The Daily Pilot
Many football coaches use the motto: "It's not how you start, but how you finish."
The statement applied to Tom Baldwin during his retirement party Thursday night at the Neighborhood Community Center in Costa Mesa.
The former Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and Santa Ana Valley high school coach ended an emotional speech with poignant words.
Several of the nearly 400 people in the room played for Baldwin. He found it fitting to end by simulating a pregame speech.
First, he set the mood, telling everyone that on this night, his team would be playing against Mater Dei. That, of course, got everyone's attention.
Then Baldwin said (and I'm paraphrasing), "I want you to go out there and be crazy. Get crazy, because I've heard it takes seven people to take down a crazy person. If we are all crazy on the field, it will take 77 people to take us down. They won't have enough to take us down. OK, let's go!"
As Baldwin ended his speech, he pumped his fist into the air amid a standing ovation. Even I was ready to strap on a helmet and go four quarters with the best of them.
He certainly instilled excitement in his former players.
The night was about honoring Baldwin, but for the football coach it was also a celebration of the countless relationships he developed throughout the past 49 years of teaching and coaching. They all stood up and cheered after Baldwin spoke.
During his speech, Baldwin, a Christian who remains highly active at his church, quoted a passage from the bible. I Corinthians 13 is usually used for weddings, but he felt the love chapter also applied to his life and his career.
He did most of his work with love and care. He opened the doors of his home to some players and students, adopting them as his own. He taught them life lessons. But he also learned too, as he became a better teacher and coach through working with them.
"They don't care that you know until they know that you care," Baldwin said of working with them.
Many of the people at the party spoke about how Baldwin builds up, rather than tears down. He uses positive reinforcement.
He also uses it in his own life. He is dealing with a rare intestinal disease, but he remains upbeat. The ailment, mesenteric panniculitis, eventually prevented the 78-year-old from continuing to teach at Costa Mesa, where he has worked for 26 years. But he plans to still coach golf for the Mustangs. After reuniting with several of his former players, he set up golf dates with many of them in the days to come.
He had been looking forward to his retirement party with great anticipation to catch up with his former players and students, as well as friends in the community. Everyone was there to celebrate.
Usually on nights like Thursday, the cliché phrase is that there was not a dry eye in the room. On the contrary, there were smiles all around. It was such a happy place.
"It was beyond my expectations," Baldwin said Monday. "My family had told me all along how many people were coming, but I just didn't think it would be that many people … I was pretty amazed. It was a pretty exciting day."
It was also a proud day for Baldwin. When he stood up and spoke. He saw all the faces, the people he taught, the boys he helped turn into men.
He said he could've spoke for hours, telling stories about each.
How can Baldwin not help but feel pride for someone like Manny Penaflor?
"You can write a book about him," Baldwin says. "To me he's an amazing man. He didn't speak English until the fourth grade and he goes on to graduate in the top of his class and goes on to UC Berkeley. All these barriers he overcame."
Penaflor played on Baldwin's first team at Santa Ana High in 1958. Penaflor later became an assistant coach under Baldwin. But Penaflor wasn't the only former player in attendance from Baldwin's first team.
Wylie Carlyle and Joe McDade were also there to honor Baldwin. Those two, just as Penaflor, worked under Baldwin.
Cleo Bennett was also in the house. He played for Baldwin in the early 1980s at Santa Ana Valley.
Back then, as Baldwin put it, Bennett struggled.
"He missed a lot of classes and later had to go to anger management classes," Baldwin said. "Now he's a pastor of a church in Riverside."
Not everyone could make the retirement party. Baldwin received a call from a former player who couldn't make it. Larry Brumsey, who works in Saudi Arabia, called to tell Baldwin that he loves him and wishes him well in his retirement.
Isaac Curtis, another former player, provided one of the many highlights of the night.
Baldwin spoke at Curtis' ceremony when he was inducted into the Cincinnati Bengals Hall of Fame. So it was only natural for Baldwin to speak at Baldwin's retirement party.
Curtis shared a story of one time when he was interviewed by a reporter. He was asked which coach had made the most impact on his career.
The reporter brought up the names of Don Coryell (San Diego State) and Paul Brown (Bengals) as what seemed obvious choices for Curtis.
But Curtis responded with, "Tom Baldwin," and credited the coach for making him the player he was.
Curtis was on Baldwin's best teams from 1966-68. Santa Ana went 12-1 in 1967. Back then Curtis played running back. He later starred as a receiver at San Diego State and with the Bengals.
"Tom Baldwin has probably made the greatest impact on my life," said Curtis, who runs a hotel management company in Cincinnati. "I couldn't wait to get here. He's meant so much to me and his players. He was more than a coach. He was a mentor. All the lessons he taught were life lessons."
In addition to thanking Baldwin, Curtis wanted to ask his coach a question. Curtis knows how important a busy schedule is for Baldwin. Teaching and coaching were very important duties in Baldwin's life.
"I asked him, 'Are you ready for this?' " Curtis said. "He's been working all his life. It's a whole new adjustment. He's going to do well."
Baldwin will be just fine.