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Couldn't Be Better

“We never had speed down here,” Verne Dodds remarked. I nodded, agreeing with my former JV basketball coach, going back 40 years and more to our shared town of Imperial Beach. Mostly sons of Navy enlistees or construction workers, our local athletes were also mostly white, strong, deft, gritty, but cursed with those awful slow-twitch fibers and the wrong calf-to-thigh ratio for sprinting. Yes, we had guys who could throw and catch, dribble and shoot, pitch and hit with consummate ease, but rare was the kid who could spring out of the starting blocks and accelerate through all four gears to the tape in a time that would rank high in the county.

So when Ed Teagle arrived in 1957 as the new head track and field coach of Mar Vista High School, he wouldn’t find a stable of thoroughbreds. In fact, it was quite the same piebald mix of mustangs and plow horses that he had trained for the past four years at San Dieguito High School. Still, at age 26, the coach had produced a league champion in his first year at the Encinitas school and amassed an impressive 50–19 dual-meet record over four years. “As a track coach, he had no peer,” says Al Southworth, veteran track coach and Teagle’s assistant at San Dieguito High from 1955 to 1957.

Teagle’s career win-lose-tie record of 193–42–2 was indeed remarkable. Those numbers, and the 14 league championships he mustered over 24 seasons, caught the eye of Bobby Kennedy, another legendary baseball coach from Chula Vista High, who nominated his colleague for the San Diego High School County Coaching Legends. On November 14, 2007, Teagle joined about 120 other recipients, whose careers date from the turn of the century, in that exclusive club sponsored by the San Diego Hall of Champions.

Al Southworth adds, “More important, he was a great human being.”

My first encounter with Ed Teagle came through happenstance: the 1962 National City Jaycee Relays. I loved watching track meets, and on that crisp Saturday morning I was one of some 50 people in the gray wooden bleachers of Sweetwater High. A ninth-grader, I had hitched a ride with a friend old enough to drive. Teagle and his assistant happened to ensconce themselves right behind me. I held in awe all of Mar Vista’s coaches, but Teagle had a special place among them. He was the athletic director and had winning teams, and for an adolescent like me he had charisma. A certain alacrity, an openness. And now here he was, so close I could hear him talk. I recall how animated he was. Studying the whirling hand of his stopwatch, he spewed predictions, fears, and chortles of amusement. As if he were a field general, his athletes always knew his whereabouts, jerking their heads in his direction whenever his shrill whistle split the air like a javelin. This was Teagle’s unique signal to attention, emitted from his own stretched lips and gushing lungs, a clarion call followed by a yell of encouragement to one of his athletes, who might be nervously anticipating the starting gun seconds away, or exhausted and facing his last excruciating lap.

Two years later, only weeks into the season, I was high-jumping on Mar Vista’s track team when I landed badly and broke my wrist. I decided to concentrate on my major high school sport, basketball, which led me to volleyball and a playing career that took me to Europe for several years. More years passed, until one day in the mid-’80s I was invited down to La Jolla Shores for a local volleyball event. It was there that I happened upon my old track coach, browned, bearded, his hair grown out from that familiar flattop. The tenor of our conversation changed, as two decades of time had now made us peers. He knew of my career; in turn, I was surprised to learn that he also had been a volleyball player in his youth. Later, I learned that he was considered the first great beach volleyball player of San Diego. He spoke of his early retirement from teaching at age 55 and of his current idyllic life split between Mazatlán and the Shores.

There was a good reason for the early retirement. A year or two after that sun-drenched reunion, Ed died of cancer at age 59.

* * *

Teagle’s father Leslie married Helen Glabb in 1926, and a son was born in Seattle in January 1927. In less than a year, the couple divorced. Intent on a new start, Helen took her young son to San Diego, where she paid the rent by cleaning homes. Eventually they settled in a smallish beach dwelling on Salem Court in Mission Beach. More shack than house, Helen provided for Ed as best she could, and at the end of a long day of scrubbing and mopping, couldn’t be blamed for ambling over to a nearby tavern. She found a man named Jake with whom she enjoyed sharing draft beer and, in time, her home. Although Leslie Teagle would go on to establish a successful restaurant in Seattle, remarry, and have a daughter, he didn’t contact his son Ed for several years.

Freckled and fair-haired, Ed Teagle soon learned that outside his mother’s cheerless abode waited a paradise. In those prewar days, the part of the beach with the most action was at the end of Redondo Court in Old Mission Beach. Teagle haunted it daily. There, Phil Prather, a kid arrived from Kansas in 1941, dove into the ocean for the first time and surfaced to find his homesickness for the Great Plains gone. “In those days,” Prather remembers, “you lived in a bathing suit. We never wore shoes until school started.” At low tide, the rocks north of Bird Rock were full of lobster waiting to be plucked, and the limit of five abalone was so easily achieved that Prather recalls his mother’s complaint, “Oh no, not more abalone!” In the bay, a few hundred yards away, flounders covered the bottom, and clams and scallops abounded just under the sand. Today when the 81-year-old Phil reminisces about that era, his face shines: “Man, what a time.”

When school started, Teagle and Prather, already best buddies, walked into La Jolla High School as sophomores. “Ed and I were so close that sometimes the teachers would call us by each other’s names.” Both were athletes, Teagle starring on the football and track squads, Prather excelling at basketball as well. As a junior, footballer Teagle was selected as All-City First Team and Second Team Southern California. With the arrival of June, says Prather, “the athletes from all the San Diego high schools and San Diego State came down to the beach. That brought the girls.” For the active, it was take your pick: Touch football on the sand was the game du jour, but there were rings and bars and even bodybuilding to impress the females. Beach volleyball and bodysurfing were favorites of the locals.

