On the European battlefields of World War II, Wilbur Braithwaite made a plea to God for protection, with a promise that he would devote his efforts to serving youth if he survived and was able to return home.
The young soldier did return home, and true to his pledge, he has worked to bless the lives of young people through his efforts as a teacher, coach and role model.It was soon after his graduation from Manti High School in 1944, where Wilbur had been a star athlete and student body president, that he found himself in hospitals in Europe and then the United States recovering from an exploding land mine. While in Germany, the young soldier had been seriously wounded. But after spending months in the hospital and being discharged from the service, he was able to regain his strength and again participate in athletics.
He played basketball and tennis at then-Weber College and Utah State University, then he was off to Michigan to pursue a graduate degree in physical education and counseling.
"I thought of coaching and teaching as the answer to my promise made on the battlefield," Brother Braithwaite recalled. The way opened up when he was asked to return to Manti High School as tennis and basketball coach - and heir to the Mel Luke legacy.
"I jumped at the chance," Brother Braithwaite, 68, said. "Manti was home, my parents were aging, and my older brother, Burke, had been killed in the war. It seemed like a calling."
Coach Luke had been Wilbur's high school coach and had built a fine tradition of athletic excellence at the small central Utah school. Unfortunately, he died at an early age of cancer, and Wilbur Braithwaite spoke at his funeral.
"Coach Luke taught me what I know of basketball and tennis. What's more, he taught me about being a gentleman. He was my good example, my role model."
Brother Braithwaite's taking the coaching reins at Manti launched a career rich in accomplishment, as well. His basketball team won a state championship in 1966 and placed second in 1977, 1981 and 1986, while claiming many region championships and other respectable state tournament finishes along the way.
His tennis teams were frequent champions, including capturing the state championship in 1993.
"Coach Braithwaite liked to win," once said his longtime friend and associate, the late Glen Goodwin, "but people always came first. Commitment and integrity were high in his value system. He was always the good teacher.
A principal with whom Brother Braithwaite had worked added: "I sometimes suspected that Coach Braithwaite picked some of his players on the basis of their need for status and self-esteem. He was above all a builder of men."
Coach Braithwaite's fellow coaches several times selected him as Coach of the Year and have invited him to speak on sportsmanship at several of their coaches conventions. In one of his talks titled "A Game Plan for High School Basketball," he decried the tendency to develop one-dimensional athletes and the drive to win at all costs. "We must," he said, "give time to nurturing both practical and cultural gifts; time to develop a historical sense of our national heritage; time to meditate about life's meaning and for a few hours for teenage day-dreaming."
During his career, Coach Braithwaite was more than once offered college coaching positions, but he turned down the offers, explaining that he didn't want to have to recruit talent but preferred to help develop the youth around him.
Another good friend of his explained the coach's philosophy differently: "Manti has an invincible hold on his heart. The local kids were members of his family to be cherished and guided."
Coach Braithwaite officially retired from teaching and coaching basketball six years ago, but he continues to coach Manti High School's boys and girls tennis teams and also operates a summer tennis program that involves both youth and adults.
And his activities continue to extend far beyond athletics. He has been a member of a bishopric and high council, involved in the Young Men and Scouting programs, and currently serves in the stake Sunday School presidency in the Manti Utah Stake. He's an omnivorous reader, plays solo clarinet in programs and is an expert fly fisherman. What's more, he is a poet, with several of his works having been published.
His poems are "romantic and idealistic and touch the heart strings," said an English teacher colleague. They reveal the inner being of a man who has helped many young people make many positive choices - both on the court and in the game of life.
The Winner's Secret
Never forget a hard defeat
in life or on the courts of play,
For that's the key to victory,
applied on yet another day.
Reborn in chambers of the mind,
defying odds that seem unfair,
Desire to try and try once more
will overcome defeat's despair.
Awareness of mistakes once made
illumes a path back to the goal
Where dying dreams take wings again
within the CHAMPION'S heart and soul.
Wilbur T. Braithwaite
Jan. 11, 1992