My Journey of
I had the good fortune of turning 100 in February! My doctor told me he’s never had a 100-year-old patient who could walk, talk and be of sound mind. Indeed, I’m fortunate.
I was born in 1918 in Oakland, CA. I attended University High School in Oakland where I played basketball and had good grades. 90% of my friends went on to UC Berkeley but I wanted to venture farther from home and after exploring St. Mary’s and Santa Clara, I enrolled in Stanford University in the fall of 1936…one of the best moves I ever made. After five weeks I was nearly flunking all five of my classes. I quickly became much more serious about my studies and turned it around with respectable grades!
At Stanford, I played basketball with the great Hank Luisetti. He was the innovator of the modern “jump shot” in basketball and is likely one player who could still play in the NBA if he was a young man today. He still holds the Stanford record for most points in a game (50). I used to tell Hank during the games, “I don’t know if they’re cheering for me to come in or for you to go out.” Last month I attended what may be my last Stanford basketball game. It was a thrill!
I earned my teaching credential at Stanford and began my Master’s Degree there but that was interrupted on December 7, 1941, with the attack on Pearl Harbor. I entered the military three weeks later and I was fortunate to play for and coach the U.S. Army Air Corps basketball team. I served the Air Corps proudly for 4 ½ years.
Following my military service I was a player/coach for an AAU team in Sacramento, a precursor to the NBA. After two years with the AAU, I took a teaching/coaching job at Monterey High School in 1947. A short time later I received a call from the great MJC coaching legend, Fred Earle, who asked if I’d like to coach basketball at MJC. I convinced my wife to move from beautiful Monterey and I accepted the position in 1948 and commenced a 33-year career at MJC where I loved the work as much the last day as the first. So fortunate to coach and teach with the outstanding men and women of the MJC faculty and staff. Earle, Pavko, Johnson, Schaake, Maroney, Fitzhenry, Boylan, Quisenberry, and many more…all wonderful colleagues. But the students and players were my greatest joy!
As a coach, I always appreciated the loyalty and camaraderie of my teams but I didn’t understand my impact in the classroom until one day a young man came from the back of the class and said, Mr. Lafaille, “you’re the only man who’s ever loved me.” Surprised, I said, “how do you get that impression?” He said, “because all semester you’ve been talking directly to ME.” It was then that I understood the true power of teaching.
Many have asked me what’s the secret to living to 100? I say: good genes, a loving family, a healthy diet with a glass of wine for lunch, dark chocolate in moderation, NO junk food, I walk my dog and ride my bike every day, and as little stress as possible!
My Journey to a
My incredible journey began thirty years ago in Mexico. My parents brought me to the United States of America when I was only a baby. I spent almost seven years here in the USA trying to acclimatize to this foreign culture and language. It was hard to be the outsider and the kid who was different in school.
At age eight, I was taken back to Mexico when my grandfather fell ill. Once it was time to return to the states my mother realized that my U.S. citizenship papers were not fully processed and I made another trip to the U.S. as an illegal immigrant. Those three days of walking and hiking the rough terrain were the worst days of my life. On that journey I promised myself that I would never be inthat position again and that I would fight to be someonein this life.
I made it back to the U.S, became a citizen, and went through the school system putting everything that I had into my studies. I pushed harder than anyone around me, both in the classroom and as an athlete. After high school I went to Modesto Junior College from 2005-2008 were I studied to earn my AA Degree in Sports Medicine.
I took one year off to work in order to provide for my ailing father as well as my mother and little sister. Once my father was able to return to work I went back to college, graduating from MJC and then the University of the Pacific with a B.A. degree. While at UOP I was fortunate to work with the San Francisco 49ers as an athletic training intern. After UOP, I got my first job at another junior college, Arizona Western College in Yuma, Arizona. While there, I completed my Master’s Degree in Kinesiology/Athletic Training from Fresno Pacific University.
I’m completing my first year as an adjunct instructor at Modesto Junior College teaching a Sports Medicine class. I’ve just made a huge career move, leaving for Fort Myers, Florida to join the Boston Red Sox for the 2018 spring training season. Then, I’ll likely be stationed as an assistant athletic trainer in Florida or the Dominican Republic with the AA or AAA Red Sox team, providing medical treatments and rehabilitations for the team until the end of the summer.
This new journey is quite scary as I’ve left behind my girlfriend of three years and my 6-year-old son along with my parents and sister…all in pursuit of a better life for me and them.
My Long Journey
My matriculation through MJC is in stark contrast with that of my four children, all MJC alumni who enrolled immediately after high school and transferred to four-year colleges to finish their degrees in the usual 4 years. I enrolled at MJC in 1949 and finally graduated from there in 1955, before transferring to Sacramento State to get my degree. What took me so long?
After graduating Modesto High School in 1946, I immediately went to work and bought my first car. After three years of common labor jobs laying track with the railroad, harvesting crops, shoveling gravel, I gained enough weight that I began to entertain the thought of playing football at MJC. My friend, Walt Ragland, who was already making a name for himself as an athlete at MJC in three sports, arranged for me to meet Fred Earle, the head football coach at MJC. In the fall of 1949 I enrolled in MJC and became one of Coach Pavko’s linemen.
When I read Bob Stewart’s featured MJC alumnus story (September 2017), I remembered how, like Bob, I also held Coach Pavko in high regard and can clearly recall how he used to growl at us linemen, saying he had a guy one year that would have “eaten your lunch.” Turns out the guy was future Hall of Famer, Gino Marchetti.
