Father’s Day Special: APU Basketball Hall of Famer, Cliff Hamlow, 87, Serves as Son’s Assistant Coach at Glendora High School

Jan 30 2021 01:37:35

Father’s Day:

By Brian Reed-Baiotto, Sports Editor

Cliff Hamlow’s decency is rooted and buoyed by his faith in God.

And it always has.

For almost seven decades now, Hamlow’s impact on thousands of young lives has been that of teaching responsibility and accountability through tough love.

His former athletes rave about a man who had the ability to discipline and challenge them every step of the way, but all the while, they never doubted his motives.

Hamlow served as Azusa Pacific’s first men’s basketball coach between 1954-1982, and then again from 1986-1989.

He won nearly 600 games at his alma mater, and it helped earn a spot in both the APU (1991) and NAIA Coaches Hall of Fame (1980).

Fast forward some 66 years later and Hamlow is still affiliated with APU as its Vice President for University Projects.

In 2001, they paid him the ultimate tribute by naming the floor ‘Hamlow Court’ inside the Cougars gym.

We’ll get into the long list of Hamlow’s accomplishments later in the story, but for the purpose of honoring a man on Father’s Day, it’s the last 24 years serving at the side of his 46-year old son, Gordon Hamlow, that takes precedent.

It all started back in 1996.

At the age of 22, Gordon Hamlow had just begun his coaching career as an assistant at Baldwin Park High School.

Just five games into that season, the Braves head coach was offered a job with the Oregon State football program and Hamlow took over by default.

At the time, finding assistant coaches, especially for a rookie, wasn’t an easy row to hoe.

Hamlow reached out to a Hall of Fame coach, who also happened to be his father.

“Gordon asked if I could help him coach at Baldwin Park, and I told him I was still working full-time at APU,” Cliff Hamlow said. “I let him know that I could be there nights and weekends and that I’d give him my best.”

Cliff sat on the bench with his son and kept stats.

In their first tournament setting together, which came immediately after he took over the head coaching reigns, Gordon said he could see a look in his father’s eyes like he had something to say.

As Gordon recounts it, “I asked what he’s got,” and Cliff got into a defensive crouch in the Don Lugo High School wrestling room to impart some of his unlimited and unfiltered knowledge of the game (to the players).

Twenty three years and three programs later, and the 87-year old Hamlow is still on his son’s bench.

Gordon led Baldwin Park for five years, spent 13 at Rowland, four at San Dimas and the last two at GHS.

There are actually three generations of Hamlow’s on the Tartans’ bench, including Gordon’s 26-year old son, Eddie.

Gordon’s pedigree is pretty impressive, including his work with two of the most successful basketball coaches in the San Gabriel Valley’s history.

He’s spent time learning from both his father and Glendora & Damien legend, Mike LeDuc, who is nearing the 1,000-win plateau over his Hall of Fame caliber career.

“When I was younger, I thought I knew it all,” Gordon said. “Now, having been around him this long, I know what he’s going to say before he says it. My dad has a lot of knowledge on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, but it’s his work ethic at age 87 and his ability to connect with people that I admire most. There have been many times after a game where I’ll look around the gym and see him coaching up a player one-on-one and you can tell the kids really respect him and what he has to say.”

You might think that Hamlow caught the coaching bug from his legendary father, but it was actually an experience his sophomore year that helped the 16-year old decide what he wanted to do for a living.

While coaching at GHS, LeDuc tried to get as many of his athletes to mentor third and fourth-grade players in a ‘pee wee’ league, and after running out of varsity players, he asked Gordon to step up.

From that moment on, Gordon Hamlow has spent more than half of his young life as a devout proponent and coach of the game.

In a Thursday night phone conversation from Idaho, Hamlow said he started filming games for his dad all the way back in 1984.

He was just 11 at the time.

“It was just a great experience,” he said. “I got to see my dad build relationships with people, teach them the game of basketball, and he also taught his players life lessons that would apply for the rest of their lives. One thing that really caught my eye was his willingness to give kids who had made mistakes in their lives the second chance to be successful through sports and tough love.”

A number of GHS players acknowledged that Cliff still has the same passion and no BS mentality.

Glendora’s premier player in 2019-20, Hayden Dykstra, put it this way: “Cliff Hamlow always pushed us (players) to do more, and he never took any excuses from us, and held us to the highest standards.”

Fellow 2020 senior, Christian Bidolli, marveled about Cliff’s impact on players that are 70 years his junior.

“Cliff Hamlow was my varsity basketball coach for two years, yet from day one, I knew he was much more than any ordinary coach,” Bidolli said. “Senior, as my fellow teammates and I referred to him, was someone who pushed for the best out of his players, both on and off the court, helping them develop into great players, but even greater young men. He taught us the importance of respect, integrity, and most importantly, fundamentals. Cliff Hamlow has had a positive effect on me and other athletes as a coach and will continue to leave a lasting impact on everyone he gets the opportunity to teach.”

