As coaches, we spend more time with our coaching family than we do our real families.
The Bradwell Institute family lost one of its own this past week. Pete Woodard, who had been at Bradwell since 2006, died Wednesday after a lengthy illness.
Originally from Mississippi, Woodard wasn’t like typical coaches. He taught English and literature, not social studies or physical education, which most teach.
Coach Woodard saw a young player struggling in the cage one day at baseball practice. While showing him what he was doing was wrong, Woodard quoted the entirety of Rudyard Kipling’s “If.” The young man had not only learned why he wasn’t making contact, he also got one of the best motivational messages.
But that was Pete Woodard. He would quote Faulkner, Langston Hughes or Shakespeare while launching into one of the best reasons to choose a man defense over a zone on the basketball court.
Forever smiling, Woodard — who was a faithful assistant in football, basketball and baseball at Bradwell — would tell me, “I don’t make the coffee; I just serve it.”
In time, Woodard would get his own opportunity to make the coffee himself, and it was a pretty good brew. After serving as an assistant to longtime Tigers hoops coach David Jones, Woodard inherited the job after Jones was unceremoniously dismissed.
Coach Woodard spent three seasons as the head coach of the Bradwell Tigers boys’ basketball team. Building on the success he had in Mississippi, Woodard cultivated the Tigers’ program into a competitive one. In his final season as head coach, he took the team back to the state playoffs. As he improved the program, several of his players went on to play college basketball.
Pete stepped down after the 2012 season, and Rhett Hellgren, who had been the head baseball coach and a longtime basketball assistant, succeeded him and still is the head basketball coach.
A man of letters and a fierce competitor, one of Woodard’s greatest qualities was the fact that was genuine and real. Always smiling and ready to have a conversation about any sport that was in season, Woodard showed real interest in his colleagues at Bradwell.
In a time when some people will say what others want to hear or simply keep to themselves, men like Pete Woodard are what makes the world a better place.
“The Bradwell Institute family is saddened with the loss of Pete. He was an excellent teacher and role mode,” Athletic Director Ken Griffin said. “BI Athletics was fortunate to have Coach Woodard coach baseball, football and basketball. He was a positive influence and role model for the athletes. He shared his love of his family and his BI family. He lived his life with a compassion for others. He loved the game of basketball and will be missed by his peers.”
We are all better for knowing and working with Pete. Certainly, those he influenced on the field and in the classroom always will be able to relate the life lessons he taught them.
One of the greatest memorials to any man is that his life counted and impacted others. Pete Woodard is a perfect example.
Godspeed back to your beloved Mississippi, my friend.
Wood is a longtime coach and history teacher at Bradwell Institute, a veteran Coastal Courier correspondent, a feature writer/broadcast analyst for In the Game High School Sports Magazine and works with National Underclassman Combine.