GSHS gym will have legendary name
Quite a few things have changed since Bob Chavez and Harlan Spencer graced the floor of the Glenwood Springs High School gym. The shorts players wear have gotten longer. There’s now a 3-point line.And, it’s becoming a rarity that high school coaches spend even a decade at one school. Two or three decades? Forget about it.It takes time to build a legacy, and Chavez and Spencer certainly put in their time. Chavez spent 31 years coaching Glenwood Springs high school boys basketball players, while Spencer was a basketball coach for junior high boys and high school girls for 25 years.While Chavez and Spencer both retired from coaching in 1989, they left an indelible mark on basketball in Glenwood Springs that can still be seen today in the form of former-players-turned-coaches and even children of former players, who were influenced by the two coaches.”I think their lasting contribution is the way they helped mold and shape young people,” said Glenwood Springs High School principal Mike Wells, who was the assistant principal and became principal during the tenures of Chavez and Spencer.”Those guys produced winning programs, not just in terms of wins and losses, but with the life skills that players came out of the program with,” Wells added. “I just think those guys really are almost legendary coaches and people in the history of Glenwood, not just the high school.”The legendary status will move up a notch tonight when the Glenwood Springs High School Gym is renamed the Chavez-Spencer Gymnasium.TeamworkIn an era when many prep boys’ coaches saw the return of girls’ basketball as competition for gym time and space, Chavez and Spencer bucked the trend when Glenwood restarted the girls program under Spencer.”When I first started, the boys were the big thing,” Spencer said. “At a lot of places the thinking was, `What are the girls doing messing it up?'”Not at Glenwood.”Bob’s biggest fan is Harlan Spencer and Harlan Spencer’s biggest fan is Bob Chavez,” Wells said. “That’s how it’s been as long as I’ve known those two. It’s really fitting that they will both be up on the wall, and I don’t think they’d have it any other way.”The two coaches, who also won a state title coaching youth baseball together, often met for coffee – and still do when Chavez is in town – to exchange ideas. Chavez’s son, Rick, jokes they probably put some diners out of business taking a table and refills for the entire day.”Bob and Harlan were absolutely the best of friends,” Wells said. “They not only shared gym time, but shared ideas.”The teamwork paid off. Chavez currently ranks fourth on the Colorado High School wins list with a record of 477-161. He led the Demons to three state titles (1975, 1979, 1984), Glenwood was runner up three times and qualified for the state tournament 18 times. The 1979 squad is widely believed to be one of the most dominant high school teams in state history, going undefeated with a winning margin of at least 18 points in every game except one.After coaching boys’ junior high basketball for 11 years, Spencer started from scratch in 1975 when Glenwood brought girls’ basketball back to the school. It took just five years for him to get the Demons into the state tournament. Glenwood finished third in 1980 and won two consolation titles under Spencer’s watch. He finished his girls’ coaching career with a record of 171-69 and tallied 12 winning seasons during his 14 years as head coach.Same philosophy, different stylesWhile Chavez and Spencer were known as coaches, they are probably better described as teachers. And, by extension, the gym was their classroom. “Basketball practice was a classroom. You practiced to become better,” said Chavez, equating the gym time and ensuing game to class time and the upcoming test.The two teachers had very different styles, however. Chavez is known for his excitable outbursts and inability to sit still. Spencer is the polar opposite, more reserved – calm when the surrounding environment is frantic.”Chavez was positive, positive, positive and his enthusiasm for basketball and actually for life was so contagious you couldn’t help to be around him and not catch it,” Wells said. “Spencer, on the other had, was much lower key. Being around him you had a sense of competence and control and knew he always had the situation in hand. It freed players up, and they were just able to go out and play.””(Spencer) let you play to make a mistake. You were never afraid to make a mistake,” added Jerilyn Nieslanik, who played on the Glenwood girls’ 1980 team. “You could always play to make a mistake and know you were still OK. It gave you the freedom to be the best that you could be.”The youth players, particularly the boys, got started early with the two coaches. Chavez taught elementary school physical education, while Spencer was the junior high coach.”They had the same philosophy – one in the same,” said Kevin Flohr, a member of the 1979 team who also had his jersey retired at Mesa State College in Grand Junction. “Chavez had us in elementary, then Spencer in junior high then we were turned back over to Chavez in high school.”They had a great farm system and worked well together.”And it didn’t end after high school. Chavez still visits with Flohr’s son Sean, a sophomore at Glenwood, to encourage him in his basketball endeavors.The early exposure to the future players allowed Chavez and Spencer to begin working with the kids, and, unbeknownst to most, building men and women far earlier than most coaches are able. “It wasn’t about the game,” Flohr said. “Chavez had a major impact on how we turned out and how our children turned out. Once you get to our age it all makes sense.”It also caused the players to look forward to making the “big time.””When you were in grade school you knew who the high school coach was and would do anything to make the team and be part of that team because it was always so special to go to the games when you were younger,” said Rick Eccher, another member of the 1979 team. “You knew Chavez was going to be coach and you couldn’t wait to play for him. He was a security blanket for us.”And most importantly, the game is meant to be fun – both coaching and playing.”I remember being so excited for basketball to start, partly because in the gym I always saw Chavez and Spencer together,” said Sandy Decrow, who played at Glenwood High from 1981-85. “They made it fun and competitive. We worked hard, but we always had fun.”Basketball todayWith both Chavez and Spencer having long runs as basketball coaches, there’s no doubt the two could adapt to whatever the changing game threw at them. In talking to the two coaches, however, one gets the impression they don’t envy many of issues facing today’s coaches. Chavez won’t watch the NBA because of the current 1-on-1 mentality. He has no problem with a player going off for 40 points, but it should still be a team effort.”It’s a team sport and everybody has a role,” said Chavez.Chavez points out that on the 1979 teams he had “two kids who couldn’t guard their shadow.” But the players could play offense. He switched to a zone defense and those two players’ role was to score and help out as much as possible. Some other players may have suffered at the offensive end due to the extra work on defense, but they accepted that role.Chavez and Spencer aren’t sure today’s high school player – or the parents – would be so quick to accept the diminished personal glory for the benefit of the team.”What we did, people accepted that we were doing it right,” Spencer said. “We didn’t have the interference.””I think the biggest problem is the parents want to be too involved,” added Chavez. “I’m not saying it’s bad for parents to be involved, but they can be too involved.”But it really comes down to the kids. If the kids will work, a team can be successful.”We’re not messiahs,” Chavez said. “The kids made us good coaches because they worked.”Basketball players make basketball players. Coaches just motivate and teach.”And of course there is one thing Chavez and Spencer would like to have had while they were coaching – the 3-point arc.”We had some shooters,” Chavez said.The gym dedication festivities begin tonight at 5 p.m. with a pasta dinner put on by the GSHS girls’ swim and dive team at 5 p.m. in the multipurpose room. The cost is $5 and it is open to the public. The dedication takes place after the Glenwood girls’ basketball game and before the start of the boys’ game. The boys are scheduled to tip off at 8 p.m., while the girls start at 6:30 p.m. Both games are against Faith Christian.Following the boys’ game, the public is invited to an event sponsored by City Market in the multipurpose room. Coffee, cake and other food will be available and the event is open to the public. Old photos as well as Chavez and Spencer themselves will be on hand.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.