In 1941, graduating high schoolers began trading in their trunks for GI khakis or navy bell-bottoms. As World War II turned life upside down, more able-bodied men joined up, leaving job vacancies for women and teenagers. In the summer of ’43, the age for San Diego County lifeguards was dropped from 21 to 17, and Teagle and Prather were two of the chosen ones; already star athletes, the affable duo’s stock went up further as they stalked the beaches in their official garb and lifesaving gear. Not for long. Soon after graduation in 1944, Phil Prather enlisted in the Navy. Needing extra credits, Teagle graduated the following semester in January, then found himself on a U.S. Navy ship headed to the Pacific. The war ended within a year and both returned to San Diego to resume their lives. Prather found a job. Ed Teagle entered San Diego State. Not that they abandoned San Diego’s golden summers. In fact, fun in the sun and sea reached a new level after the horrors of war. “There was a lot more drinking and smoking,” Prather recalls.

Ed Teagle married his sweetheart Evie Parchen in 1946; she’d been prom queen their senior year. Says Prather, “She was Ed’s girl all through high school.” Also the product of a rough-and-tumble childhood, bounced from relative to relative all over San Diego, the winsome girl shared her boyfriend’s sunny outlook. As a young father, Teagle juggled a lot of balls: a college student, he also worked afternoons at Criscola’s liquor store, then life-guarded at night, using dead time to pore over his textbooks. By 1950, he was supporting a wife and two kids. He still pursued his love of track and field at SDSU, excelling in pole vault, javelin, and hurdles. To feed his sports addiction, those college summers were spent diving and spiking volleyballs in the sand of Old Mission Beach.

* * *

The tradition of staying on the court until you lost was in effect even back then and Teagle was seldom off. In 1949, the first San Diego Open was held at La Jolla Shores and won by Teagle and partner Danny Prall.

Yet there was a problem with beach volleyball for a lot of Teagle’s cronies. Four people on a couple of courts left a lot of guys on the sidelines, watching and waiting. According to an interview given by Teagle in Over-the-Line magazine in 1976, this problem became the impetus for a new game. The accounts vary as to where and who invented Over-the-Line, but before long, near the next volleyball court down (which was called “JV Beach,” the place where the less-skilled volleyballers played), the smack of smaller balls caroming off baseball bats could be heard. In his interview, Teagle testified:

Several guys were bored from doing nothing… including Royal Clarke (Sports Illustrated described him as an OTLer who is never sober) and Ron LaPolice (his stride was the official unit of measure for terminal OTL courts). People watched with fascination these guys trying to catch hard softballs that were lining right into their family jewels…with bare hands. Spectators were also amazed when they saw the batter reaching for a beer instead of running the bases. As the volleyball courts began to get crowded and the competition tougher, many OMBers joined the OTLers down the beach.

For those who were there (and still around today), 1949 seems the best guess for the year when a dozen locals decided to establish an informal sports club and name it Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, or OMBAC. No rules were adopted as the group considered themselves freethinkers, but they did come to feel a need for a place to think…and drink. The official clubhouse on Bayside Lane was called the Vine Covered Cottage, “which was where we lived,” recalls Terry Curren, an original OMBAC member. “Guys would gather there after a day at the beach to drink beer.” The subsequent free exchange of ideas engendered the sobering realization that a sports club should entrain a purpose other than drinking beer, so the first San Diego Open Volleyball Tournament was organized by the crew. The tournament grew to the point that a legal entity was called for, and in 1954 a charter membership of 35 men launched the club. Such a serious endeavor called for a stately leader. Looking around at the diverse merrymakers, Ed Teagle — one of the oldest, winner of the first volleyball event, and now a father of three with his first teaching job — seemed almost overqualified to act as president, but he gladly accepted.

That signal year of 1954 also saw the initiation of the Over-the-Line Tournament at Old Mission Beach on July 4. But for Teagle, with a full family and his college degree achieved, time for revelry was limited. In 1953, his first teaching-coaching post was at San Dieguito High School. Faced with an absence of sprinters, Teagle decided to concentrate on other events where points in a meet could be earned: field events and the hurdles. “He won a lot of championships with inferior talent,” Southworth says. “What was unique about him is that he could look at a kid and convince him to try an event Ed thought he’d be good at. And since Ed had competed in most of the events, he knew how to coach them well. If he didn’t, he’d find an expert and pick his brain.”

It was also there that Southworth witnessed Teagle’s other gift. “There was a kid he was trying to convince to come out, but his teeth were rotten. Ed got him to a dentist and got them fixed. He paid for it. Very few people knew about it, but I did. That’s the kind of guy he was.” Southworth adds, “The kid became an outstanding pole-vaulter.”

While raw speed wasn’t any more abundant in I.B. than in Encinitas, Teagle encountered another challenge when he transferred south. In this low-income beach town, in the late ’50s, the coach found a lot of kids who were into things besides spending after-school hours in agonizing workouts. Teagle realized that the athletes themselves could best recruit neophytes, and he implemented the “Bring One Friend” campaign. He also became more flexible. Assistant coach Dallas Evans recalls, “He was pragmatic. Some of the Hispanic kids in San Ysidro didn’t have rides home after practice, so he had to work that out.”

Before the ’59 season, hurdler Dennis Sugioka leaned over his desk to pose a question to Benny Holt: “Why don’t you go out for track?”

Holt grew up in a small house near the beach where he still lives. Today he’s a local lifeguard, head cross-country coach, and assistant track coach at his alma mater, Mar Vista. His younger brother, Jim, was one of the best all-around athletes to ever come out of I.B., but Benny was slight and not as gifted. Both were tough: “You had to be in our neighborhood,” remembers Benny. One of their larks included stealing a new ’56 Ford from a buddy’s mother and driving it at over 100 mph, guns in the trunk, all the way to the Yuma border and a passel of waiting cops — the 12-year-old Benny sitting on a pillow behind the wheel.

Despite being a heavy smoker since the fourth grade, Holt took Sugioka’s bait and showed up for tryouts. The first workout left him emptying his innards on the field and swearing off tobacco. “I ran the C 660 and got third in my first race against El Cajon,” he says. “I liked that track was an individual sport, and you could see improvement through measurement.”

