HomeBlocksFront-GridRemembering Coach Ray Solari

Remembering Coach Ray Solari

Ray Solari — whose excellence as a coach, mentor and educator is showcased by South Pasadena High School’s football field which is named after him — has died.
Solari died March 17 of congestive heart failure at age 95. His football teams from 1956-71 won 116 games against 39 losses and five ties, and Solari’s teams captured five Rio Hondo League football championships. Solari was L.A. Times’ “Coach of the Year” in 1969.
If it wasn’t enough, Solari coached baseball and won seven Rio Hondo League baseball championships during his time at South Pasadena High School from 1954-72.
South Pasadena High School named Solari “Coach of the Century” in 1999 and named the football stadium after him.
The stadium was originally built in the 1930s as a Public Works Administration project, and was named for President Theodore Roosevelt. Then it became the Ray Solari Field at Roosevelt Stadium after a two-day celebration in the coach’s honor. The Roosevelt has since been dropped from the name and the stadium now stands with Solari’s name only, in testament to what he accomplished at South Pasadena High School.
“Ray Solari was my coach, mentor and later my friend,” said Bill Little, a 1961 SPHS graduate. “Coach commanded respect as soon as you stepped on the practice field. He encouraged me, challenged me and made me a better player and person. By example, he might tell me to go for the gold.
“One of the greatest moments for me was at the Coach of the Century celebration. Coach looked at me in my 50s and said, ‘You look ready to suit up.’ I replied: ‘Let’s go.’”
James Tomlin who was on his Solari’s team in the season of 1960 concluded: “If you played football at SPHS for coach Solari, you’re a teammate even if you never met.”
Pete Westerfield in a note to Tomlin said that their coach was a man “of courage and honor.”
“As an adult, one often looks back on what teachers had the greatest impact on your life during your impressionable teenage years,” said Pat Forster, a 1961 graduate. “Coach Solari was more than a great football coach. He taught me what it meant to be part of a winning team and what type of leadership it takes to create such a team.”
Some of his former players waxed poetic about their former coach.
“The Duke of Wellington, after leading the British to the key battle of Waterloo, is purported to have said, ‘The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton’ (a British school),” Jim Harris, Class of 1959, said. “If men were indeed formed by high school playing fields, our general was coach Ray Solari.”
Solari was originally from the San Francisco Bay area and played collegiate football at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a two-time letter winner and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns.
He was advised not to play professionally, and after serving in Korea, he accepted a teaching and coaching job at SPHS.
Solari left South Pasadena and became head football coach at Menlo College, in Atherton, from 1972-94, where he achieved hall of fame status after finishing his career with a 108-105-8 record at the school.
Not all of those who remember Solari from his time in South Pasadena were football players. Tomlin guessed that Solari taught about 4,000 students while he was at SPHS, and many former students took his drivers education classes.
“He taught me how to drive,” recalled Marcia Hanscom, “starting at the Rose Bowl parking lot and on the harrowing, narrow lanes of the Pasadena Freeway. He told me if I could learn to navigate there, I’d be good anywhere else. I believed him.”
“I absolutely loved him. Always smiling and kind,” recalled Lorraine Bittner.
“He is still a major influence in my life nearly 61 years after leaving Tiger Land,” said David Miller.
“Coach, I too was one of the female students who took drivers ed with you,” recalled Marybeth Conklin, in a Facebook posting to her fellow alums a few years ago. “I was petrified of driving and you were probably petrified when it was my turn to drive, but no one would have known. You would quietly and calmly instruct me on what to do.”
Funeral services are scheduled for April 21 at the Church of the Nativity in Menlo Park. Solari is survived by his wife of 50 years, Constance Hines Solari; his children Robin Solari; Antonia Solari Moran (Robert); and Christopher Solari (Jennifer); and four grandchildren. Donations may be made to the San Francisco Symphony, where Solari and his wife were longtime subscribers, or a charity of choice.
Some of the memories brought up in later years made students look back with smiles, and others made them look back with pride toward the man described in his formal obituary as combining “strict discipline, quirky humor and compassion.”
All of the memories reflected a sense of pride that they had been touched by someone special.

Editor’s Note: James Tomlin collected many of the anecdotes and was a major help in providing information for this obituary.


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