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CHS coach’s passion leads to 500th win

Pressure was starting to distract the Wolfpack at the Orange County Boys Volleyball Championships. They won the first set, 25-22, but their opponent, Woodbridge High, just came back from the second set, 25-20, on March 22.

Head Coach Bernie Wendling saw they were down, 14-10, in the final set. Every move, every block, was crucial for the Wolfpack to make a comeback. After digging for the ball and blocking offensive maneuvers, they managed to produce six consecutive scores for the win, 16-10.

But there was another accomplishment that occurred that day. Coach Wendling earned his 500th career win in his 16th year coaching volleyball for Claremont High School.

“It was so much fun,” Coach Wendling said. “We created our own momentum and the team learned how to win against a good team.”

The boys volleyball program has gained a credible reputation within the CIF Southern Section under Coach Wendling’s guidance. Nine-time league champions, All-American Geoff Powell: these are just a few of the awards earned by this Chino native’s athletes.

His passion for volleyball started at Chino High, but accelerated when he enrolled at the University of La Verne in 1975. Coach Wendling joined the men’s volleyball team and found that of all the sports he played in high school, including football and track and field, this sport just seemed natural.

While studying for a bachelor’s in physical education, he met his wife, Jacqui, who shared the same passion for volleyball. When they were done with practice or a match, both would look for a recreational match or gym to continue playing volleyball, just to keep the momentum going.

“We are volleyball junkies,” Coach  Wendling said. “Either my wife and I would say, ‘Hey, there is a match going on over there,’ or ‘Oh, there is a gym in East LA we can use.’”

While he was attending ULV, his workload as an electrician became overwhelming. He had to postpone his studies in his junior year, thus putting an end to his collegiate volleyball career.

He managed a few courses at a time to eventually earn his degree, along with teaching credentials, in 1995. When he started teaching in Chino in 1996, fate introduced him back into volleyball in the spring as Chino’s new coach.

It was a rough start. His first season ended with a 1-19 record but, in 1998, he had set an interview with CHS athletic director Rick Dutton to be the girls volleyball coach. When Mr. Dutton first met Coach Wendling, there was a characteristic he saw that would be essential for the volleyball program: determination.

“He would walk into the gym like he was the luckiest guy in America,” Mr. Dutton said. “I don’t think there is any coach who is more passionate about the sport than Bernie.”

Coach Wendling also became the boys coach in 1998, while continuing to coach the Chino Ayala girls team. Now managing three teams, he wasted no time nurturing his trade by attending coaching conferences and getting feedback from others like David Kniffin, head coach of the University of Irvine men’s volleyball team.

“The coach is so gracious,” Coach Wendling said. “He would let me watch practices and I always learn how to be a better coach for next year.”

His Claremont career speaks for itself: Coach Wendling led the Wolfpack to nine league championships as head coach, in 1998, 2002, 2006 to 2010, 2012 and 2013. Assistant coach Mainor Ramos, a CHS alum who was part of the 2006 and 2007 victories, admires his former coach’s commitment to his players.

“He’s one of the guys who lives and breathes volleyball,” Coach Ramos said. “He will sacrifice an arm and a leg to help the guys.”

Whenever his teams have a rough season, Coach Wendling creates ways to motivate the players individually, always finding a positive outlook in a match, regardless if the Wolfpack won or not.

“You need to enjoy the journey,” Coach Wendling said. “If you only focus on wins, you’ll miss out.”

With all the achievements, Coach Wendling does not plan to retire any time soon. One goal for before retiring is getting 10 CHS alumni to coach volleyball at the collegiate level. There are currently five CHS alumni who coach volleyball at universities within the NCAA, from Iowa State University to Occidental College.

“That’s like a proud ‘papa’ moment, whenever the kids find a way to take care of the family business,” he said.

Until then, admirers like Mr. Dutton value his never-ending passion for volleyball.

“If he ever leaves, I don’t know how we will replace him,” Mr. Dutton said.

—Alex Forbess

sports@claremont-courier.com

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