Teagle took a shine to the new convert. Holt remembers: “I did what he said religiously and kept the other guys in line, since Coach worked a lot with the hurdlers and field events. He gave us a daily workout and mostly left us alone. He commanded such respect we would police ourselves. Occasionally, a guy would try and cut corners running on the grass, and the rest of us would straighten him out.” Holt joined Teagle’s cross-country team the following fall. “The first day he told us, ‘You’re all crazy. I don’t understand why you like this but I can make you better.’ ”

One of Holt’s best buddies, Dave Partridge, came from Minnesota to Imperial Beach in 1957. I remember his brother Paul as a popular sixth-grader when I was in the fifth. The boys were raised by a stepfather, says Partridge, “who was always working. I really didn’t have a relationship with him.” As a student at the notoriously rough Southwest Junior High School, the lanky kid was typical of male adolescents in the mid-’50s. His recalcitrant, squirrelly, duck-tailed hair was plastered with Peach Pomade, he snuck off between classes to smoke cigarettes, and he engaged in the school’s most popular activity: fighting. One thing he could do was run. But like so many youths of that era, his object of desire — other than bobby-soxed chicks — was a car. In 1958 he cobbled together $40 to by a 1950 Chevy. He was soon sporting the finger-tip jacket of the Villanos. The car club was made up of pachucos from San Ysidro and a few white toughs from I.B. On the gray coat was embroidered “Phes,” short for Partridge’s nickname of Pheasant.

In P.E. class at Mar Vista, the coaches couldn’t help but notice this over-six-foot-tall kid who, in touch football games, outsprinted chasing defenders. He also blew away all comers in class foot races. Ed Teagle cornered him, but it wasn’t until Partridge’s senior year, when he was in Teagle’s history class, that the boy broke down. “He was the only coach who I’d consider sports with,” Partridge says. Part of his commitment would be to join the cross-country team, where the only guy he could beat was some 50 pounds overweight. Five years of smoking didn’t make things easier, so Partridge gave the habit up.

Holt recalls the school assembly to honor the heroes of that ’61 track season. The last introduced was the most special for the coach. “At the beginning of the year, this guy sat in the back row of my history class and would take 30 minutes to get to my desk to turn in a test. Last week it took him 10.1 seconds to win the Avocado League Championship in the 100-yard dash.” Dave Partridge went on to place fifth in the County Championships, the first Mar Vista sprinter to ever qualify for that event.

Today Partridge comments, “I went from a nobody in school to someone people noticed and respected.” He shakes his head when asked about Teagle. “There was no one like him. I’d do anything for him. I guess he was the first man in my life who I looked up to and listened to.”

Like many graduating seniors in I.B. during that era, both Partridge and Holt joined the Air Force. The running stopped, and smoking and drinking were embraced with new vigor. After four years in the service, Partridge returned to a town that had become notorious for drugs and biker bars. It took a heavy toll. A drug-alcohol overdose killed his brother as it would my own. Partridge and Holt and I talked about drug casualties as if the town were a battlefield.

Testimonies of Teagle’s influence on his athletes remain among the former coach’s memorabilia, now in his children’s possession. Among the letters and poems, I lifted one penned by an ex–Mar Vista athlete in 1968 while he was recovering in a Japanese hospital during the Vietnam War. In this first contact with Teagle since the soldier’s 1960 graduation, he begins by apologizing for poor spelling and penmanship. Then he writes: “Well, Coach, it’s kind of crummy over here. You lose a lot of partners every week.” And then:

I just wanted to tell you that all your boys still think highly of you. Every time I get down in the dumps, I can hear you saying to me — “John, I know you can make it. If you can’t make it here on the track team, then what is your life going to be like?” Yep, just like it was yesterday. So I keep pumping and I can see the tape then, just like the 440. I think I’ll coin the fraze (sic), “life is just like a 440.”

Serving as a surrogate father to so many youths didn’t leave Teagle much spare time. His eldest son, Tom Teagle, says, “He was a great father. Not a great husband, but an awesome father. There was never any fighting, any arguing with my mother. It was just that he was gone so much, teaching and coaching.”

Tom’s sister, Debbie, adds, “When he got cancer, he put work more on the back burner and spent more time with us. Being the youngest, I got the most time with him as a kid. My weekends were on the beach at La Jolla Shores or Baja, and it couldn’t get better than that.”

Today Dr. Tom Teagle is principal of Montgomery Adult School, the largest of its kind in Southern California, serving over 14,000 students. “My dad was about work hard, play hard but don’t overdo anything. He drank beer with his buddies, but I never saw him drunk. He taught me how to be resourceful, self-reliant. With four kids, it was hard making it on a teacher’s salary, so he had some apartments, and even a bar at one time, although teachers weren’t [officially] allowed that sideline.”

And what a bar that was! During the raucous ’60s, Maynard’s Bar, right next to Crystal Pier, was the hottest beach establishment around, and the wildest, in large part attributable to its owner-in-name-only. Maynard Heatherly was one of Teagle’s chums from the lifeguard days of the ’40s, a man who had carried his youthful madcap reputation into adulthood. On the hallowed 25-cent spaghetti nights, a hundred people lined up outside. Sunburned coeds fended off surfers, grad students, and middle-aged CPAs, all swaying with beer mugs in hand. In spite of Maynard’s unorthodox managerial skills, the bar remained open for several years. Pete Lauderette, a good friend of Teagle’s, remembers: “Maynard was wild. He was supposed to be working, and the next thing you knew, he’d leave the bar with some guys to jump off the pier. So someone would call Ed and tell him, ‘You better get down here. Maynard’s jumping off the pier, no one’s working, and guys are behind the bar drawing their own beer.’ So Ed would have to run down there and fix things.”

The imprudence of maintaining a bar, especially under its infamous manager, led Teagle to abandon the enterprise. Tom remembers that it was around that time, while grappling on the carpet with his two sons, that “one of us accidentally scratched a mole on Dad’s arm, and for some reason it kept bleeding. A few days later he went to the doctor, and they found a huge melanoma.”

In 1968, the first major operation removed more than 20 lymph nodes. It was followed by another operation several months later which almost took Teagle’s life. The survivor let it be known to his family that he wasn’t going back again. He lasted 18 more years. In his last days he told his daughter, “I’d rather have 20 bitchin’ years than 40 in a closet.” Tom says, “The doctor told me [Dad] microwaved himself to death. But he loved the sun too much to stay out of it.”

