Derek Hull-Jenkins, boys' athletic director; Kristen Elliott, cheerleader coordinator; Joe Thomas, girls' athletic director; Ray Bannister; and Emily Babcock, CYO board member and former Ray Bannister player, at the party and unveiling of the new name for the court at St. John the Baptist Parish in San Lorenzo.
BILL FORD/SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC VOICE
50-year CYO coach Bannister awarded diocesan medal
People don't coach CYO to win medals.
But Ray Bannister got one anyway.
In celebration of his 50 years as a CYO coach, Bannister received the Diocesan Medal of Merit at a party in his honor at the gym at St. John the Baptist Parish in San Lorenzo.
It marked just the second time the diocesan medal had been awarded to a CYO volunteer. An additional honor awaited Bannister. A tarp was placed over the wall at one end of the gym. It was lifted to unveil "Welcome to Ray Bannister Court" emblazoned on the wall.
"I thought it was kind of crazy," Bannister said of the event. "I'm not a guy who likes to be famous."
But the self-described "down-to-earth guy" loves seeing the kids he's coached over the years. Of the 200 people in the room, "75 percent were kids who played for me down the line."
Some of those kids aren't kids anymore.
"It was a very, very good party," Bannister said.
Make no mistake: This was not a retirement party. "I'm going to keep doing it," he said.
Ray Bannister became involved in CYO basketball in 1966, before there was a gym. An old church building, used for dances and meetings and Bingo, served for basketball practice.
They used to practice in the National Guard Armory across the street from the parish.
"If we had a big room, we'd practice in it," he recalled.
Bannister's son Mike started playing basketball in third grade, and one of the coaches asked for some help watching the children practice free throws.
"His coach got me started," Bannister said. "He said, 'I'm coaching your son, how about you coaching my kid?'"
Bannister liked it.
He coached his daughter, Jodie.
There were championships along the way, but Bannister doesn't dwell on those.
After his own kids graduated from St. John's, other coaches asked him for his help.
"Twenty years ago, I was going to quit," Bannister said.
But something changed his mind.
"I started coaching the little kids," Bannister said. "It was fun."
No score is kept in the second-grade league. "You go play, get your treat and go home," Bannister said.
Parents of the little ones often tell him their child can't play basketball.
"Let them try," he said. "You're going to find out whether they like it or not."
Once they get started, they'll build muscle tone needed to help shoot those baskets, he said. Strategy will come as the years go by.
Bannister's way is to "make it as fun as I can. Keep it low-key."
He has the same philosophy for boys and girls: teach them how to run up and down the court, and how to change from offense to defense.
"When I was coaching older kids, it was dramatic and hectic," he said.
His daughter's team was having such great fun that he asked the girls if they wanted to play in a summer league sponsored by the Hayward Area Recreation Department. It was through that league he met Bill Ford, who, as director of CYO, nominated Bannister for the diocesan medal.
Ford presented the medal to Bannister at the party on Oct. 8.
"He's the epitome of CYO," Ford said. "He's the one everybody knows."
Ford told the audience about people who use their talents to train and compete in the Olympics, and they are heroes.
"In Ray," Ford said, "we have someone who used his talents to give back to children, for 50 years … truly a hero!"
In coaching the second-graders, Ford said, Bannister is in his own way coaching the coaches. Parents who will coach them in the later grades serve as assistant coaches, learning from one who embodies CYO values.
Basketball was not a game of Bannister's own youth. "I was a farm boy," he said. "Our sports were doing chores."
He worked for the telephone company, where Lake Merritt to the San Leandro border was his territory for 32 years.
The Bannisters are a family of coaches. His wife Maxine Bannister has coached volleyball, cheerleaders and softball at St. John. His son Mike is the longtime assistant basketball coach for the boys' team at Bishop O'Dowd High School. Daughter Jodie has coached volleyball.
Bannister says the family is understanding about his coaching responsibilities. If they want to get together for dinner, and he's got basketball practice from 4 to 5, they'll make their plan to accommodate that.
"Let me do what I want to do," he said.
He also volunteers at the school, twice a week, working with students from pre-kindergarten through second grade, with a game he devised, "Add up to 10."
At 76, "I feel like I'm 25," he said. "I feel good. I'm healthy."
He gets a kick out of being around town and hearing, "Hi, Coach Ray."
The person saying that may look a little older than the last time they met. "I'm still the same guy," he said. "They grow up and change."
Recently, he got new neighbors. The mother of the family approached him and said, "Hi, Coach Ray."
She had played for him at St. John's. Even better, she has a daughter in second grade.
Perhaps she'll give basketball a try in the spring.
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