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UCLA students rally for ailing coach John Wooden

June 4, 2010 |  1:28 pm

About 300 UCLA students broke away from their books on the eve of finals Friday to rally for ailing former basketball coach John Wooden.

Gathering tightly around the iconic Bruin Bear, they raised their hands high in the air and performed the university's eight-clap chant.

"Wooden, Wooden, Wooden" the crowd hollered.

Word of the brief rally spread through Facebook, with some students joining the crowd on their way to class. The 99-year-old Wooden, once a frequent attendee at men's basketball and women's gymnastics contests, has become a sporadic presence on the Westwood campus in recent years.

For many undergraduates, decades removed from Wooden’s famed championship run, the details of the former coach’s legacy are hazy. But the student body has come to revere the coach as a figure who transcends basketball. His likeness and quotes are posted around campus, and standing ovations are the norm when he attends events.

Senior Rhett Jones called Wooden the ultimate Bruin. He said one of his professors brought up Wooden in class – not for his success in sports, but to encourage his students to emulate the coach’s famous Pyramid of Success.

“He wanted us to remember the cornerstones: industriousness and enthusiasm,” Jones said. “He still comes up now. It’s a testament to his character.”

Rebekah Hartie, a freshman, said Wooden has attained a “mythic status” on campus. But she said she hoped the current attention to the coach would encourage students to go back and learn more about his achievements.

“He’s definitely been inspirational to me,” she said. “I mean, all you have to do is walk in the gym and you see his Pyramid of Success.”

Hartie said she was impressed that Wooden opted to have the student gym – open to all on campus – named after him, rather than the more exclusive athletes gym or an athletic facility.

“It shows he cares about all Bruins, not just athletes,” the anthropology major said.

Students are organizing a larger rally outside Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where university officials say Wooden is in grave condition, on Friday at 8 p.m.

-- Robert Faturechi