Viking Legends: Coaches Circle

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Coaches Hugh McWilliams and Wes Fisher

Oliver Marburg and Cameron Toland

Viking Legends: Coaches Hall of Fame 

Near the entrance to the football stadium, a circle of plaques shines in the light. While many may have not heard of it, this monument is a hidden gem on Paly’s campus. The Coaches’ Circle, also known as the Circle of Honor at Hod Ray Field, is a tribute to the most successful coaches in Paly history. It currently recognizes six of the most prestigious and accomplished coaches to ever coach at Paly. 

The project started in 2017 with two Paly alumni: Mike McClellan (‘58) and Don McPhail (‘58). After reflecting on their time at Paly, they felt that many of their coaches and teachers deserved recognition for their success. McClellan and McPhail volunteered their efforts, along with help from the Paly Alumni Association and Paly Sports Boosters. 

“My friend Mike McClellan and I were very lucky to go to Palo Alto at a time when we had some fabulous coaches and teachers there,” McPhail said. “A lot of them were 20-30 year lifetime teachers, and we felt somebody ought to say thank you to them and recognize them for being wonderful teachers and role models.” 

McClellan and McPhail played for Paly’s football and basketball teams. They were coached by Hugh McWilliams, Wes Fisher, and Clem Wiser, all of whom are recognized in the coaches circle. 

The first coach to enter the circle was basketball coach Clem Wiser, whose record of winning teams, coaching honors (both league and CCS) and personal character made him stand out as a figure worth honoring. Wiser’s monument was unveiled as the first event of Paly’s Centennial celebration on October 7, 2018. Since then, five more coaches have been added to the circle. The most recent additions, Nort Thornton and Jim Fairchild were respectively recognized for swimming and water polo as well as football.

To enter the coaches circle, coaches were nominated by alumni, who looked through school Madrono Archives to make their selections. Coaches were then selected by McPhail and McClellan based on accomplishments and honors. 

“It was more or less a consensus from people by looking at the win-loss records, season championships, and the coach of the year type honors,” McPhail said. “These are the people whose names emerged from that.” 

Right now, the coaches’ circle only consists of six male coaches, but it isn’t complete just yet. Of the current coaches in the circle, there is a lack of diversity both in gender and race. 

“Women didn’t have competitive sports between schools and that was a shortcoming of our era for sure,” McPhail said. 

In McPhail’s time at Paly, sports teams were limited to men only and these limitations on records and scores made it difficult to compare female athletes and coaches to the level of the coaches in the coaches’ circle. 

“We wish we had [found more female representation] because there were many, many girls who would have been good or great athletes but they didn’t get a chance,” McPhail said. 

After four years of compiling records, scores, and information on coaches, McPhail and McClellan’s work on the Coaches circle is complete, although the pair are open and willing to add more coaches. 

“If [future organizers] want our help, then Mike and I would be glad to help them,” McPhail said. “As of now, we think our plan is complete.” 

 

Coaches in Coaches Circle:

 

Jim Fairchild

Jim Fairchild coached Paly football from 1960 to 1965and led the team to an undefeated season in 1963 — which didn’t occur again for 47 years. Fairchild preached toughness, resiliency, and determination. He led Paly to set a SPAL Conference record of six consecutive shut-out wins in conference play, which allowed him to earn Coach of the Year Honors.

 

 

 

 

 

Norton Thornton

Norton Thornton coached both swimming and water polo at Paly and is recognized for his 1946-1959 teams being almost undefeated. Under his guidance, they won 12 league championships and six North Coast Section titles. The Paly swimming pool was renamed the Nort Thornton Memorial Pool in his honor and he was also inducted into the United States Water Polo Hall of Fame and the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame. 

 

 

 

 

Forest Jamieson

Forest Jaimeson founded Palo Alto High School’s cross country team in 1953.  Over his 21 year Paly career, Jamieson won several NCS championships and coached many athletes onto the Olympic Team. He is widely regarded as the “Father of High School Cross Country in the Bay Area.”

 

 

 

 

Hugh McWilliams and Wes Fisher

Football coach Hugh McWilliams and wrestling coach Wes Fisher (‘42) were a well-known coaching duo who brought both positive energy and calm intensity. Together they coached the highly ranked and undefeated 1956 SPAL champion football team. Fisher, a Paly alum, was a nationally recognized wrestling coach for 23 years, leading the Paly wrestling team to win 176 competitions and 10 league championships. In addition to coaching wrestling and football, Fisher served as athletic director and coached golf, swimming, and track & field. McWilliams served as a coach for seven years, with an astounding 45-12 record. He continued to assistant coach football at Navy and coached two nationally-ranked teams and Heisman trophy winners. 

Clem Wiser

Known for his consistent kindness, encouragement, and good humor, ​​Clem Wiser was Palo Alto’s all-time winningest coach in any sport. He earned league coach of the year multiple times and the California Coaches Association basketball Coach of the year in 1982. His boys basketball teams won 401 games and nine league championships — a feat that ultimately made him a member of the CA Coaches Hall of fame