Sports Volunteer of the Month: George Rempe

Santa Barbara High baseball coach George Rempe

George Rempe, pictured taking notes from the dugout this season, has been a volunteer coach at Santa Barbara High since 1985.

The game was long over and the Santa Barbara High baseball players finished grooming the field, packed their gear and started to head home. Most of them had gone, but one player stopped by the dugout, shook George Rempe’s hand and said, “Thanks coach. See you tomorrow.”

It was a sign of respect that’s been going on for nearly 30 years in the Santa Barbara baseball program.

The players appreciate Rempe and know he will always be there for them, helping them become better hitters and better people.

Rempe has been a volunteer coach on the Dons baseball staff since 1985, and the hitting coach for Fred Warrecker’s varsity team since 1987.

To commemorate his years of service to the Santa Barbara sports community, Rempe has been named Presidio Sports’ Volunteer of the Month.

At age 68, this retired attorney and Vietnam War veteran could be spending his free time doing more relaxing activities. But the Arizona Wildcat chooses to follow the battle cry of his alma mater’s athletic teams — “Bear Down” — and be on the field and in the dugout, helping young men improve their game while teaching them lessons on life.

And, he’s done it while dealing with some serious health issues over the years (a back ailment, triple bypass surgery). Most recently, he experienced kidney problems and was in the intensive care unit for a couple of days. Once he was released from the hospital, he was back on the diamond at Eddie Mathews Field.

“The boys are counting on me,” he said.

“I think George’s greatest value to the team is his dedication to the success of the players, individually and as a team,” said longtime assistant Mike Cooney, who also practices law and met Rempe through the legal community. “When players see George on the field day after day, overcoming the difficulty of merely walking from his car to the backstop, most make the effort to work on improving their own skills.”

He keeps going because of his commitment to the boys and his love for the game and what it represents.

“I was with a good law firm (Hollister and Brace) and had a good practice, but I always tell people: “If I’ve done anything really significant in the world, it’s out here. If I had influence on anything in the world, it’s the influence I’ve had on these kids.

“My brother keeps saying it’s just a baseball game. ‘No, it’s life.‘ “ he said. “To me, the reason I like baseball the most — and I didn’t realize this growing up — is it’s so much more of reality. If you’re a third baseman and you make an error, you have to stay out there; you might not get a ball for another 4-5 innings. If you strike out, you have to wait three innings to get another chance. In baseball, you have to live with your mistakes.

“Those are life lessons we try to teach all the time.”

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Cal Poly sophomore Danny Zandona, an All-CIF player on the 2011 Dons team that advanced to the CIF semifinals, recalled how Rempe would explain to the players that the game was pretty simple.

“I remember Coach Rempe would always tell us that it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, who’s umpiring, how bad the weather is, etc,” Zandona said. “To be successful, we have to focus on the things we can control. We are playing against the baseball. It really helped simplify the game and it’s something I tell myself to this day playing college ball.”

Rempe often uses stories, sayings and words of wisdom he’s picked up from other sources and weaves them into a teaching moment.

On hitting: “Hitting is like shaving. If you don’t do it every day, you look like a bum.”

On tackling difficult tasks, “I learned this from a secretary,” he said. “Look at what you got to do, figure out what you hate the most, write it down and do it first. If you do it first, the rest of your day is pleasant.”

On making yourself and the world better: “Every day you have to do something hard, not just in baseball but at home. Every day you have to do something hard and you have to do something nice for somebody. If you do that every day, just think, a year from now you’ve done 365 things you didn’t want to do and you did 365 things that were nice for somebody. Just think how that carries over …”

Rempe has been doing nice things for the Santa Barbara baseball program since he came aboard.

Besides investing his time and energy, he’s paid for equipment out of his own pocket, organized and supervised Saturday batting practices. He makes sure every player on the varsity is recognized at the Athletic Round Table press luncheons and honors the seniors by taking them to lunch at Joe’s Cafe at the end of the season — he calls it the “Varsity Eating Club.”

Those are memories that stick with the players.

“Somebody who played in 1987 can tell me in 2013 what they had for lunch at Joe’s,” he said.

Zandona remembers the books Rempe made for every player at the end of each season.

“He includes an article for each and every game, and makes sure to mention all the guys who contributed, even if they were not mentioned in the newspaper,” Zandona said. “He also includes photos, stats from present and past years, and different quotes and sayings about baseball.  The whole process has to take him multiple weeks to complete, and he does it all for free out of generosity.

“These books are keepsakes for every player to look back on years from now, to reminisce about our high school days.

Zandona continued: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Rempe, knowing how hard he works year in year out not only on the books but every day at practice, throwing soft toss and working with the hitters.”

George and his wife, Cathy, have been a part of Santa Barbara High athletics for a long time. Their children, Michael and Stephanie, played sports for the Dons and both were honored as the most valuable and most inspirational athletes at the school during their senior years.

Even though he’s old enough to be their grandfather, Rempe has a good rapport with players on the baseball team.

But, the harmonious relationship ends with the music that is played at the ballpark.

“When we practice on Saturdays, we play music. Every year one or two kids will ask, ‘Hey, Coach, can we play my music? No! “And they’ll say, ‘why not,’ and I’ll say, ‘Here’s the deal: 28 years I’ve been doing this and I’ve never been paid a dime. In fact, it cost me money every year to buy things and do stuff. And, my only compensation is I don’t have to listen to your music.‘

He continued: “I called them together one year … no one had asked me, but I told them how much I liked them and that they reminded me of the kids I played with in Arizona. ‘But, I know I’m wrong because no one can like that crappy music you like and be the same.’”

He smiled while he said it.

Chalk it up as just another of Rempe’s life lesson: You can’t always get what you want …

VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH

Pacific Western Bank in Santa Barbara

This monthly series is made possible by Pacific Western Bank

Volunteers often go under-recognized even though they are extremely important to the athletic community.

So important that many of the sporting events and organizations key to our lives wouldn’t be possible without those who donate their time to assist others.

Presidio Sports and Pacific Western Bank have joined forces to change that. This monthly spotlight series is our way of thanking those that selflessly give themselves for the benefit of many.

To all volunteers making a difference, we salute you.

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