When & where did Cliff Hamlow’s life/career begin its ascent:

Cliff and his beautiful wife June met at APU in 1955.

She was the student-body president and went on to teach at the school for 45 years.

Just this past week, Cliff and June celebrated their 63rd year of marriage.

The couple has three kids, including Darrell (60), Sheryl (58) and Gordon (46).

They also cherish all nine of their grandkids (Demi, John, Kyle, Kurtis, Zach, Alyssa, Eddie, Brianna and Donovan).

Gordon Hamlow has been married to his wife Connie for the last 18 years, and he adopted Connie’s son Eddie, and daughter, Brianna.

From day one, Eddie Hamlow said that Gordon and grandparents, June and Cliff, have treated them like they were born into the family.

“Some words that come to mind when I think about my grandpa and dad would be: integrity, caring, selfless and passionate, but most of all to me, they are role models,” Eddie said. “From a young age, I was able to not only see how hard they worked on the court to improve each player, but more importantly, the passion they have for instilling the same positive qualities that they instilled in every one of their own children. They’ve always stressed the importance of integrity and hard work. A person’s success doesn’t mean anything if they didn’t take the right steps to achieve their goals. They are both the most competitive people I know. To this day, my grandpa, who is 87, and my dad, 46, will be up till 2 or 3 in the morning and breaking down game film from the night before, and then setting up practice plans. To put it simply, they care for and treat every player like they are family. Sometimes that means building a player up when he is down, while other times it could be pushing a player on or off the court to be the best version of themselves. There aren’t words to describe the impact they’ve had in my life, I am just grateful and blessed to be around them every day.”

Eddie is a chip off the old block, because he’s become a very solid, respectful and dedicated young man in his own right.

Connie and Gordon’s 17-year old son, Donovan, will be a senior at GHS when classes resume in the fall.

Cliff’s professional & educational background:

Although he’s known simply as ‘coach,’ Hamlow has an academic resume that is equally as impressive as anything he accomplished as a Hall of Fame coach and person.

Dr. Hamlow earned his bachelor’s (Educational/Biblical Literature) at APU in 1956, a Master’s (Physical Education) at USC in 1965 and his Doctorate in Educational Administration from Walden University in 1976.

As Cliff was nearing his 70’s, friends and community members approached him to run for the Glendora City Council, which came at a time of great turmoil for this city.

In fact, Cliff’s election came just after a number of sitting councilmembers were recalled from office.

In all, he served as a member of the council, Mayor Pro Tempore and the Mayor of Glendora from 2004-2005.

His greatest accomplishment, aside from restoring a chemistry within the council, was turning ‘Sports Park’ into the now remarkable “Louie Pompei Memorial Sports Complex,” which is named after a Glendora police officer (narcotics agent), who was killed in 1995.

“I felt it was really important to be part of a movement in which you work for the people who vote you into office and not the other way around,” Hamlow said. “I am really proud of what was accomplished while I was there and of the people I worked with. They put the city of Glendora first.”

Cliff Hamlow’s lasting impact:

Cliff’s human value is far more than just being the first APU basketball coach, one of the founding members of the GSAC (conference), the GSAC commissioner for 21 years, a Sunday School teacher and worship leader for nearly 40 years.

He and June are equally revered for the way they make people feel welcome and loved.

And they most definitely walk the walk.

In today’s age, where people turn their heads away from controversy in politics or elsewhere when it’s convenient, Cliff and his wife were always inclusive, loving and giving.

In fact, one of the reasons they bought their Glendora home was because it had enough room for Cliff’s players/coaches and June’s Spanish (class) students to come over and hang out, eat, pray or all three.

Another great trait of this amazing couple is the fact that yes, they are devout Christians and they’re willing to pray with you or host bible study sessions.

But equally as important (and noble), they don’t pressure anyone who isn’t interested or comfortable in discussing the bible, and they certainly don’t think less of people who don’t share the same passion for one religion or another.

In speaking to a number of Hamlow’s former players, they each described the now 87-year old man as someone who could tear you down when you needed it, but always did it with a hand on your shoulder to let you know it was out of love.

He taught them that confrontation isn’t always a bad thing and that good can come from it.

Jim Wilson, who is the all-time assists leader in school history, told us this doozy of a story that served as quite a valuable life lesson:

“I went up to Coach Hamlow early on and I wasn’t playing much and I told him I thought I deserved more time on the court,” Wilson said. “Coach said, ‘oh yeah, whose minutes should I give you,’ and I named one of our guards thinking it was between us. Well, he said, ok, and brought me with him. In front of that player, he told him, ‘Jim thinks he deserves your minutes, what do you think about that? And before I could leave, I had to tell both of them why I believed I should play more. It made things really awkward, but it taught me that if you have conviction in something, fight for it.”

