Vidakovich column: The Legends Club

Mike Vidakovich
Mike Vidakovich

I finished a book awhile back by notable sports writer John Feinstein titled “The Legends Club.” It chronicles the life, times and coaching rivalry of North Carolina’s Dean Smith, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina State’s Jim Valvano. The personalities of these three men and their love of the game of basketball created an intense rivalry and several classic games along North Carolina’s Tobacco Road during the decade of the 1980s.

Growing up here in Glenwood, my friends and I were lucky enough to have our own group of legends as teachers and coaches. Upon completion of Feinstein’s book, I realized that every one of the Glenwood High School coaches who looked after me so extremely well in the late 1970s have had a portion of the school’s athletic facilities named after them.

To the students and athletes who now roam the halls of GSHS, the Chavez-Spencer Gym, Stubler Memorial Field and Coach Miller Drive are probably just names without faces that are forever attached to the proud Demon sports lore. To me, they are great men who not only won championships on the gridiron and in the arena, they more importantly shaped the lives of generations of Glenwood athletes and cemented the foundation for the future success of those who wear the red and white uniforms.

If you knew Harlan Spencer, you were better off for it. Spence, as he was known to most of us, put us through the summer rigors as our little league baseball coach. Being new to organized sports, we all counted on his guidance, knowledge of the game, and calm demeanor to provide an early life tutorial for us boys of summer.

Spence was the PE teacher at the Glenwood Junior High School, and also served as the football and basketball coach. We had outstanding teams in both seventh and eighth grade, and it was largely due to the fundamentals of the game taught by Spencer and his assistant, Al Kimbrough. The championships won were secondary to the work ethic, integrity and respect for the game that were demanded of us by these two men.

Spence is most known for starting the Glenwood girls’ basketball program in 1976, serving as the first head coach for the Lady Demons. It’s no surprise to anyone that his teams were highly successful and filled with quality young ladies. The blueprint and the standard had been set for Glenwood coaches who came after him to follow.

Retired and now living in Fruita with his wife, Spence doesn’t make it to Glenwood very often, but when I am fortunate enough to bump into him, I make sure to thank him for all of his teachings and guidance. Always with a smile, he’s still as upbeat and personable as ever. Spence’s compassion for others never takes a holiday.

Nick Stubler was my PE teacher and freshman basketball coach at GSHS. He was a large man with a gruff voice who spoke very few words, but when he did talk, you gave him your undivided attention. Coach Stubler made us do endless calisthenics and run around the track in PE. He drilled us endlessly on the fundamentals of the game of basketball until we could execute the finer points in our sleep. We ran the weave to perfection and were groomed for future success as members of the Demon varsity.

A former college football lineman, Stubler was no-nonsense tough, but he had a heart as big as his physical frame. He loved us all, and we knew it. Every time I see the sign with his name on it at the south end of the Glenwood football stadium, I think of my times with Stubler and feel a deep gratitude. He made us all grow up and take responsibility for our actions at a time in life when we most needed a helping hand.

I did not play football in high school, I was too skinny and scared, but I did get to know Coach Don Miller well, from the time I was a little boy, to my days coaching at GSHS with Miller serving as the athletics director. He was always just “coach” to all of us. That’s how I always addressed him, and with the utmost respect.

Coach was on my dad’s bowling team at the old Glenwood Bowl that was run by the Roy family. It was quite a cast of characters that got together every Thursday night to knock down some pins and do the same with a few beers. My dad, Miller, Marv Meyers, Corky Lyons and Bob Jones didn’t set the bowling world on fire, but they sure had a good time. My dad would always bring me along for the evening. I looked forward each week to seeing those guys and messing around at the bowling alley.

Coach’s Demon football teams won state titles in 1978 and 1981. He was a stickler for details in the Vince Lombardi mode, and his players were always in shape and well-prepared. Some of my fondest memories are from those Friday nights watching the Demons march up and down the field to another in a long line of victories.

Having Coach around the school during my coaching tenure at GSHS proved to be invaluable. His advice and encouragement went a long way to helping me navigate the always fickle world of coaching. I leaned on him during good times and bad. Though he passed away a few years ago, I think of him often. I always will.

Our indoctrination into the world of Coach Bob Chavez started as physical education students at Glenwood Elementary. Nothing that “Chav” ever did could even remotely be considered sedentary. He let us play games after we did calisthenics. He made us climb the rope in the gym and timed us as we ran around the softball field, trying to beat our result from the day before. During the winter months, he would put us all in a circle and make us square dance. That wasn’t my favorite activity, but I found it could be tolerated if I got one of the many cute sixth grade girls as my partner.

Chav would pace the length of the elementary gym endlessly on game day. His mind was on that night’s opponent on the basketball court, and a world away from elementary PE. We all grew up with his passion for the game of basketball and the Demons. It was infectious, and we all wanted to be a part of it someday with him as our leader.

You may know that Chavez won state championships in 1975, ’79 and ’84 as the head basketball coach in Glenwood Springs. He was, at one time, the all-time leader in high school coaching victories in the state of Colorado. What you probably aren’t aware of is that he didn’t have 30 years of basketball players at Glenwood, he had 30 years of coaching boys he considered to be his family away from his own.

Chav’s love and enthusiasm for almost everything, not just basketball, rubbed off on all who were lucky enough to play for him. Positive and encouraging almost to a fault, we are all as important to him now as we were when we raced up and down the basketball court.

It’s always a treat for me to see him and his wife, Shirley, when they venture back here each summer from their home in Scottsdale, Arizona. A hug is always the order of the day when we meet, and a lengthy sit down to rehash all the old games and milestones of yesteryear is a must. Still sharp and with his usual unfailing enthusiasm, Chav built the empire that is Glenwood basketball. I feel fortunate to have helped put a few of the building blocks in place with him.

Chavez, Spencer, Stubler and Miller. Glenwood’s own version of the Legends Club. A forever thanks to you gents. We’re all glad we got to be a small part of it.

Mike Vidakovich writes freelance for the Post Independent.

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