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Character building & Coach Brown
Dave Tilton wrote about this photo: “Here’s the 1970 (Manteca High) sophomore team photo. I am standing next to Coach Linn, near the back on the left side of the photo. My mother labeled me with a star - as mothers do - in blue ink. Incidentally, number 21 (near the bottom left corner) is Sierra baseball coach Jack Thomson. We grew up across the street from each other.” - photo by Photo courtesy Dave Tilton


Memorial services for former East Union High football coach Jim Brown who passed away April 11 takes place today at 11 a.m. at the East Union High gym.

In 1970 I was a member of the Manteca High School sophomore football team.  As freshmen, my teammates and I had finished first in the Valley Oak League standings; we had every intention of doing the same thing as sophomores.  Our coaches were Butch Linn, who had coached us as freshmen, and Jim Brown.

We were in first place or near it during most of that sophomore season.  There were a couple of games near the end of the season where our team did not play up to its capabilities – I was one of the players who lost a starting position as a result of not getting the job done during those games – it resulted in our coaches’ decision that we needed “character building,” which meant the last 30 minutes of practice were devoted mostly to hundred-yard sprints, with belly-flops every ten yards while wearing our usual practice uniform, pads and helmet, during the week we were scheduled to face Sonora High School at Gus Schmiedt Field on Friday.

 By Wednesday a few of my teammates and I met in the school library to talk about character building.  The consensus was that we were being punished and the time spent on belly flops could be better used to practice our plays and formations.  

We had a game to win.

After that day’s practice, which was no different than Monday or Tuesday, a few of us stayed to talk some more outside our field house, where we kept our gear and where the coaches had an office.  I can still remember our linebacker Stan Mathews saying, “This isn’t right,” which seemed to become the catalyst for what happened next.  We spontaneously headed back into the field house; the rest of our teammates, who must have thought something was scheduled by the coaches at the last minute,  followed us back inside.  We all sat on the benches by our lockers and waited.

What happened next still amazes me 41 years after it happened: Coach Brown came out of his office, stood in the middle of the area where we were seated, and listened while everyone on the team had a chance to speak about their feelings on character building, time management, and Friday’s game.  A lot of fingers were pointed, most of them were directed at our coaches.  There was no sense of mutiny, just a team that wanted to be heard by its coaches and peers.

This episode took place during an era when coaches of any sport at any level of competition were considered, or at least treated, as omnipotent rulers whose every whim and command was unquestioned and obeyed by their players.  What we – a group of 15-year-old boys (!) – were doing  was not only considered wrong in terms of the coach-player dynamic, we risked at least another week of character building, even getting kicked off the team.  At this point, however, I think everyone realized that something was wrong with the way our coaches were trying to repair the team, even our teammate who talked the coaches into letting him refrain from character building because his stomach hurt.

Coach Brown listened to each one of us and made comments wherever he felt it necessary to clarify his actions.  Coach Linn, who had remained in the office for the entire time of our return, joined us near the end of our meeting to display the above-mentioned dynamic and tell us how ashamed he was of our behavior.  He was furious.  Coach Brown let him speak uninterrupted, in the same way that he let us speak, then he told us to go home, do our homework for school, get some rest, and be at practice tomorrow.

The next day’s practice was business as usual.  Thursday practices were always devoted to running plays, no pads, no contact, just getting ready for the next day’s game.  There was no character building.

I do not remember the final score of the game.  I think we lost by a point.  I do remember Sonora scored its go-ahead touchdown on a running play, a sweep on the side where I had been playing as a defensive end.  It was during a goal line stand on third down.  Before the play, Coach Brown had told me to go in and replace my replacement; unfortunately, there was not enough time for me to join the defense, so he grabbed my shoulder pads and stopped me from running onto the field.  We stood and watched Sonora’s halfback run into the end zone.

After the game in the field house, my teammates and I showered and dressed, no one said much about anything.  Coach Brown came out of his office, looked at us, and said, “Tonight you men showed everyone here a lot of character.”  Not boys.  


Thanks, Coach.

Editor’s note: Former Mantecan Dave Tilton co-authored the book, “First to Leave,” with longtime friend Lewis Buzbee. The book is a collection of two novellas set in California’s Central Valley. Tilton’s contribution, “Before the Sun,” is a tale of growing up in Manteca in the 1960s. Besides being a writer, Tilton is also a solo recording artist and is a member of folk-jazz duo Seventh Triangle.