The same stubbornness influenced his decision to leave Mar Vista in 1972. After winning a sixth straight Metro League Championship, including 27 straight meet victories, the Coach of the Year and longtime athletic director was informed by his principal that district authorities wouldn’t back him in the team policy that forbade facial hair. That and existing dress codes were a few of the old criteria being questioned and challenged in the courts. But Teagle wouldn’t bend. He transferred to the new Bonita Vista school with his own defiant resolution. Tom Teagle explains: “He just said ‘Screw it. If you’re not going to back me, then I’ll do the same.’ He let his hair and beard grow out and that’s how he kept it.” It didn’t hurt his coaching performance. He won another six straight league championships and broke his own former meet record with 35 straight wins before he retired in 1977.

In 1972, another Mar Vista Coach of the Year, baseball coach Bob Lusky, also transferred. A close friend of Teagle’s, he knew things wouldn’t be the same with the athletic director gone. Lusky says, “I’ve coached a lot of baseball at high school, then junior college. He was the best AD I ever had. Ed created harmony within the staff, not letting one coach, or sport, dominate. And if a guy didn’t want to join in with the rest of us, he got rid of him.”

In his final tenure at Bonita Vista, Teagle would also take on his final coaching talents. His first assistant was Pat Judd, who admits that they had some good talent, but once again, not the great sprinters who might rack up points all by themselves. “Ed concentrated on seconds and thirds in the events he knew he couldn’t win. He recruited kids even in the halls. Most teams had 25 kids, but he might have 60 or 70. Probably the best thing he did was concentrate on personal-best performance with every athlete. He even organized second heats for kids who didn’t qualify for the main heat. It didn’t mean anything in terms of points, but he did it for those other kids’ improvement.” Perhaps it was the influence of the times, or the socioeconomic background of the kids in the more affluent Bonita, but Teagle’s disciplinarian side softened as well. His daughter Debbie says, “I spent a lot of time watching him coach at Bonita Vista. He had an amazing ability to draw kids onto his team. He’d approach all types. Druggies, recluses, kids who normally wouldn’t participate in sports. He’d ask them to just try it for one week and see if you like it. Some would end up liking it and stay.

“He built a team into a family. Both the guys’ and girls’ teams would walk out onto the field, holding hands, and circle the other team. If a guy won a race, he wouldn’t let him throw up his hands and celebrate. Instead, the guy was expected to step on the grass and run to the kid in last place and encourage him until he finished.” Asked how Teagle got the best out of his kids in competition, Judd says, “He would tell a story to the team before a meet. Like how a kid on one of his teams persisted for three years, until he finally took a third place, which won the meet for the team. There’d be a tear in every eye.”

In 1977, Teagle ran out of coaching steam. After 29 years of marriage to Evie, a divorce staggered him. He transferred to Palomar High School — a continuation institution where troubled kids could make a teacher’s job challenging. “He loved it,” Tom Teagle relates. Still, the sun-mirroring ocean of Mexico was calling. For decades Teagle had taken long family trips to Baja, usually with other coaches and their families. Chuckling, Verne Dodds says, “We’d be on some road full of ruts and boulders, heading for the coast, and [we’d] have to make a stop. Ed would get out his beach chair and sit in the middle of the road, taking in the sun, and light up a cheap cigar.” Another buddy, Vern Finch, adds, “He could do nothin’ real well.” If it were a boys-only trip, everyone had a real duty, except for Teagle. Even when assigned jobs as “clam man,” or “music man,” such chores were never completed. Jim Callender says, “He was a pretty good manipulator. One time he was assigned to cook the meal, and his reply was, ‘Okay but I lost my sense of taste in the war.’ So I did all the cooking.”

Perhaps Teagle also knew that his clock was ticking. After four years at Palomar, he decided to retire at age 55, and in 1982 he was free. But instead of Baja, Teagle spent his last few years in a trailer in Mazatlán during the winters and at La Jolla Shores in summer. Friends who visited him recall his active social life and how he taught Spanish to other gringos in the trailer park. This simple life of sunshine, hammocks, mangos, and cold cervezas he now shared with a new woman, Jean Alvord.

In the spring of 1986, Teagle came up to San Diego for the last time. He was failing, as the dormant cancer had revived. His four kids were with him when he died. On his final morning, when the doctor asked him how he was doing, he replied with the same line he always used: “Couldn’t be better.” Then he made sure his children knew he’d lived his life exactly as he wanted. No regrets.

“He was Will Rogers,” observes Bob Lusky. “He liked everyone and they liked him. If there was a rare person he didn’t like, he’d blow it off and not mention the guy. He’d rather think about the positives.” Lusky still marvels at the huge crowd that attended Teagle’s wake. “There were congressmen to beach bums. Every kind of professional. I kept asking myself, ‘How’d he know so many people?’ ”

* * *

I still remember something he said the last time I saw him. I’d returned to I.B., for nostalgia’s sake, and commented on the number of bars, the rampant drugs, the rowdy reputation the town had achieved. Standing there on the sand, with his Mexico-tanned skin and a grizzled beard more salt than pepper — Ed resembled Papa Hemingway in his later years — he said, “It was always a tough town.”

The reply was not penetrating, not profound. So why does it seem, even now, to have such gravitas? Maybe because it’s attached so strongly to my memories of Ed, and thus relates to another question I’ve been pondering: Why did he coach in Imperial Beach for all those years? Surely he could have gone to the tonier beach towns where he’d spent his youth and knew so many people. He could have coached anywhere. So, why? My hunch is that he came for kids like Benny, like Dave, like me.

— Byron Shewman

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“We never had speed down here,” Verne Dodds remarked. I nodded, agreeing with my former JV basketball coach, going back 40 years and more to our shared town of Imperial Beach. Mostly sons of Navy enlistees or construction workers, our local athletes were also mostly white, strong, deft, gritty, but cursed with those awful slow-twitch fibers and the wrong calf-to-thigh ratio for sprinting. Yes, we had guys who could throw and catch, dribble and shoot, pitch and hit with consummate ease, but rare was the kid who could spring out of the starting blocks and accelerate through all four gears to the tape in a time that would rank high in the county.

