We lost a great man when South High School head varsity football coach John Wren died in his sleep unexpectedly the morning of July 2. John and his wife, Marina, along with their children, Gader, Gunner and Natalie, were our next door neighbors for 10 years. Marina stayed home while John worked at Helt Engineering, then at South High. Like a lot of us, as young couples they felt the burden of work, paying the bills, raising children, living a Godly life. They managed these difficulties with class. I witnessed a steadfastness that rang of decency, honor and deep commitment to God, family, neighbors and community.
I coached football and taught with John at South High. John’s first concern was family then community. He saw football as a way to positively affect the city of Bakersfield. He had a deep commitment to others. John knew that “we belong to each other” — it was a belief deep in his soul, and I am sure this feeling was put there by God. He knew that kids needed to feel welcome. If a kid felt alienated, John tried desperately to bring them into the fold. John needed to belong, and he knew that others needed to belong. He was all about bringing people into the fold and molding them to do the same for others.
John, who was just 44, embraced all of the demands that are thrown at coaches today. Few coaches prepared for a game like John. He spent grueling hours studying game film. He wanted desperately to give his kids the edge.
John was a giver outside of football. He worked every South High bingo night for 10 years. He didn’t have to show up every time, but he loved to contribute to his community and he knew South High needed the help. John spent every afternoon during the offseason and summer over the last 20 years on the school campus. Back in the 1990s, John was the weight room coach along with Steve Faulk, and when Steve left for the athletic director job at North High School, John continued as the leader of every offseason football activity.
John was a certified Olympic lifting coach. He was so technically sound that he could still out-lift most of his players. Rebels players, pound for pound, had the best lifting techniques in the county; and they were the strongest too.
John was also a co-leader with Scot Douglass in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. John and Scot molded young men into human beings who care about their communities.
Monsignor Craig Harrison of St. Francis Church has helped all South High sports teams over the years. John being John, he couldn’t let Father Craig’s commitment go by without acknowledgement. One day John came up to me and said, “Hey, Mike Borden and I want to give back to the church, and we want the kids to experience giving back to those who are in need.” So I arranged for the players to come and work with my wife Denise to serve the needy. John even arranged Monday football practices around feeding those at St. Francis. Mike and John would bring chicken, and the players helped feed Bakersfield’s disadvantaged.
John left quite a legacy as family man, teacher and coach. He looked outside of himself toward his community, demonstrating respect, honor and fidelity to his principles, no matter what life threw at him. Sports was his platform.
I will always remember his goodness. I loved John Wren and I thank him for embracing life, and by doing so, embracing us all — his family, students, neighbors, athletes, coworkers and the community.
Randy Ariey of Bakersfield is a teacher South High School and a volunteer at St. Francis Church. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.