Known to many as an icon in the history of Lodi High School sports, Don Womble served as a teacher, coach and mentor to countless students over six decades. For his contributions to education, Womble, who passed away in 2010, was inducted into the Lodi Community Hall of Fame.
David Phillips, a former cross country and track student of Womble’s who made the nomination, said Womble was the kind of coach who inspired kids.
“Even if you weren’t the best on the team, he inspired you to do the best you could. There were hundreds of kids that I saw he inspired to do their best,” Phillips said.
From 1952 to 1970, he served as a teacher and a seventhand eighth-grade coach at Houston School. While there, he organized the Little ’Leven League for the north San Joaquin County schools. He also created schedules for afterschool football, basketball, softball, volleyball and track. He led Houston School to the flag football championship for 13 straight seasons.
Womble then went to Lodi High School, where he served as assistant freshman coach and later as a physical education teacher. He was also a coach for sophomore football, wrestling, track and cross country.
Anthony Rodriguez, another former track student, said Womble was a father figure to him.
“He was an honest, caring, loving and helpful man — probably one of the best men I’ve known,” he said.
While serving as an athletic coach, Womble began jogging. In 1976, he ran his first Bay to Breakers with his daughter Nancy. Two years later he began rigorous marathon training, and in 1979 he ran the West Valley Marathon in San Mateo. He finished the 26 miles in 3 hours and 50 minutes.
Following his retirement in 1988, Womble continued as cross country coach and assistant track coach. In the end, he taught or coached more than 5,000 youths. Many of them went on to statewide competition. Womble continued to coach Phillips’ sons up until a month before his passing, Phillips said.
“He was always putting the kids first. It was his joy in life,” he said.
In 1980, Womble was inducted into the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame, along with all of his teammates on the Stockton High Tarzan 1943 championship football team. In 2000, he was inducted into the Lodi Sports Hall of Fame.
After attending high school for only 3 1/2 years, Womble graduated from Stockton High School in 1944. He joined the Navy and served from 1944 to 1946 as a gunner’s mate 3/C in the Pacific. Following his service, he attended Stockton Junior College and graduated from College of the Pacific with a Bachelor of Arts in 1951. He married his wife Loella, and they had five children, 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Other inductees this year include Linda Hammons, a volunteer for many organizations, for her contributions to community service; Thomas Sanchez, director of business development for Waste Management, for his contributions to business; Richard Ling, an active volunteer, for his contributions to community service; and Jeanie Biskup, who was the driving force behind the success of the Lodi Police Department’s Partners program, for her contributions to government.
The Lodi Community Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Lodi Boys and Girls Club. Inductees will be honored at a dinner and program scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Boys and Girls Club headquarters, 275 Poplar St. near the corner of Stockton Street. Tickets are $50 each. For more information or to make a reservation, call Eddie Cotton at 209-334-2697.