Another moving example was that of Gary Johnson, who played at Muir and Long Beach City College before Hamlow brought him to APU.

Since his time with Hamlow, Johnson has gone on to be a coach, husband, father and probation officer at Muir.

“I was one of the few black people at APU and it was also my first time at a Christian school, and from day one, Coach Hamlow showed me love and treated me like everyone else,” Johnson said. “He was like a father-figure to me at APU. Growing up and being away from home, if I had a problem, I could call and ask for help. But if you weren’t taking care of business, he could also get in your face. However, he’d come back to you and make sure you were OK. Every time I see coach, I feel like crying and giving him a hug for all he’s done.”

Cliff Hamlow is a great man, but he’s far from perfect.

In fact, he’d be the first to tell you that he’s as flawed as anyone else.

And from time to time, Cliff will good-naturedly throw his weight around.

One of the more humorous anecdotes to back that claim is the following conversation shared with us from longtime GHS trainer, Kurt Dykstra, and it goes something like this:

Cliff Hamlow: “Does anyone know how to turn on the air conditioner in the weight room?” Kurt Dykstra: “Cliff, we don’t have an a/c unit.”

Cliff Hamlow: “This is ridiculous. Who do I need to talk to?”

As mentioned earlier, the Hamlow’s and LeDuc’s are not only part of a very elite group of area basketball icons, they are also friends.

This might surprise Cliff, because until Friday’s phone conversation, LeDuc said he had never shared this story with anyone.

“Cliff is a great friend and I’ve had a lot of helpful and memorable conversations with him,” LeDuc said. “What sticks out as a young man, though, is walking into his office at APU and seeing a basketball with the inscription ‘500 wins,’ and it became an aspiration of mine to get a ball like that and to pursue excellence by doing things the right way.”

Of the thousands of young people that Cliff Hamlow has crossed paths with, perhaps none was affected more than former Cougars baseball player turned legendary APU baseball coach, Tony Barbone.

Barbone came to APU with little money and even less family backing at the time.

Said Barbone: “Coach Hamlow is an unbelievable servant and a true man of God. He is the ultimate role model of what it’s like to be someone who cares deeply about people. When I arrived as a confused young man, from a broken home, and without much direction, he took an interest in my growth immediately. He challenged me while loving me. It was certainly not a bunch of hearts and flowers, but his tough love was always followed by his wisdom and sensitivity. He wrapped his arms around me as he did with so many other students at Azusa Pacific. I truly needed his love and leadership at that time in my life. There is no question that without his direction and his partnership with our baseball coach, Tom Nelson, my direction in life would have been very different.”

Lastly, we asked Hamlow to touch on how much his wife has meant to his career and life, his role as grandpa, why he’s still coaching, why he had both success and longevity as a coach, and the trait his son carries that impresses him most.

“June has always been there and without her support and love and her dedication to raising our kids, I couldn’t have done what I did over my lifetime,” Cliff said. “Our home has always been an inclusive place for anybody to come, whether it was my players or her students. She’s such a giving person and loves to cook for all of our guests. She was the student-body president and went on to teach Spanish for 45 years at APU, which is where we met.

I love being a grandpa and enjoy watching them grow and following their successes. When Gordon married Connie, June and I welcomed Connie as well as Eddie and Brianna into our family like they were born into it. We don’t think of them for a second like they aren’t blood family. They are our family and we love them. I think I’ve had success over a sustained period of time, because I listen to people. I was able to deal with all sides of an issue. My goal is always to treat people right, because as a Christian, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I treat people as brothers and I want people to have a fair opportunity.

I’ve also enjoyed watching Gordon’s growth as a man and a coach, and I am very proud of the character he displays and the passion in which he teaches the game and his ability to affect young lives. He’s also a passionate school teacher as well. Coaching with him keeps me young and gives me purpose in the sunset of my life.”

On behalf of everyone you’ve mentored, happy Father’s Day, Cliff.

And the same goes to all of the great father’s in the SGV, state, country and world.

Your work, time and influence is invaluable.


Former APU baseball coach/current PCC athletic director, Tony Barbone: “During my time at APU as an employee, my first thought as a teacher and coach was how grateful we are for being able to raise our girls in the environment provided to us at that time and led by Coach Hamlow. He took a gamble on a young, energetic coach, who had a lot to learn. It was much harder than I thought it would be, but he was always there to help, listen and correct me when necessary. Though our relationship was different than in years past, his love and leadership never changed. He continued to be a mentor, who challenged us to be great on and off the field. I recall conversations, where our stubbornness would at times get in the way of a resolution. However, in retrospect, I think he knew, and I knew that I was a lot like him. Maybe that’s why I frustrated him at times? I am forever grateful for the love, care and leadership that he provided at different times in my life. Coach Hamlow continues to support our family as he did in both my “tours of duty” at APU. I am happy we had a chance to chat recently, so I could again share how grateful and appreciative I am for his love and Christ-like leadership that he has always provided. Happy Father’s Day, Coach. You have been a father to so many. God Bless.”

