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Ups and Downs of the Prep Sports Year

Members of The Times Orange County prep sports staff share their memories of the people, events and issues of the past school year. : Unexpected Loss

June 17, 1997|DAVE McKIBBEN

I got the phone call early in the morning, and instantly I knew something wasn't right. Sometimes you can tell by the tone of a person's voice. In this case, it was a voice I didn't even know.

"Dave, I know you had talked to John Anawalt lately for several stories . . ."

I didn't need to hear the rest of the sentence. I knew the news would not be pleasant. Anawalt, the tennis coach at Laguna Beach, had died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 48 while playing tennis in San Clemente.

I did not know John long, but I had the sense that I would be getting to know him well. He was that kind of guy. Always extremely friendly and helpful with a story. He made the extra effort, whether it was to give one of his kids publicity or help a reporter with an amusing anecdote.

The voice on the other line--Bob Hooper--Laguna Beach's junior varsity tennis coach and one of Anawalt's best friends, informed me that the team was going to go through with its playoff match that day against Cerritos Whitney. I had not intended to cover that match. But considering the circumstances, I knew that's where I should be.

As journalists, we strive for objectivity. But it was hard not to pull for that Laguna Beach team that day, especially the way they handled Anawalt's death. There were no tears or outward displays of emotion, just heartfelt tributes. The No. 1 singles and doubles players wore black socks, the entire team wrote the initials JA on the back of their caps.

The story I had been dreading to write was made much easier that day by the players and Anawalt's coaching friends, Hooper, Bob Walton and Bob Gustafson, who shared their memories of Anawalt with me.

"I know it's a sports cliche," Walton said, "but that's where John would have wanted to go, on the tennis court."

Gustafson, the boys' coach at San Clemente, came up to me and said, "Please let people know that John Anawalt loved coaching tennis more than anything. John and I would be on the tennis court with kids and he'd say 'Isn't this great? We're out here doing what we love.' "

Laguna Beach won its match that day, 12-6, and lost its next match to Palos Verdes Chadwick in the Southern Section Division IV quarterfinals.

I thought about naming Anawalt coach of the year for Orange County, but I didn't want to cheapen his death in any way. So I decided to remember him with this column instead.

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