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A celebration of life for longtime baseball coach

by Peter Weinberger | pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

It’s not too often that a memorial service is held at the Claremont High School gym, but that was the perfect location to celebrate the life of longtime baseball coach Jack “Helbs” Helber, 81. With over 200 hundred people in attendance, the event became a who’s who of Claremont baseball players young and old — but none of this was surprising for a man who spent 61 years teaching young men the game.

Placed in the middle of the gym was a photo gallery of Helber posing with team after team of players he coached. And it wasn’t just high school age players. In the printed program about his life, Helbs can be seen with little leaguers, American Legion players, CHS teams and even a 1989 stint with the Claremont Mudd-Scripps Stags. Yes, Helbs got around, and his coaching style and rapport illustrate the impact he had on others. I don’t know of any coach from any sport, who has a resume that includes coaching so many teams, from so many age groups, for such a long period of time.

As someone who played for Helbs at CHS in 1972 and 1973, I can attest to the fact that he could be quite intimidating — he had a loud demeanor coupled with a face that easily showed his emotions. This was not a guy who spoke softly. He would get so angry with umpires that it actually put a smile on my face when he danced around, kicking dirt and throwing his hat after a bad call. But Helbs would also show his excitement after a great play. Some players called him Coach Boom due to his reactions to good plays during practice. Needless to say, enthusiasm was never in short supply. His number one mission was to support his players.

Helbs also spent many summers coaching American Legion baseball in the 1980s and 90s, which also included trips to play in leagues in faraway places including Montana, Utah and Wyoming, among others. Organizing these traveling teams was a highlight for players age 16 to 18 after a season playing for their school teams.

But Helbs did far more than just show up for the games. He organized everything from raising the money — including donating $3,000 to $5,000 per trip — recruiting players and setting a schedule. Parents would get involved helping supervise and raising money to make that everyone had a safe and productive trip. It was quite a road show. Even the Los Angeles Times profiled his Claremont Cardinals in 1993.

Helbs also wrote three books. He was proud to announce that “Baseball Psychology: The Gray Matter Factor” was available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Yet for all the bravado, Helbs was private about his personal life. “I’ve come close to getting married twice,” he said. “But it never happened. Coaching these kids has been like having my own family. This team has given me an excuse to take a summer vacation.”

His philosophy for 61 years was simple, “take care of your players and they will take care of you!” The 2022 CHS baseball team is dedicating this season to Coach Helber.

 

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