A lifetime of coaching

For former Wingate coach Bohling, setting goals is everything

By Diane J. Schmidt
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 26, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Diane J. Schmidt)

Former Wingate coach Dewey Bohling and his wife Sandra Bohling pose with his 2011 New Mexico Track & Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame Award. Bohling received a standing ovation at the awards ceremony Jan. 28 in Albuquerque.

"This is the proudest day of my life," said former Wingate coach Dewey Bohling, 73, as he marched into the banquet hall at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Albuquerque.

He took his place next to his wife of 38 years, Ramah native Sandra Bohling (Meadow People Clan, born for Bitter Water Clan).

As Bohling was inducted into the New Mexico Track & Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the crowd of coaches and well-wishers spontaneously stood and clapped in recognition of his 43 years of coaching high school athletics.

Afterwards he said, "It really blew my mind, that standing ovation."

As the luncheon ended, groups of former coaches and colleagues posed with Bohling for photos.

Then, there were former Navajo players who had come to see him and he clearly had had a big impact on their lives.

Hank Morris, who played football at Wingate, came up and they reminisced about how Hank was "the biggest player I had."

He later said, "Hank played offensive and defensive. He was over 6-2 and 200 pounds. In those days players were a lot smaller - 135 to 170 pounds, 5-6 to 5-10. In the last 30 years they've gotten bigger."

Daryl Petersen, who now works in construction, also brought his parents, rodeo announcer Dave and wife Alice to meet Bohling. He said that Bohling coached him in track at Navajo Pine and established the track and field program there.

"He was my first coach in football, track and field," Petersen said. "We went to state track meets every year."

In the '70s

Bohling was at Wingate High School in Fort Wingate, N.M., from 1970 to '77 where he coached football, track and basketball.

"That was back in the time you coached three sports," he said.

He established the football and track program at Navajo Pine, coached at Window Rock, spent five years at Cuba, and from there went to Taos.

"For 17 years I've coached at Native American schools," he said. "People don't realize Cuba is 63 percent Native American."

He also coached at Hatch, Lordsburg, Eldorado, Menaul and has not yet retired.

Today he is assistant coach of girls' varsity track and field at La Cueva High School in Albuquerque, where he says he now has promising young women discus throwers, a sport in which he himself broke state records in at Albuquerque's Highland High School in the '50s.

Recalling the years at Wingate, his most important memory was "my mentor, coach Vince Price - 'V.O.' we called him. Because of him I had a real insight what to do and what not to do.

"The first thing he told me was 'Don't ever yell at a kid and say "Look at me when I'm talking to you." He said 'if you do that you're going to lose these kids real quick-like.'

"It meant that the student-athlete that I was talking to was showing respect when they would avert their eyes and look to the right or left. That was the first and probably the most important thing I learned my first year at Wingate," he said.

Camaraderie among coaches

That was surely appreciated by the students since government policy at BIA boarding schools, while it may have changed over time and with newer teachers, was always to stamp out cultural differences.

"My first year, 45 kids came out to practice. That first year was spent just learning their names," he joked. "But then we became one of the top teams on the Navajo Reservation."

He explained that it was an era just when public schools were starting their athletic programs, and Bohling said it made for a lively rivalry among all the schools.

"It was a wonderful time," he said. "We (coaches) became very close. We just really helped each other and when we would go to the state meet we would all sit together, yell and root for each other's team.

"Probably the most important thing we had was the comradeship between all the coaches," he said. "We played hard against each other, don't get me wrong, but we had tremendous respect for each other."

Wingate posed a unique situation for how to get the team to work together.

"We were a boarding school," he said. "They had to have dinner at 5:30. Kids came out at 3:30. That meant we only had an hour and a half to get in practice."

As a result, he said, "We ran our programs almost at game level every day."

The coaches had specific tasks and worked individually for 45 minutes.

"The last half was a team organization," Bohling said, "and we had to have those kids over to the cafeteria by 5:30."

Playing for the AFL

Bohling played varsity football at Highland High School in Albuquerque with Hugh Hackett and went on to Hardin-Simmons College in Abilene, Texas, where his coach there, Sammy Baugh, later recruited him to play professionally with the New York Titans.

"Those coaches were highly competitive," he said. "Both hated to lose. That instilled in the athlete how to compete at a very high level."

To get the most out of his players as a coach, Bohling said, "You have to set very specific goals with your athletes. You sit down with that individual and set what their goals are and during the season work with those athletes to help them attain the goals, and once they meet those goals you set the standard higher.

"Most athletes that become successful, they are successful because they have attained their goals," he said. "That is the most important thing you do as a coach."

What about for an athlete that isn't able to meet a goal?

"I always say this, If you try, you never fail. People that fail are the people that don't try. So, if you are out there and trying to the best of your ability, you are not a failure," he said.

Bohling recalled one student who was just as happy breaking a three-minute goal they had set for themselves as the district championship winner was.

"This is what I love about track, you can set goals and if you achieve that goal, you are successful," he said. "And I believe that with all my heart. That's what I love about track, you compete with yourself. And if you succeed, you don't ever fail."

Consistency stressed

Bohling also stresses the importance of being a consistent coach.

"If when you go out on the field, you're a screamer and a hollerer, then you scream and holler every day," he said. "If you're the quiet type, you're that way day in and day out. You have to keep the practice on the same level all throughout the season ... You have to lead by example. And it has to be positive.

"My first year of coaching, I made more mistakes than my following five years combined," he said. "The successful coaches are the ones that learn from their mistakes. The ones that don't learn don't go very far. Even today I still learn."

Another thing he wanted to stress is, "Always when you coach, it's about the athlete, it's not about you, and I wish more coaches understood that," he said.

Bohling said that as soon as he got to Navajo Pine, Roy Franklin, the athletic director, had him scheduled to compete with area varsity teams that were already in place at Tohatchi, Thoreau and Crownpoint.

"I said, 'These kids don't even know what a football is, what a stance is.' He told me, 'Oh, you can handle it.'

"So it was quite an experience," he said. "We were getting our ears pinned back but they never gave up. These kids were learning, they always came to practice. I ended up with 23-24 players, and we came back the last two games of the season, and we went 2-7 that year. They became a pretty good ball club."

Bohling is proud to have established that program and, looking back over his own career as an athlete, he said that he is most proud that he was a member of the American Football League with the New York Titans.

"Being part of history with the new fledging American Football League is the highlight of my career," he said. "Now this weekend they will play the NFL in the Super Bowl."