So when Ed Teagle arrived in 1957 as the new head track and field coach of Mar Vista High School, he wouldn’t find a stable of thoroughbreds. In fact, it was quite the same piebald mix of mustangs and plow horses that he had trained for the past four years at San Dieguito High School. Still, at age 26, the coach had produced a league champion in his first year at the Encinitas school and amassed an impressive 50–19 dual-meet record over four years. “As a track coach, he had no peer,” says Al Southworth, veteran track coach and Teagle’s assistant at San Dieguito High from 1955 to 1957.

Teagle’s career win-lose-tie record of 193–42–2 was indeed remarkable. Those numbers, and the 14 league championships he mustered over 24 seasons, caught the eye of Bobby Kennedy, another legendary baseball coach from Chula Vista High, who nominated his colleague for the San Diego High School County Coaching Legends. On November 14, 2007, Teagle joined about 120 other recipients, whose careers date from the turn of the century, in that exclusive club sponsored by the San Diego Hall of Champions.

Al Southworth adds, “More important, he was a great human being.”

My first encounter with Ed Teagle came through happenstance: the 1962 National City Jaycee Relays. I loved watching track meets, and on that crisp Saturday morning I was one of some 50 people in the gray wooden bleachers of Sweetwater High. A ninth-grader, I had hitched a ride with a friend old enough to drive. Teagle and his assistant happened to ensconce themselves right behind me. I held in awe all of Mar Vista’s coaches, but Teagle had a special place among them. He was the athletic director and had winning teams, and for an adolescent like me he had charisma. A certain alacrity, an openness. And now here he was, so close I could hear him talk. I recall how animated he was. Studying the whirling hand of his stopwatch, he spewed predictions, fears, and chortles of amusement. As if he were a field general, his athletes always knew his whereabouts, jerking their heads in his direction whenever his shrill whistle split the air like a javelin. This was Teagle’s unique signal to attention, emitted from his own stretched lips and gushing lungs, a clarion call followed by a yell of encouragement to one of his athletes, who might be nervously anticipating the starting gun seconds away, or exhausted and facing his last excruciating lap.

Two years later, only weeks into the season, I was high-jumping on Mar Vista’s track team when I landed badly and broke my wrist. I decided to concentrate on my major high school sport, basketball, which led me to volleyball and a playing career that took me to Europe for several years. More years passed, until one day in the mid-’80s I was invited down to La Jolla Shores for a local volleyball event. It was there that I happened upon my old track coach, browned, bearded, his hair grown out from that familiar flattop. The tenor of our conversation changed, as two decades of time had now made us peers. He knew of my career; in turn, I was surprised to learn that he also had been a volleyball player in his youth. Later, I learned that he was considered the first great beach volleyball player of San Diego. He spoke of his early retirement from teaching at age 55 and of his current idyllic life split between Mazatlán and the Shores.

There was a good reason for the early retirement. A year or two after that sun-drenched reunion, Ed died of cancer at age 59.

* * *

Teagle’s father Leslie married Helen Glabb in 1926, and a son was born in Seattle in January 1927. In less than a year, the couple divorced. Intent on a new start, Helen took her young son to San Diego, where she paid the rent by cleaning homes. Eventually they settled in a smallish beach dwelling on Salem Court in Mission Beach. More shack than house, Helen provided for Ed as best she could, and at the end of a long day of scrubbing and mopping, couldn’t be blamed for ambling over to a nearby tavern. She found a man named Jake with whom she enjoyed sharing draft beer and, in time, her home. Although Leslie Teagle would go on to establish a successful restaurant in Seattle, remarry, and have a daughter, he didn’t contact his son Ed for several years.

Freckled and fair-haired, Ed Teagle soon learned that outside his mother’s cheerless abode waited a paradise. In those prewar days, the part of the beach with the most action was at the end of Redondo Court in Old Mission Beach. Teagle haunted it daily. There, Phil Prather, a kid arrived from Kansas in 1941, dove into the ocean for the first time and surfaced to find his homesickness for the Great Plains gone. “In those days,” Prather remembers, “you lived in a bathing suit. We never wore shoes until school started.” At low tide, the rocks north of Bird Rock were full of lobster waiting to be plucked, and the limit of five abalone was so easily achieved that Prather recalls his mother’s complaint, “Oh no, not more abalone!” In the bay, a few hundred yards away, flounders covered the bottom, and clams and scallops abounded just under the sand. Today when the 81-year-old Phil reminisces about that era, his face shines: “Man, what a time.”

When school started, Teagle and Prather, already best buddies, walked into La Jolla High School as sophomores. “Ed and I were so close that sometimes the teachers would call us by each other’s names.” Both were athletes, Teagle starring on the football and track squads, Prather excelling at basketball as well. As a junior, footballer Teagle was selected as All-City First Team and Second Team Southern California. With the arrival of June, says Prather, “the athletes from all the San Diego high schools and San Diego State came down to the beach. That brought the girls.” For the active, it was take your pick: Touch football on the sand was the game du jour, but there were rings and bars and even bodybuilding to impress the females. Beach volleyball and bodysurfing were favorites of the locals.

In 1941, graduating high schoolers began trading in their trunks for GI khakis or navy bell-bottoms. As World War II turned life upside down, more able-bodied men joined up, leaving job vacancies for women and teenagers. In the summer of ’43, the age for San Diego County lifeguards was dropped from 21 to 17, and Teagle and Prather were two of the chosen ones; already star athletes, the affable duo’s stock went up further as they stalked the beaches in their official garb and lifesaving gear. Not for long. Soon after graduation in 1944, Phil Prather enlisted in the Navy. Needing extra credits, Teagle graduated the following semester in January, then found himself on a U.S. Navy ship headed to the Pacific. The war ended within a year and both returned to San Diego to resume their lives. Prather found a job. Ed Teagle entered San Diego State. Not that they abandoned San Diego’s golden summers. In fact, fun in the sun and sea reached a new level after the horrors of war. “There was a lot more drinking and smoking,” Prather recalls.

