Mason Nesbitt: The mom behind the football men

(Left to right) Sons Mike Herrington, Dean Herrington, mother June Wooley, and son Rick Herrington pose for a photo after a Paraclete High game this season. Courtesy photo

Someone was missing.

The Paraclete High of Lancaster football team had just defeated Mater Dei of Chula Vista to advance to Saturday night’s CIF Division 3-AA state title game.

Amid jubilant players and exuberant coaches, Rick Herrington looked left and right and over his shoulder.

Nearly everyone had departed Antelope Valley College’s field by the time the foremost fan arrived.

The holdup?

A security guard wouldn’t let June Wooley — the mother of Paraclete head coach Dean Herrington and Hart coaches Rick and Mike — onto the playing surface.

But, like a high-motor defensive end, Wooley wouldn’t be denied.

“I told him to get out of my way,” the 76-year-old Newhall resident says.

The man was nice, she says, and simply trying to do his job. But no one, and almost nothing, can keep Wooley from her boys and their games.

Born in Oklahoma, Wooley moved to Newhall in the 1940s and has been attending Hart football games for 63 years. When Mike, 58, Rick, 56, and Dean, 52, became coaches, she followed their teams all over the state and the country.

Saturday night she’ll be back at Antelope Valley College, riding again the waves of emotion intrinsic to having a son in a headset.

Does she get nervous?

“Very nervous,” she says.

Does she feel it when her sons lose?

“I don’t like to lose.”

It’s always been that way for Wooley, who attended Newhall Elementary before moving on to Hart High.

She married Chet Herrington in 1957 (the couple split up around 1980) and always wanted a daughter. Instead, she had three boys. But she hardly seemed to mind.

The family lived out in Placerita Canyon, and Wooley joined Mike, Dean and Rick in tossing a football around and blasting softballs up into the branches of surrounding oak trees.

She constantly encouraged them.

When Mike tried out for a football team at 8 or 9, he struggled with the agility drills.

He was “too big and clumsy” and found somersaults particularly trying.

“She took me out in the yard in between practices, and we worked on somersaults,” he says.

And there lies a juxtaposition.

Rick describes his mom in two ways.

First, she’s kind.

“Anyone can call her up about anything, and if she can do it, she will do it for you,” says Rick, whose son, Todd, one of Wooley’s seven grandchildren, recently asked her to cook a dish for a goodwill dinner at Hart.

Wooley, of course, said yes.

But, Rick says, Wooley is also hard-nosed and tough.

In the 1970s, she became disgruntled because the Hart coaching staff wouldn’t play Rick at quarterback, instead sticking him on the offensive line.

“I said, ‘Mom, I’m heavier and not very fast. You have to be able to move a little bit,’” Rick says.

Wooley disagreed.

Mike also played offensive line at Hart, while Dean starred at quarterback, earning All-CIF honors in 1981.

Wooley rarely missed games then, and that didn’t change as her sons transitioned to coaching.

Rick became Hart’s freshman coach in 1978, taking over the sophomore (junior varsity) team in 1980 — the same year Mike became a varsity assistant.

“She always tells us we’re the greatest and the other people are the enemies and ‘Don’t be afraid to play dirty against them,’” Rick says. “She’s a tough lady.”

Dean became Rick’s offensive coordinator in 1984, and the team went unbeaten the next four years.

When Mike was passed over for the head varsity job in 1988, the three brothers left for Bellflower High, where Mike took the head job.

Wooley wasn’t overly pleased that Hart hadn’t picked her son.

But the Bellflower gig was short lived. Mike returned to take the Hart job in 1989, and, naturally, Rick and Dean assisted him.

That started a 12-year run of Hart winning four CIF titles and 11 Foothill League crowns.

Wooley believes respect was the key to her sons working well together.

“They respect each other’s opinions,” she says. “They may not agree all the time, but the majority of the time they do.”

Life was simple then. Wooley knew she’d be at every Hart game, home or away.

“It’s just an adventure,” she says. “I don’t mind traveling to watch my sons.”

In 1995, that meant flying to Honolulu, Hawaii, to cook for the Indians as they prepared to play St. Louis School.

Wooley, who operated a catering service for more than 15 years, readied breakfast and lunch for the team for 10 days.

It wasn’t her first herculean effort, either.

Back in 1988, she put on a barbecue for the Bellflower team to help generate interest in the woebegone program.

“She made beef sandwiches for 300 to 400 people,” Mike says. “And she did it out of her own pocket.”

After the 2000 season, Dean left to take a job as the offensive coordinator at Occidental College before moving on to the same role at College of the Canyons.

Alemany High hired him as head coach in 2006.

Dean’s return to the high-school ranks meant Wooley had to be strategic.

She asked her sons which games on the schedule were most important and which were almost-sure wins. Then she mapped out her Fridays.

She always wanted to be fair.

On roughly two occasions, she hasn’t been at one of her sons’ games on a Friday night.

She had the flu.

Around all that football, she picked up the sport’s ins and outs. She knew Paraclete, for instance, had to gear up to stop the run in last week’s 34-18 win over Mater Dei.

A cover-two defense?

“If I saw it probably,” she says.

Wooley always greets her sons with a postgame hug and gritty advice.

“She always tells us we’re the greatest and the other people are the enemies and ‘Don’t be afraid to play dirty against them,’” Rick says. “She’s a tough lady.”

The unfading familial support has rubbed off.

Dean returns whenever he can to the press box at Indians games, providing an extra set of eyes.

Rick (who joined Dean at Alemany in 2008) and Mike have returned the favor, attending the last four of Paraclete’s 2016 playoff games.

Rick sits in the booth and offers defensive advice.

Dean, who has served as the offensive and defensive coordinator in this his first season at Paraclete, has the Spirits on the verge of a state title after beating Los Altos of Hacienda Heights in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 final and controlling last week’s state semi.

Wooley has enjoyed watching Paraclete develop from an underdog into a contender.

She surely finds it all the sweeter coming the season after Alemany fired Dean because it wanted to take the program in a different direction.

“I thought it was very unfair,” she says.

So consider this fair warning: Antelope Valley security guards should be on high alert tonight.

Nothing keeps Wooley from her boys.

Paraclete plays Menlo-Atherton tonight at 6 p.m.

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