ATASCADERO — If you ask anyone in Atascadero about football, especially about the glory days of four consecutive CIF titles, you won't make it further than a sentence without mentioning former Greyhound Head Coach Larry Welsh. He is the Godfather of football in these parts — growing up in this area you are as likely to hear a tale about one of his victories over Paso before bed as you are to hear a nursery rhyme.
His accomplishments speak for themselves, Welsh was selected as the Los Padres League Coach of the Year 10 times in his 18 years at Atascadero. He was selected as the CIF Southern Section Coach of the Year seven times, and once selected as the Cal-Hi-Prep State coach of the year; he set the California record for most wins in a decade with 111, and led the Greyhounds to four consecutive CIF titles from 93-96 and won seven in total. In 2006, Welsh was elected into the Gonzales hall of fame, in 2008 he entered the Atascadero Hall of fame, in 2014 he entered the Salinas Valley Sports Hall of Fame and on Oct. 18 of this year he will enter the CIF SS Hall of Fame, a tremendous honor. However, no matter how many awards he has won or how many Halls of Fame he has entered, he hasn't forgotten those who helped him along the way.
Welsh didn't start in Atascadero, far from from it. He grew up on a farm in Nebraska before eventually moving to Colorado. Before coming to Atascadero, Welsh made coaching stops in various places like Gonzales, Salinas, Fullerton and Northern Arizona University before finally settling here.
“The big thing in coming here was the community support,” Welsh said about choosing Atascadero. He embodied everything that it takes to win and be successful in a small town, and rather than fearing the disadvantages, he embraced the distinct advantages that come from what he calls, “one school, one district.”
He talked about sitting in giant board room meetings, while coaching at other schools, that would feature six or seven different principals from each of the schools in the district all needing new football coaches. That could only mean one thing he said, “The district isn't supporting the programs.”
While Atascadero might not have the 6-10,000 kids enrolled or the money to build huge stadiums like schools in big cities have, what we have do have is the support of our community, and we have it in spades.
“I remember one time we went down to King City to scout and came back Saturday morning. Ya know we had been out till around two in the morning. I wake up, get out of bed, kinda drift up to the high school and they were putting new lights up, and nobody even told me. And you know those were my boosters.”
Welsh recalls just one of the numerous stories of the community stepping in where perhaps the school could not.
Welsh created an environment where everyone, not just those in uniform, on Fridays felt like they were apart of the team. He encouraged the principal at the time to address the team after games so to create a cohesion between the school's disciplinarian and those needing discipline, where a rift usually lays.
“Mr. Kidwell was unique, he made the first talk after every game, win, lose, or draw, and the kids probably respected his talk more than my talk,” he recalled. He also had the support of the Athletic director at the time, Donn Clickard.
“I handed him a program, that was from Brea High School,” Welsh said. “I handed it to him, I said ‘Don, we could sell these, these are our example,’ and looks at it with the price on it and says that we can't do that. Well, a month later he comes back and he has them all done.” Welsh recalls yet another example of being helped along the way. After the programs were created, he aimed to create a Century Club that would allow the community to help even further, and it was received with tremendous success.
“The community jumped in right behind us, people joined the Century Club, people bought the programs,” he said. He praised his assistant coaches, the classified staff, the grounds crew and most importantly his wife Barbara. “I couldn't have done any of it without her, she stayed home and raised our kids while I was out raising someone else’s,” Welsh said.
While Welsh rarely boasted about his accomplishment, he was more than happy to revere in the academic success of his players.
“I never once turned down a kid in Atascadero because of grades,” he said. But the fact remains, the community has largely stayed the same while the titles have ceased, as important as the community is, there is no change without the enzyme that is Coach Welsh. It was his guidance and vision that led Atascadero to athletic dominance.
“One of his greatest assets was his ability to adapt and his ability to correctly place his athletes. He was a student of the game and he was ahead of the curve before he got here,” said current Athletic Director and former assistant coach of Welsh’s Sam DeRose.
He finished his career with an .826 winning percentage which is a state record among coaches with at least 200 wins. He won seven Southern Section Championships and 14 LPL titles in his 18 years in Atascadero, but most importantly he left us with an overwhelming, irrational,absolutely ludicrous amount of school pride that I haven't seen anywhere else.