Ed Teagle married his sweetheart Evie Parchen in 1946; she’d been prom queen their senior year. Says Prather, “She was Ed’s girl all through high school.” Also the product of a rough-and-tumble childhood, bounced from relative to relative all over San Diego, the winsome girl shared her boyfriend’s sunny outlook. As a young father, Teagle juggled a lot of balls: a college student, he also worked afternoons at Criscola’s liquor store, then life-guarded at night, using dead time to pore over his textbooks. By 1950, he was supporting a wife and two kids. He still pursued his love of track and field at SDSU, excelling in pole vault, javelin, and hurdles. To feed his sports addiction, those college summers were spent diving and spiking volleyballs in the sand of Old Mission Beach.

* * *

The tradition of staying on the court until you lost was in effect even back then and Teagle was seldom off. In 1949, the first San Diego Open was held at La Jolla Shores and won by Teagle and partner Danny Prall.

Yet there was a problem with beach volleyball for a lot of Teagle’s cronies. Four people on a couple of courts left a lot of guys on the sidelines, watching and waiting. According to an interview given by Teagle in Over-the-Line magazine in 1976, this problem became the impetus for a new game. The accounts vary as to where and who invented Over-the-Line, but before long, near the next volleyball court down (which was called “JV Beach,” the place where the less-skilled volleyballers played), the smack of smaller balls caroming off baseball bats could be heard. In his interview, Teagle testified:

Several guys were bored from doing nothing… including Royal Clarke (Sports Illustrated described him as an OTLer who is never sober) and Ron LaPolice (his stride was the official unit of measure for terminal OTL courts). People watched with fascination these guys trying to catch hard softballs that were lining right into their family jewels…with bare hands. Spectators were also amazed when they saw the batter reaching for a beer instead of running the bases. As the volleyball courts began to get crowded and the competition tougher, many OMBers joined the OTLers down the beach.

For those who were there (and still around today), 1949 seems the best guess for the year when a dozen locals decided to establish an informal sports club and name it Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, or OMBAC. No rules were adopted as the group considered themselves freethinkers, but they did come to feel a need for a place to think…and drink. The official clubhouse on Bayside Lane was called the Vine Covered Cottage, “which was where we lived,” recalls Terry Curren, an original OMBAC member. “Guys would gather there after a day at the beach to drink beer.” The subsequent free exchange of ideas engendered the sobering realization that a sports club should entrain a purpose other than drinking beer, so the first San Diego Open Volleyball Tournament was organized by the crew. The tournament grew to the point that a legal entity was called for, and in 1954 a charter membership of 35 men launched the club. Such a serious endeavor called for a stately leader. Looking around at the diverse merrymakers, Ed Teagle — one of the oldest, winner of the first volleyball event, and now a father of three with his first teaching job — seemed almost overqualified to act as president, but he gladly accepted.

That signal year of 1954 also saw the initiation of the Over-the-Line Tournament at Old Mission Beach on July 4. But for Teagle, with a full family and his college degree achieved, time for revelry was limited. In 1953, his first teaching-coaching post was at San Dieguito High School. Faced with an absence of sprinters, Teagle decided to concentrate on other events where points in a meet could be earned: field events and the hurdles. “He won a lot of championships with inferior talent,” Southworth says. “What was unique about him is that he could look at a kid and convince him to try an event Ed thought he’d be good at. And since Ed had competed in most of the events, he knew how to coach them well. If he didn’t, he’d find an expert and pick his brain.”

It was also there that Southworth witnessed Teagle’s other gift. “There was a kid he was trying to convince to come out, but his teeth were rotten. Ed got him to a dentist and got them fixed. He paid for it. Very few people knew about it, but I did. That’s the kind of guy he was.” Southworth adds, “The kid became an outstanding pole-vaulter.”

While raw speed wasn’t any more abundant in I.B. than in Encinitas, Teagle encountered another challenge when he transferred south. In this low-income beach town, in the late ’50s, the coach found a lot of kids who were into things besides spending after-school hours in agonizing workouts. Teagle realized that the athletes themselves could best recruit neophytes, and he implemented the “Bring One Friend” campaign. He also became more flexible. Assistant coach Dallas Evans recalls, “He was pragmatic. Some of the Hispanic kids in San Ysidro didn’t have rides home after practice, so he had to work that out.”

Before the ’59 season, hurdler Dennis Sugioka leaned over his desk to pose a question to Benny Holt: “Why don’t you go out for track?”

Holt grew up in a small house near the beach where he still lives. Today he’s a local lifeguard, head cross-country coach, and assistant track coach at his alma mater, Mar Vista. His younger brother, Jim, was one of the best all-around athletes to ever come out of I.B., but Benny was slight and not as gifted. Both were tough: “You had to be in our neighborhood,” remembers Benny. One of their larks included stealing a new ’56 Ford from a buddy’s mother and driving it at over 100 mph, guns in the trunk, all the way to the Yuma border and a passel of waiting cops — the 12-year-old Benny sitting on a pillow behind the wheel.

Despite being a heavy smoker since the fourth grade, Holt took Sugioka’s bait and showed up for tryouts. The first workout left him emptying his innards on the field and swearing off tobacco. “I ran the C 660 and got third in my first race against El Cajon,” he says. “I liked that track was an individual sport, and you could see improvement through measurement.”

Teagle took a shine to the new convert. Holt remembers: “I did what he said religiously and kept the other guys in line, since Coach worked a lot with the hurdlers and field events. He gave us a daily workout and mostly left us alone. He commanded such respect we would police ourselves. Occasionally, a guy would try and cut corners running on the grass, and the rest of us would straighten him out.” Holt joined Teagle’s cross-country team the following fall. “The first day he told us, ‘You’re all crazy. I don’t understand why you like this but I can make you better.’ ”

One of Holt’s best buddies, Dave Partridge, came from Minnesota to Imperial Beach in 1957. I remember his brother Paul as a popular sixth-grader when I was in the fifth. The boys were raised by a stepfather, says Partridge, “who was always working. I really didn’t have a relationship with him.” As a student at the notoriously rough Southwest Junior High School, the lanky kid was typical of male adolescents in the mid-’50s. His recalcitrant, squirrelly, duck-tailed hair was plastered with Peach Pomade, he snuck off between classes to smoke cigarettes, and he engaged in the school’s most popular activity: fighting. One thing he could do was run. But like so many youths of that era, his object of desire — other than bobby-soxed chicks — was a car. In 1958 he cobbled together $40 to by a 1950 Chevy. He was soon sporting the finger-tip jacket of the Villanos. The car club was made up of pachucos from San Ysidro and a few white toughs from I.B. On the gray coat was embroidered “Phes,” short for Partridge’s nickname of Pheasant.

