and Gary Stubler, son of another GSHS sports legend, Nick Stubler. The school’s football field is named for him.
“Both these men had a great influence on athletics at Glenwood Springs High School,” Massaro said of Chavez and Spencer.
He recalled Spencer as man with a great sense of humor, who came to Glenwood Springs from Kit Carson in 1963. Chavez, meanwhile, “was the nervous sort,” Massaro remembered.
After everyone had a good laugh at the two coaches’ expense, the men were escorted onto center court by two of their children, Rob Chavez of Portland, Ore., and Joycelyn Spencer of Collbran.
Massaro noted that Spencer revived girls basketball, dormant for 50 years, in 1975.
“It used to take a long time for those games. It wasn’t like the exciting game we saw tonight. Basketball was a new sport for those girls,” Massaro said.
But over 14 seasons, Spencer built the girls program, clocking 114 wins to 69 losses, marking 12 winning seasons and three trips to the state tournament. He was named Northwest League Coach of the Year four times.
“This is quite a man, and quite a record,” Massaro said.
Stubler shared the high points of Chavez’ story. He came to Glenwood Springs in 1958, and over his 30-year career coaching boys basketball, he collected 477 victories, the most in Colorado high school basketball history.
His teams played at the state tournament 18 times and won the championship three times, and he was twice named Coach of the Year.
Reading from the plaque that was presented to her dad, Joycelyn Spencer said, “You taught us how to be better individuals both on and off the court.” She delivered the plaque with a kiss to her dad’s cheek.
Reading from the plaque for Chavez, Rob Chavez said, “The ones who win get inside their players’ minds and motivate them.” And before he could hand off the plaque, his dad grabbed him in a big bear hug.
Gary Stubler took a moment to bring his own late father’s gruff personality into the ceremony.
“If my dad was here, he’d look at you and say, `Ahh, they don’t deserve it.’
“But from the rest of us, thanks for many years of success and pride,” Stubler said.
And with that, a Demon basketball player pulled the cord hanging from the red sheet that covered the bronze capital letters now attached to the gym’s brick wall over the main entrance door: Chavez-Spencer Gymnasium.
The sheet fell and the crowd applauded and gave the much-loved coaches another standing ovation. The boys and girls Demon teams, which stood in a long line of red and white during the ceremony, rushed over to shake the men’s hands.
A few minutes later, the Faith Christian boys dribbled balls onto the court, and the Demon Invitational matches continued.
After the game, Chavez and Spencer, their families, players and friends, gathered for cake and coffee and more stories.
It was a grand evening for two of the best coaches Glenwood Springs has known.
“We had a core of coaches who were central to the school, and to the community,” Wells said, recalling Stubler, Chavez, Spencer and football coach Don Miller.
Now, coaches rarely stay at a school for two or three decades, and high school sports is no longer the focal point of the community, he said.
“We’ll never have that again,” Wells said.
All the more reason to remember, in bronze capital letters, the legacies of Bob Chavez and Harlan Spencer.
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