Los Angeles high school basketball coach Marty Biegel, whose work at a changing school during a time of racial tension was lauded for uniting players and students, died March 13 at 90.
Biegel, who taught history in LA schools for three decades took over the basketball team at Fairfax High School in 1969, when it was “a mostly white, Jewish school near Hollywood that was strong in academics, not sports,” the Los Angeles Times wrote. The school then added African American athletes from surrounding neighborhoods after the school district boundaries were redrawn.
“In the gym, the Orthodox Jewish coach would gaze heavenward as he celebrated his new African American athletes, players who could go to the basket with either hand and leap high above the rim,” the LA Times wrote. "We’re winners! We can take anybody!" he said in 2008. The team’s victories “became a unifying symbol of change,” the paper said.
Former UCLA coach John Wooden said in 2008 that Biegel “knew you don’t win games just with talent. You have to bring people together."
In 2008, a blog devoted to celebrating "champions" wrote:
"Marty Biegel, 86, was heading for a table across the room, and when he got there a group of tall black men rose to cheer:
Biegel, the father figure who helped raise them.
Biegel, the wizard who turned them into champions.
Biegel, the bridge-builder between blacks and whites.
“What’s up, Mr. B?” they said one after another, lining up to give him bear hugs.
“You’re looking good, fellas,” Marty shot back, beaming up at them. “What the hell happened to your Afros?”
Once again, Marty Biegel was back with his boys.
A story that began in angry debates over school desegregation in Los Angeles continues as a love affair today, between a teacher and the players whose lives he changed.
Morris Julius Biegel was born in New York City, attended the University of Colorado on a baseball scholarship, and served in the Marine Corps during World War II. He graduated from Hunter College in New York in 1951 and moved to California in 1955.
He later refereed college and NBA games. He was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Eulogizer on Twitter @TheEulogizer