In P.E. class at Mar Vista, the coaches couldn’t help but notice this over-six-foot-tall kid who, in touch football games, outsprinted chasing defenders. He also blew away all comers in class foot races. Ed Teagle cornered him, but it wasn’t until Partridge’s senior year, when he was in Teagle’s history class, that the boy broke down. “He was the only coach who I’d consider sports with,” Partridge says. Part of his commitment would be to join the cross-country team, where the only guy he could beat was some 50 pounds overweight. Five years of smoking didn’t make things easier, so Partridge gave the habit up.

Holt recalls the school assembly to honor the heroes of that ’61 track season. The last introduced was the most special for the coach. “At the beginning of the year, this guy sat in the back row of my history class and would take 30 minutes to get to my desk to turn in a test. Last week it took him 10.1 seconds to win the Avocado League Championship in the 100-yard dash.” Dave Partridge went on to place fifth in the County Championships, the first Mar Vista sprinter to ever qualify for that event.

Today Partridge comments, “I went from a nobody in school to someone people noticed and respected.” He shakes his head when asked about Teagle. “There was no one like him. I’d do anything for him. I guess he was the first man in my life who I looked up to and listened to.”

Like many graduating seniors in I.B. during that era, both Partridge and Holt joined the Air Force. The running stopped, and smoking and drinking were embraced with new vigor. After four years in the service, Partridge returned to a town that had become notorious for drugs and biker bars. It took a heavy toll. A drug-alcohol overdose killed his brother as it would my own. Partridge and Holt and I talked about drug casualties as if the town were a battlefield.

Testimonies of Teagle’s influence on his athletes remain among the former coach’s memorabilia, now in his children’s possession. Among the letters and poems, I lifted one penned by an ex–Mar Vista athlete in 1968 while he was recovering in a Japanese hospital during the Vietnam War. In this first contact with Teagle since the soldier’s 1960 graduation, he begins by apologizing for poor spelling and penmanship. Then he writes: “Well, Coach, it’s kind of crummy over here. You lose a lot of partners every week.” And then:

I just wanted to tell you that all your boys still think highly of you. Every time I get down in the dumps, I can hear you saying to me — “John, I know you can make it. If you can’t make it here on the track team, then what is your life going to be like?” Yep, just like it was yesterday. So I keep pumping and I can see the tape then, just like the 440. I think I’ll coin the fraze (sic), “life is just like a 440.”

Serving as a surrogate father to so many youths didn’t leave Teagle much spare time. His eldest son, Tom Teagle, says, “He was a great father. Not a great husband, but an awesome father. There was never any fighting, any arguing with my mother. It was just that he was gone so much, teaching and coaching.”

Tom’s sister, Debbie, adds, “When he got cancer, he put work more on the back burner and spent more time with us. Being the youngest, I got the most time with him as a kid. My weekends were on the beach at La Jolla Shores or Baja, and it couldn’t get better than that.”

Today Dr. Tom Teagle is principal of Montgomery Adult School, the largest of its kind in Southern California, serving over 14,000 students. “My dad was about work hard, play hard but don’t overdo anything. He drank beer with his buddies, but I never saw him drunk. He taught me how to be resourceful, self-reliant. With four kids, it was hard making it on a teacher’s salary, so he had some apartments, and even a bar at one time, although teachers weren’t [officially] allowed that sideline.”

And what a bar that was! During the raucous ’60s, Maynard’s Bar, right next to Crystal Pier, was the hottest beach establishment around, and the wildest, in large part attributable to its owner-in-name-only. Maynard Heatherly was one of Teagle’s chums from the lifeguard days of the ’40s, a man who had carried his youthful madcap reputation into adulthood. On the hallowed 25-cent spaghetti nights, a hundred people lined up outside. Sunburned coeds fended off surfers, grad students, and middle-aged CPAs, all swaying with beer mugs in hand. In spite of Maynard’s unorthodox managerial skills, the bar remained open for several years. Pete Lauderette, a good friend of Teagle’s, remembers: “Maynard was wild. He was supposed to be working, and the next thing you knew, he’d leave the bar with some guys to jump off the pier. So someone would call Ed and tell him, ‘You better get down here. Maynard’s jumping off the pier, no one’s working, and guys are behind the bar drawing their own beer.’ So Ed would have to run down there and fix things.”

The imprudence of maintaining a bar, especially under its infamous manager, led Teagle to abandon the enterprise. Tom remembers that it was around that time, while grappling on the carpet with his two sons, that “one of us accidentally scratched a mole on Dad’s arm, and for some reason it kept bleeding. A few days later he went to the doctor, and they found a huge melanoma.”

In 1968, the first major operation removed more than 20 lymph nodes. It was followed by another operation several months later which almost took Teagle’s life. The survivor let it be known to his family that he wasn’t going back again. He lasted 18 more years. In his last days he told his daughter, “I’d rather have 20 bitchin’ years than 40 in a closet.” Tom says, “The doctor told me [Dad] microwaved himself to death. But he loved the sun too much to stay out of it.”

The same stubbornness influenced his decision to leave Mar Vista in 1972. After winning a sixth straight Metro League Championship, including 27 straight meet victories, the Coach of the Year and longtime athletic director was informed by his principal that district authorities wouldn’t back him in the team policy that forbade facial hair. That and existing dress codes were a few of the old criteria being questioned and challenged in the courts. But Teagle wouldn’t bend. He transferred to the new Bonita Vista school with his own defiant resolution. Tom Teagle explains: “He just said ‘Screw it. If you’re not going to back me, then I’ll do the same.’ He let his hair and beard grow out and that’s how he kept it.” It didn’t hurt his coaching performance. He won another six straight league championships and broke his own former meet record with 35 straight wins before he retired in 1977.

