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Longtime Coach Plans Last Hurrah

Ivan Mears retires in two weeks after 28 years with Los Angeles Baptist High School in Sepulveda. During a career as coach, athletic director, teacher, counselor and football referee, he also received two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education. Mears, 61, and his wife, Iris, live in Granada Hills.

I grew up during World War II so when I was in high school, my dreams were toward aeronautical engineering. I took all the math and physics and chemistry that they had at North Hollywood High. In 1946, when I graduated, I applied to the UCLA School of Engineering and made it, but within a year I decided that this was not for me. The only enjoyable time I had in engineering was when we were surveying on the east side of the campus where the girls’ dorms were.

So I got out of engineering and I transferred into the School of Education, and because I was trying to play football I chose P.E. as my major. I was the eternal redshirt. From a coaching standpoint, I probably learned more playing center on the scout team, where we would run different defenses and offenses against the regulars.

I even had great dreams of being coach of the Rams or whatever when, in 1950, ’51, ’52, I was assistant at Caltech. But you start realizing your own limitations and so you have to turn down your expectations a notch or two. I think recruiting caused me to back down a little bit, because it is such a major facet of it, and I don’t think I would have been that good of a recruiter. Recruiting is hard sell.

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I would rather deal with it from this end. When a kid comes into my office who’s a pretty good athlete I try and help him in terms of a particular athletic program. I let him look at three or four programs. I tell a kid, “Write down all the things that you think are good about this place and things that might not be so good. Then you go visit that school and maybe one of the others and meet the coach, and make your decision.”

I came to grips with God in the spring of 1951. I was a student at a Baptist seminary and still doing coaching over at Caltech. I was doing everything that I wanted to do, but I was not happy. And so I said, “There’s got to be a reason why I’m not happy.” I finally concluded it was because I had this void in my life that was ultimately filled by Jesus Christ.

I could have gone the public school route, made more money, but I came to realize that God wanted me to go in this certain direction.

I like to think that philosophically I have had a great impact on the school over the years. Our sports program, which we feel is successful, is successful without having to do illegal things because we just tell our kids, “Go out and do your best and the wins will take care of themselves.”

I’ve enjoyed my years here; the kids are great on this campus. About a month ago they had what they called “Doc Day.” Some people think I’m an institution around here, just because I have the only earned doctorate in our program. They had a sign up on the marquee and the whole bit.

I’m not known for being the most fashionable guy around. I like white socks, probably have them in the casket when I die. Representatives from each of the grade levels and faculty members dressed up to look like me. Then I had to judge which one was the best. One faculty member had the best potbelly; he had a skinned head thing on; he had the white socks and he had a thermos--I mean, everything was great.

Then at the end of all that, we walked out to the athletic field and they unveiled a sign that said, “Doctor Ivan G. Mears Field,” they’d named the field after me, and that really surprised me.

They’ve asked me to be the commencement speaker, June 14, so in a moment of weakness I said, “Yes.” I thought, “This is my last hurrah. Why not?”

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