Sports

Mayor and coach Paul Wallrof named to sports hall of fame

By MARY ANN KALL

For The Beachcomber

Vashon Pirate Youth Football coach Paul Wallrof will be honored at the annual Banquet of Champions on June 4, when he will be inducted into the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame. The Tacoma Athletic Commission will recognize Wallrof for his outstanding sports accomplishments and contributions to the community that have brought significant local and regional acclaim in the Tacoma-Pierce County area.

On the eve of his induction into Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame, Wallrof spent time with a reporter looking back with pride and gratitude on his lifetime of football. Wallrof remembered his contributions as a player, coach, teacher, mentor, friend to the community and the many people he has loved and cared for along the way.

Wallrof grew up in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle in the 1930s — “the rough part of town,” Wallrof will tell you. “I remember my first team, Georgetown Bombers. We were a tough bunch of kids. The whole neighborhood came out and rallied behind us. I played tackle.”

Through youth and into manhood, football remained a continuous and inspiring presence, although it wasn’t always easy. Wallrof played tackle for the Cleveland High Eagles in ’48 and ’49, a team that in two seasons didn’t win a single game.

“The neat thing about Cleveland,” Wallrof said, “was that nobody gave up on us. The student body, parents and everybody in Georgetown and Holly Park supported us. There was no booing. I grew to love football.”

Wallrof then played tackle for Everett Community College under Walt Price, who inspired Wallrof because he was a coach known for “walking the talk.”

“He was a true role model,” Wallrof said. “He wouldn’t ask anything from a player that he wasn’t willing to do himself.”

After two seasons with Everett, Wallrof enlisted in the Marine Corps and served three years during the Korean War, occasionally mixing in with colleagues on base teams. Coming home, he made the Washington Huskies as a walk-on at tackle and played under another inspirational coach, Tom Tipps. A fellow veteran, Tipps took Wallrof under his wing.

“Tipps related to his players and cared about their lives,” Wallrof remembered.

Wallrof knew then that he wanted to be that kind of a coach one day, he said.

Working hard, Wallrof proved himself over and over again for the Huskies. Few people know that Coach Wallrof was a noteworthy collegiate player in his own right. During this time, Wallrof developed and lived by his universal mantra, “Never give up.” Wallrof eventually earned a spot in the starting lineup as a tackle his senior year. That same year, he also won the heart of the love of his life.

“I went to college as a player,” Wallrof said. “I met my wife, Nancy, a Vashon girl, as a player. I raised my family as a coach. Because of what football has done for me, I wanted to pay it back.”

Wallrof got his chance. Graduating from UW with a degree in physical education, he returned to Cleveland High, where he coached the Eagles for three seasons. When the University of Puget Sound (UPS) football program called with an offer, he and Nancy moved to Tacoma.

Wallrof became a Logger Coach (’66-’94), a role that would more than fill a lifetime. UPS played NCAA Division II Football when Wallrof was there.

His players lovingly called him “Big Wally” and thought he taught more than just football at UPS.

“I believe he taught every player that had the privilege to play for him the value of integrity, the importance of preparation, the necessity of effort and the result of persistence,” wrote Logger Brian Threlkeld in a memoir.

The Loggers achieved an impressive 60.8 winning percentage under Wallrof’s leadership and a 31-18-1 record. “The numbers speak for themselves,” Threlkeld continued. “The crucial measure of a Logger coach is not numbers that can be crunched, but lives that were shaped. It is in that role — the role of an educator — that Paul Wallrof has truly excelled.”

Logger Paul James wrote, “I learned much more about life from him than I ever did about football. His ability to motivate his players to always give their best and never give up on themselves or their teammates is what I like to think he taught me.”

Wallrof had a special way with words, too, as Stan Farber of Farber New Service wrote. “Those who played under Wallrof never will forget his “wallyisms,” the things “Big Wally” said to his UPS football teams.” Among the players’ favorites were pre-game descriptions of the opposing team: “They are big and fast, but don’t be afraid of them, although they scare me.” And, “They put their pants on the same way we do, one leg at a time. It’s just their pants are bigger.” The players loved his humor and enthusiasm that could be both spontaneous and inspiring.

While coaching one of his earlier games, after the penalty flag dropped for a third time to stop a Logger score, a Logger fan, it is told, yelled “So what!” from the stands. Wallrof rallied his players. “So what!” they called back across the field. The phrase “So what!” became a trademark often used by Wallrof to motivate his players to move beyond setbacks. In the face of adversity, Wallrof’s team still had a job to do.

When asked about his role in the lives of his players, Wallrof said he was humbled by their support and their outpouring of love and appreciation.

“My job as a coach is to love and care for the team and to teach my players to love and care for each other,” he said. “Anything we do, we do better when we love and care for each other.”

Reflecting on the honor of being inducted into Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame, Wallrof became nostalgic about the game that he says gave him everything in life and the players who credit him for giving them so much more than just the game.

But Wallrof quickly fixed his gaze forward, to look ahead and carefully prepare for his sixth season as program director of Vashon Pirate Youth Football. Wallrof said he will be ready for his next football season, just as he has been for all the previous ones, with a heart full of love, heading full steam ahead.

Wallrof and his wife Nancy invite their Vashon family and friends to join them at the Banquet of Champions. For more information, call Marc Blau at (253) 848-1360 or e-mail marc@tacomasportsmuseum.com.

— Mary Ann Kallsen is a youth football mom.

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