This past weekend, with the kids in tow, I drove down an unfamiliar ladder of switch-backs that ended in a shooting range in Carson City, Nevada. I was meeting a man I hadn’t seen in 30 years… and I was terrified of him.

The year was 1981. After church, my mom took Jer and me to sign up for the St. Mary’s CYO basketball teams. Jer signed up for the 5th grade team. I looked around for a 3rd grade team. There was only one. The all boys team. I looked up at my mom and shook my head. She looked down at me, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Give it a shot, Wendy.” So I did. I was 9 years old and to be honest, I looked like a boy. At Macy’s, whenever I asked a sales person where the bathroom was, I always got directed to the boys bathroom. So quite honestly, I figured maybe no one would notice I was a girl and I would fit right in. That was until day one of practice. The coach’s name was Bill Picton. He was an ex-marine and we were his new recruits. If you’ve ever seen the movie Great Santini, Coach Picton was our Great Santini. I was terrified of him from that first practice. He had these steel blue eyes that pierced through you with intensity. He yelled and slapped his hands until they were red when we didn’t set the right screen. He made us run endless lines as punishment for not making free throws. Once, when I didn’t block out boldly enough, he blocked me out so hard I flew off my feet. I was a girl playing in a way too tough boys world.  But my parents wouldn’t let me quit.  Bill Picton coached with the same passion he lived his life. With 100 percent of his being, he believed in integrity, hard work, dedication and fundamentals. And if you practiced the way you wanted to live, then you would be successful no matter what. And successful we were. I don’t remember exactly how many wins and losses we had, because those aren’t the things that stick with you later in life. It’s the moral lessons that do. And without warning, Coach Picton instilled in all of us 3rd graders life lessons we still carry with us today. One went on to be a NBA great. Another formed his own company to recruit the best corporate leaders in America. Another had the strength to survive the passing of his beloved dad at a young age and grew up to be an amazing father to 2 beautiful daughters. Sometimes your hardest experiences in life are the ones that teach you the most. Those were our days together on the basketball court.

And last weekend, I was just moments away from seeing Coach Picton.

I pulled up to the shooting range and, even though he was wearing dark glasses, I could tell it was his same steel blue eyes looking back at me. I got out of the car and was enveloped by a warm hug from a man I rarely touched in the three years I played basketball for him. Age had done amazing things for him. Although he still wore a Marines hat, his tone had softened. He was still a coach, helping my son and daughter shoot everything from a A-R 15 to a 40 caliber handgun. But he was a softer, more patient coach. And I got to sit and watch and observe a man who taught me so many lessons at age 10, teach my 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son new lessons. It was a beautiful circle completed.

Coach Picton told me one of our other teammates had found him online and sent him a message years ago. It said something like, “I’ve just watched a special on John Wooden’s teams and how special they were.  It reminded me of our team.  Thanks coach for making us the people we are today.” Coach Picton told me this story as he quietly held back tears. They were tears of pride someone can only feel from knowing they truly helped others in this world. Bill Picton’s “others” was a group of 10 year old boys and one girl who had no idea of the treasure who was coaching them. In the words of John Wooden, “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” Thanks in part to Coach Bill Picton, we all became that… the best we were capable of becoming.  And that’s what defines the world’s best coaches.   












About Wendy D

I was born in San Francisco and ended up marrying a rancher in Reno, Nevada. I have a big city job anchoring the 5 o’clock news but come home to the country where my husband’s family has ranched for 5 generations.


  1. Jer says:

    What a “blast from the past.” It must have been very cool to catch up with somebody who you probably never expected to see again in your life…and who had an impact on the lives of such a special group of CYO’ers! Every once in a blue moon, I email Tom Beckett to say hi. He always appreciates that a few of us have never forgotten our appeciation for him. I am glad you were able to see Bill, and enjoy a wonderful afternoon. Love you, Jer

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