In 1972, another Mar Vista Coach of the Year, baseball coach Bob Lusky, also transferred. A close friend of Teagle’s, he knew things wouldn’t be the same with the athletic director gone. Lusky says, “I’ve coached a lot of baseball at high school, then junior college. He was the best AD I ever had. Ed created harmony within the staff, not letting one coach, or sport, dominate. And if a guy didn’t want to join in with the rest of us, he got rid of him.”

In his final tenure at Bonita Vista, Teagle would also take on his final coaching talents. His first assistant was Pat Judd, who admits that they had some good talent, but once again, not the great sprinters who might rack up points all by themselves. “Ed concentrated on seconds and thirds in the events he knew he couldn’t win. He recruited kids even in the halls. Most teams had 25 kids, but he might have 60 or 70. Probably the best thing he did was concentrate on personal-best performance with every athlete. He even organized second heats for kids who didn’t qualify for the main heat. It didn’t mean anything in terms of points, but he did it for those other kids’ improvement.” Perhaps it was the influence of the times, or the socioeconomic background of the kids in the more affluent Bonita, but Teagle’s disciplinarian side softened as well. His daughter Debbie says, “I spent a lot of time watching him coach at Bonita Vista. He had an amazing ability to draw kids onto his team. He’d approach all types. Druggies, recluses, kids who normally wouldn’t participate in sports. He’d ask them to just try it for one week and see if you like it. Some would end up liking it and stay.

“He built a team into a family. Both the guys’ and girls’ teams would walk out onto the field, holding hands, and circle the other team. If a guy won a race, he wouldn’t let him throw up his hands and celebrate. Instead, the guy was expected to step on the grass and run to the kid in last place and encourage him until he finished.” Asked how Teagle got the best out of his kids in competition, Judd says, “He would tell a story to the team before a meet. Like how a kid on one of his teams persisted for three years, until he finally took a third place, which won the meet for the team. There’d be a tear in every eye.”

In 1977, Teagle ran out of coaching steam. After 29 years of marriage to Evie, a divorce staggered him. He transferred to Palomar High School — a continuation institution where troubled kids could make a teacher’s job challenging. “He loved it,” Tom Teagle relates. Still, the sun-mirroring ocean of Mexico was calling. For decades Teagle had taken long family trips to Baja, usually with other coaches and their families. Chuckling, Verne Dodds says, “We’d be on some road full of ruts and boulders, heading for the coast, and [we’d] have to make a stop. Ed would get out his beach chair and sit in the middle of the road, taking in the sun, and light up a cheap cigar.” Another buddy, Vern Finch, adds, “He could do nothin’ real well.” If it were a boys-only trip, everyone had a real duty, except for Teagle. Even when assigned jobs as “clam man,” or “music man,” such chores were never completed. Jim Callender says, “He was a pretty good manipulator. One time he was assigned to cook the meal, and his reply was, ‘Okay but I lost my sense of taste in the war.’ So I did all the cooking.”

Perhaps Teagle also knew that his clock was ticking. After four years at Palomar, he decided to retire at age 55, and in 1982 he was free. But instead of Baja, Teagle spent his last few years in a trailer in Mazatlán during the winters and at La Jolla Shores in summer. Friends who visited him recall his active social life and how he taught Spanish to other gringos in the trailer park. This simple life of sunshine, hammocks, mangos, and cold cervezas he now shared with a new woman, Jean Alvord.

In the spring of 1986, Teagle came up to San Diego for the last time. He was failing, as the dormant cancer had revived. His four kids were with him when he died. On his final morning, when the doctor asked him how he was doing, he replied with the same line he always used: “Couldn’t be better.” Then he made sure his children knew he’d lived his life exactly as he wanted. No regrets.

“He was Will Rogers,” observes Bob Lusky. “He liked everyone and they liked him. If there was a rare person he didn’t like, he’d blow it off and not mention the guy. He’d rather think about the positives.” Lusky still marvels at the huge crowd that attended Teagle’s wake. “There were congressmen to beach bums. Every kind of professional. I kept asking myself, ‘How’d he know so many people?’ ”

* * *

I still remember something he said the last time I saw him. I’d returned to I.B., for nostalgia’s sake, and commented on the number of bars, the rampant drugs, the rowdy reputation the town had achieved. Standing there on the sand, with his Mexico-tanned skin and a grizzled beard more salt than pepper — Ed resembled Papa Hemingway in his later years — he said, “It was always a tough town.”

The reply was not penetrating, not profound. So why does it seem, even now, to have such gravitas? Maybe because it’s attached so strongly to my memories of Ed, and thus relates to another question I’ve been pondering: Why did he coach in Imperial Beach for all those years? Surely he could have gone to the tonier beach towns where he’d spent his youth and knew so many people. He could have coached anywhere. So, why? My hunch is that he came for kids like Benny, like Dave, like me.

— Byron Shewman

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Byron, You did a great article on Ed. He was my coach and P.E. teacher in 1955 at Earl Warren Junior High. In 1956 he started teaching at San Dieguito. I always looked up to him as a teacher and a man. He motivated people like no one else could. In 1959 I was on the San Dieguito football team and when we traveled down to play Mar Vista, that is when I saw Ed again. Time went by, then in 1969 I went down to the Shores by the "White House" and there on the court playing a great game of volleyball was Ed. From 1969 until he passed away in 1986 I played VB and drank beer with Ed and the gang that hung out at the Shores. He was a great man. Even today I have a picture of him hanging in my house. He was an inspiration to me, with his never say die attitude. One time Ed and I were playing a VB game at the Shores and we were behind in the score (14 to 2). I look at Ed and said "We are in trouble" and he responded "No we're not". So we played on for two or three more sideouts, then they scored the final point and we lost 15 to 2. He turned to me and said "Now we are in trouble". I am 67 years old now and I will never forget that moment as long as I live. "Ed I love ya" signing off for now Boydd Galland

Nov. 9, 2008

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