SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Growing up in a rough part of the Los Angeles area, having a place where he and his friends could meet up to play sports was a big part of Ron McBride’s life.
Born in 1939 in South Gate, California, and living just a few blocks away from the working-class neighborhood of Watts, which had a diverse population of minorities, McBride calls his hometown, “Not a great spot.”
“People really struggled there,” he remembers.
Back in those days, long before social media and video games were a part of a child’s life and social structure, McBride remembers waking up on the weekends and in the summer to ride his bike to South Gate Park to play baseball or football with his friends until the sun went down at night.
McBride believes having that park and a quality youth activities program in the area kept him and many of his friends out of trouble. Developing that love of sports likely also catapulted him into a career in athletics that included playing football at San Jose State University in his college days and a legacy as the head coach at Utah and Weber State later on.
Now in his 80s, McBride, who is credited with building the University of Utah into a respectable program and setting the stage for the success the Utes have had since, is hoping to continue to impact the local community by providing a place like the park he enjoyed as a kid.
Working along with the Salt Lake Education Foundation, the Ron McBride Foundation is seeking to build a running track and implement increased youth sports programs at Glendale Middle School on the west side of Salt Lake City.
“For the underserved group, the more education and the more outlets you give people, the better chance they’ve got of having the kind of life they deserve to have,” McBride explains to ABC4.com.
What South Gate and Watts are to Southern California, Glendale may be the Salt Lake Valley. The middle school located west side of the capital city, near Redwood Road, and between 1300 S and 1700 S has an incredibly diverse group of students. Of 800 enrollees, 94% receive free or reduced-rate lunches, 35% live in highly transient homes, and 45% are learning to speak English, according to the foundation.
McBride’s goal is to create a 6-line track around the soccer field at the school that can serve as a center of exercise, physical activity, and supervised fun that can not only serve the students at the school but also the adults of the community.
“This track provides an opportunity for anyone of whatever age, anyone can have access to it to walk or run in there. It’ll really bring the community together,” Salt Lake Education Foundation Director James Yapias says. “I think it’s all about contributing to healthy lifestyles encouraging people to walk and to be active.”
Having McBride as a spearheading member of the project is huge for its potential, Yapias says. Having already raised $60,000 to construct the track and hire an athletic program coordinator, the two foundations are looking to gather an additional $190,000 to make the track, which would be dubbed the Ron McBride Track, a reality.
While he grew up as a Californian, Utah has become McBride’s home and where his legacy will extend for years. After his college playing career ended in 1962, McBride worked his way up the ladder in the coaching ranks until he arrived in the Beehive State working as an assistant coach for the Utes in two separate stints before getting the head job in 1990.
When he took over the reins, Utah was a largely uncelebrated program, known as the figurative little brother to BYU, which at the time was a national power. Quickly, McBride made the Utes a winner, highlighted by the 1994 season in which Utah went 10-2 and reached a top-10 ranking. The success gradually waned and McBride was let go from the program following the 2002 season.
After his tenure at Utah had come to an end, McBride took a job as an assistant at the University of Kentucky, which he states he hated. He missed Utah, where he had worked for more than two decades, and leaped at an opportunity to return as Weber State’s head coach in 2005.
Following a seven-year run in Ogden, McBride retired from coaching in 2011, having won 88 games at Utah and 43 at Weber State.
He never left, remaining a friend of practically every college football program in the state, being seen in gear not only from Utah and Weber State but from Utah State and even BYU as well. When he’s not working on his foundation, which primarily provides grants to create after-school programs at Title I schools throughout Utah, he’s helping out with the football program at Juan Diego Catholic High School.
Yapias feels the track would be the latest addition to Coach Mac’s longstanding reputation in the area and the community has a chance to be a part of that.
“Anyone who’s willing to contribute, I think will certainly put a signature to his legacy of working in underserved populations in Utah in Salt Lake,” he says.
As part of his work with communities such as families that make Glendale Middle School a part of their lives, McBride frequently visits the school to interact with the kids.
While the kids may not know him as a sports legend – to which McBride jokingly scoffs, “whatever” – the coach still has a way of communicating with the kids that makes them excited to see him, Yapias says.
After all, helping youngsters achieve and reach a potential they may not have known, has been his lifelong calling, even after life as a college football coach.
“That’s what my whole life’s been about,” McBride explains. “Young people and hoping that you can create a positive influence for them and give them positive outcomes.”