After the ’49 season I had to leave school and go back to work. I returned in the fall of ’51 and again played for Coach Pavko. During that season I clearly remember riding the bus to play Weber College in Utah and being serenaded by the voice of Harvey Presnell, starting tackle, who later became famous on Broadway and in film as Harve Presnell.
I had to leave MJC partway through the ’51 season because I was drafted into the US Army. I married my sweetheart, Billie Jean Jones, on the eve of my departure for basic training. I shipped out to Korea in the winter of ’52 and spent the next year there. Back in Modesto, after the war, Coach Pavko told me that, since I didn’t finish the ‘51 season, I still had eligibility to play football.
So at age 26, I enrolled in MJC one more time and got just enough playing time for Coach Pavko to recommend me to Sacramento State. I graduated from MJC in ’55, six years after my first semester there. That fall at Sac State I had a knee injury that finally, and perhaps mercifully, brought an end to football for me. I was then able to focus on my academics and thanks to the GI Bill I earned my B.A. at Sacramento State in the winter of ’57, with one child by then and one on the way. After the birth of our fifth child, I earned my teaching credential at Stanislaus State and had a satisfying career teaching math at my alma mater, Modesto High School.
Even though I was interrupted by a continuing need to work and the Korean War, I’m glad I persevered at MJC. My teammates, my coaches, teachers and fellow students all contribute to my fond memories of being a Modesto Junior College Pirate.
MJC Athletics Ranks #11 Out of 109 California Community College Athletic Programs Midway Through the Year
The MJC Athletics Department offers 21 competitive sports programs (11 men and 10 women), the most in its conference and the most in Northern California. Close to 400 student athletes participate on MJC intercollegiate teams. MJC’s commitment to representing the local community is proven, as 93% of the student athletes on MJC rosters in the past year came from high schools in MJC’s local recruiting area. In addition, student athletes at MJC far exceed the college as a whole in success categories such as full-time status, GPA, average units attempted, transfer to 4-year institution and average course success rate.
FALL SPORTS HIGHLIGHTS
The MJC women’s golf program led by head coach Milan Motroni, became the first ever State Championship team for any women’s sport in MJC’s history. Alyse Padilla, Shawna Ratto, Kylie Takata, Brianna Youngman, Brooke Vierra, and Janita Vongphoumy now have their names in the record books. Four of the five sophomores have since received scholarship offers to continue on to 4-year universities.
MJC football – Following their winning season and a 73-41 victory in the Gridiron Classic Bowl, MJC Football and Head Coach Rusty Stivers send off six Division I transfers: Jay Green – Southern Utah, Wyatt Clapper – Sacramento State, Brandon Dabney – Lamar, Ravon Alexander – Boise State, Mustafa Johnson – Colorado, and Michael Thompson – Eastern Michigan.
MJC’s women’s soccer program supplied the leading scorer and assist leader on the San Jose State University women’s soccer team. Both Yaritza Arista and Jamilecxth Becerra were former Pirates who starred for the Spartans. In the current academic year, a school record 11 MJC women’s soccer players were named to the Big 8 Conference All-Academic Team. Congrats Coach Steve Aristotelous.
MJC wrestling finished 13th in the state with three wrestlers finishing in the top 8 in the State (125lbs Brandon Mendoza, 157lbs William Schwertscharf, and Heavyweight Jesse Flores). Well done Coach Jesse Vazquez.
MJC men’s water polo, under the direction of head coach Eric Fischer, placed 4th in Northern California and produced two 1st-team All-Americans, Michael Hicks and Chad Nunes.
Rounding out the fall sports were men’s and women’s cross country, men’s soccer, volleyball and women’s water polo. These teams were led by head coaches Demitrius Snaer, Mary Shea, Sebastian Gutierrez, Brenda Moser and Ernie Campbell.
MJC kicked off the winter months with two major basketball tournaments. The women took 1st place in the 1st Annual MJC Women’s Basketball Tourney. The men took 3rd place in the 80th annual MJC Men’s Basketball Tourney sponsored by
Grower Direct Nut Company. Head coach Mike Girardi guided the successful seasons for both teams. Povai Fesili (women) and Jemeil King and Jaron Dickson (men) earned 1st Team All Big 8 Conference honors.
MJC has offered a vibrant athletics program since its inception in 1921. Our athletes are often some of the most well-rounded and successful community college students. My friend, Athletic Director and Dean of Physical, Recreational & Health Education, Nick Stavrianoudakis, recently shared with me the following information:
“MJC has a rich athletics history which includes NFL Hall of Famers, NBA 1st round draft picks, NCAA Final Four head coaches, MLB All-Star selections, Olympic Gold medalists and a Wimbledon champion. As part of the California Community College Athletic Association, our Pirate athletic program is committed to academic and athletic excellence, advocating the overall wellbeing of student athletes, and believing in student health and welfare, ethical conduct, accountability, and recognition of academic and athletic excellence. Success at MJC has advanced many of our student-athletes to transfer to four-year universities, oftentimes with accompanying scholarship offers.”
We’re mighty proud of our student athletes…and our alumni are as well. Just ask Leon Lafaille, who turned 100 in February! He’s a Pirate forever.
We welcome you to come out to our spring athletic contests. Enjoy baseball, golf, softball, swimming, tennis and track & field. It’s encouraging to our student athletes. See our schedule of activities at
And, we invite you to fill out the enclosed reply card and help out MJC Athletics with your tax-deductible gift. Your support ensures that MJC athletes have the proper uniforms, equipment and transportation to compete at the highest levels. Thank you for your support!
George Boodrookas, Ed.D.