A football coach for the ages

Every once in a while, I meet someone who makes a tremendous impact on my life.  Someone I think about when the trials and tribulations of life come calling.  Someone who helps me put my life into a proper perspective.  One of those people is Charlie Wedemeyer who passed away on June 3rd at the age of 64.  I cannot remember the year I met Charlie, but I will never forget the impact his testimony had on my life.  

Born on February 19, 1946 in Honolulu Hawaii he was the last of nine children.  Charlie excelled in football at Punahou School and was named Hawaii Prep athlete of the 1960s.  After his graduation from Punahou in 1965, Charlie attended Michigan State University in East Lansing Michigan where he continued to play football under the leadership of coach Duffy Daugherty.  He graduated from Michigan State in 1969 and later obtained a masters degree from Central Michigan University.  After marrying his high school sweetheart Lucy,  the Wedemeyers moved to California where Charlie took a job as a teacher and football coach at Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos California. 

In 1978, Charlie was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (or ALS).  This disease is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease named after the New York Yankee great who was diagnosed in 1939.  At the time of his diagnosis, his doctors gave Charlie between one to three years to live.  They were wrong.  Charlie continued to coach football until 1986 when he was replaced by an assistant coach.  By this time the disease had taken a complete toll on his physical body leaving him in a special motorized wheelchair and unable to speak.  He continued to sit on the sidelines and call in plays.  Because he could not speak or use hand gestures, he communicated through a code of facial movements and twitches that his wife and coaches could understand.  When he was on the sidelines, he was taken seriously and respected by both the coaches and players.  He was their inspiration and strength at every game. 

An equally amazing and inspiring person is Charlie’s wife Lucy.  She was his voice, translator, high school sweetheart, faithful wife and caretaker for the last 32 years.  She never left his side.  Two TV movies and one PBS documentary were made to tell Charlie’s story.  Today there is a high school football event bearing Charlie Wedemeyer’s name that is played in San Jose California every year called the Charlie Wedemeyer High School All-Star Football Game.  In 2007, Charlie was inducted into the National Federation of High Schools Hall of Fame.  Charlie once said in 2005 through his wife Lucy “Pain and suffering are inevitable we all experience it, but misery is an option.  We do get to make that choice.” 

Charlie Wedemeyer in 1966

More information on ALS can be found here.

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