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Lathrop High honors former Stanford coach, NFL player
WIGGIN--Luncheon PIC
Former NFL player and head coach and Manteca High standout Paul Wiggin chats with Arnita Montiel at a luncheon Friday afternoon at Chez Shari. Wiggin was honored in a special ceremony Friday evening where the Lathrop High School football stadium was dedicated in his honor. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin

LATHROP — Manteca High’s Most Outstanding Athlete in 1952.

Two-time Stanford All-American.

College Football Hall of Famer.

Two-time NFL Pro Bowler for the Cleveland Browns.

Just a sampling of Paul Wiggin’s many athletic achievements.

Of them all, however, this one stands out alone. Friday night, Lathrop High and Manteca Unified School District dedicated the school’s football stadium in honor of the 78-year-old local legend.

“In football and all of the other things in my life, I’ve gotten a trophy here and a trophy there,” Wiggin said. “This is not a trophy. This is a very, very special event and a great honor.”

Lathrop’s football facility is now officially called Paul Wiggin Stadium, Bennie Gatto Field “Home of the Spartans.” The field dedication in honor of Gatto, a longtime community servant of both Lathrop and Manteca, took place on Sept. 14, 2011.

Wiggin was born in Modesto but grew up in Lathrop — then a town of about 700 people, he said — and starred at Manteca High in football, basketball and track and field. He played football collegiately at Modesto Junior College and Stanford, where he would later coach. Wiggin was actually on the sideline as head coach of the Cardinal in 1982 when he and John Elway came up on the short end of “The Play” in the 85th Big Game against rival Cal.

Lathrop High athletic director Bill Slikker made mention of Cal’s miracle victory in his introduction of the dedication ceremony Friday. Wiggin, taking it in stride, spread his arms out with palms to the clear night sky while sharing a laugh with his wife, Carolyn, of 57 years.

“It probably hurts Paul more than it hurts me, but it hurts all members of the Stanford family,” said guest speaker Ted Leland, Vice President for External Relations and Athletics at the University of the Pacific. Leland served as Stanford’s director of athletics for 14 years and was also an assistant football coach for the Cardinal at one time.

Wiggin was understandably nostalgic in his return to Lathrop, which included a special luncheon at Chez Shari earlier Friday. He credited Manuel Valverde, a key figure in the community as a youth sports organizer, among others for his success in athletics.

“I can sit and list names of people who had an influence in my life that were from this culture as it was at the time,” Wiggin said. “I think the foundation of what I got in Lathrop had a lot to do with my work ethic. I wanted to be something and I worked hard to be something. It was the benefit of having a lot of people who cared about me.”

Among those is Arnita Montiel, a childhood friend and classmate who helped spark the campaign to have Wiggin’s legacy remembered and cemented Friday night.

“I’m so thankful,” she said. “I just praise God that this finally came about because it was a longtime coming. It’s here and we are just so proud.”