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Coach Ben Parks & the Soul Vikes
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Coach Ben Parks was a guest at last Saturday’s Manteca Sports Heroes Hall of Distinction event held in the Big League Dream sports complex.
He wasn’t listed along with the group of distinguished guests. Included were three-time NFL Pro Bowler Mike Merriweather, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dan Bunz, founder and president of the African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame Arif Khatib, USA Masters Track gold medalist Irene Obera, and Pan American Games gold medalist Cherrie Sherrard.
It wasn’t until Mark Ibanez, KTVU2 sports director and master of ceremonies, made mention of the legendary coach with roots to San Joaquin County.
Coach Parks was here on behalf of R.C. “Alley-Oop” Owens, who was inducted in the 2009 Hall of Distinction class with coach Mike Morenzone, MLB catcher Ken Huckaby, retired sports official Bob Scharmann, race car driver Ron Strmiska Sr., former East Union High boys hoop coach Bill Stricker, golfer Kevin Wentworth and the East Union High girls golf team of the past three years.
Parks was in the area to pay his respects to his longtime friend Charles Washington, who died on Feb. 21 after suffering a stroke shortly before Thanksgiving. The funeral along with a celebration of life services were held for the respected football coach and Stockton Unified administrator this weekend.
Growing up in south Stockton, I only heard stories about Parks and Washington during their days at Edison.
Parks was an assistant coach for the “Soul Vikes” before moving on to Menlo-Atherton High.
During their days, however, they had ways of disciplining wayward youngsters.
 I’m guessing it was the tough sort of love deemed hardly appropriate as compared to today’s methods.
 Yet despite the means not too many folks back then would dare question the outcome. Included was change of attitude as noted at the “Celebration of the Life of Coach Charles Washington.”
Some 300 turned out for the Sunday afternoon function held at the University of the Pacific’s Morris Chapel.
Parks and Washington influenced thousands of young people, particularly during the late ‘60s and 1970s.
Parks, for example, helped quell racial tensions at Menlo-Atherton.
“We were having race riots, and when it got really crazy I took the football team, and we had a good mix in those days, and asked kids from East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto to invite teammates from other communities to their homes and vice versa,” he told the Oakland Tribute in a June 2, 2007 story.
This experience produced friendships that continue through this day.
Later, Parks along with R.C. Owens worked for the 49ers organization under the late Bill Walsh.
Owens was an administrator in charge of the summer training camps including those at Sierra College in Rocklin.
Those were the glory days of the franchise, with Parks serving as the conditioning coach for the likes of Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Keena Turner and Roger Craig.
He treated everyone the same. Montana and Lott were no different than a free agent player trying to crack the roster.
The 49ers, under Walsh’s system, won five Super Bowl titles. Bunz, who was a holdover player from the previous regime, recalled the years prior to those glory days.
“I played for the worst teams,” he said.
San Francisco was coming off a pair of 2-14 seasons. Bunz was so ashamed of those teams that he told people that he worked operating a wrecking ball rather than that as a pro football player.
The attitude for the 49ers changed under Walsh, going from perennial losers to a winning one.
Such changes trickled down from the owner, Ed DeBartolo Jr., to every person in the organization, including Parks and Owens.