Cliff’s son & Glendora coach, Gordon Hamlow: “I’ve learned a lot from my dad, but what strikes me most is his ability to build relationships with people. I’m not nearly as good at that as he is, and it’s something I want to get better at. He’s never afraid to say what he’s thinking, but everyone knows that if he gets on you, it’s because he cares and believes in you. I’m not stupid. I know my dad is 87, and I treasure every moment we have together. To be able to share our passion and love of the game of basketball for the past 24 years on the bench together, and to now do so with my son, Eddie, is beyond priceless.”

Cliff’s daughter-in-law, Connie Hamlow: Cliff has been a blessing from God. He’s also a kind and loving man. He is opinionated, but it all comes from a place of love. I admire him a great deal for his ability to keep pushing through life, his connection with God and his tireless work ethic.”

Former APU player and coach, Gary Johnson: “He was like a father figure to me at APU. I was there from 1978-80, and going to a Christian school was quite different for me, but he was always there for me. Growing up and being away from home, if I had a problem, I could call and ask for help. He had a bible study group, and he didn’t pressure us to come, but I knew I was always welcome to. I took a lot from him as a coach and a man. If you weren’t taking care of business, he would get in your face. But then he’d come back to you and make sure you were OK. There weren’t many black people at the school, but there were never any issues. He didn’t care what color you were, he was there to help you. He gave a lot of us an opportunity to play and get a good education. Every time I see coach, I feel like crying, because of the ways in which he’s impacted my life. He taught us discipline and he knew how to relate to all of his players. I wanted to emulate the discipline part and being there for the athletes when I became a coach. He also didn’t care how good you were, because if you didn’t do your work, you weren’t going to play.”

Damien coach, Mike LeDuc: “He’s obviously a legend. He’s also a great friend and I’ve had a lot of helpful and memorable conversations with Cliff. I remember walking into his office at APU as a young man, and he had a basketball with the inscription of “500th win,” and it became an aspiration of mine to get a ball like that and to pursue excellence and doing it the right way. His success was because he did it right and he was very good at it. From afar, one of his real strengths was holding everybody accountable. If you don’t do it right, he made you do it again. Gordon coaches and carries himself much in the same way.”

Former APU player/Glendora administrator, Dr. Kent Bechler: “Coach Hamlow was in many respects the first mentor that I had. I came to Azusa Pacific to play basketball and during that time, we developed a coach/player relationship that evolved into a lifelong friendship. Coach was demanding, opinionated and tough on our team, particularly me, but we knew he cared deeply for us as players and he was always quick to provide assistance and support when needed off the court. He challenged me to be focused on the court. Off the court, he challenged me to deepen my faith in Christ and to become a person who contributes to those with whom I came in contact. He was quick to give an encouraging word, to provide his perspective on things, and to lend a hand when needed. Coach Hamlow is a role model and friend. Happy Father Day, Coach.”

Former APU player & assistant coach, Jim Wilson: “Cliff took a chance on me and I played guard for him during my sophomore through senior year. He’s influenced my life as much as anybody, maybe even more than my own father. I played for him and was one of his assistants and Cliff was a no nonsense type of guy. He could put you in your place, but never took his arm off your shoulder so you knew he cared. He also never backed down from confrontation. He knew it wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, his style of not shying away from confrontation is what I take with me to this day. I thank him so much for believing in me before I believed in myself. He changed my life.”

Former APU baseball player/current Rio Hondo College baseball coach, Mike Salazar: “Dr. Hamlow (we call him Coach) has always been a great mentor in my life, going back to my days in college at Azusa Pacific University. I was in a Bible study for athletes that coach led, and it was great to be around him once a week in that setting. Coach has a hand shake that can crush bricks, but his heart is as soft as a pillow. Coach was for me, a great example of a Christian man, who was a great guy, and at the same time, a fierce competitor. He has impacted my life more then he knows, and I will always be appreciative of the time he put into my development as a young man. I recently saw coach last year in the Glendora High School gym, where he was helping his son Gordon with the GHS varsity basketball team. I shook his hand, gave him a hug, and went home and iced my hand. The old man still has it!Happy Fathers Day, coach. Thanks for all that you do!”

APU graduate & father of GHS player (Christian Bidolli), Greg Bidolli: “Cliff Hamlow first came into my life while I was a student at APU in 1986. As a young man trying to push boundaries, he helped me stay focused on school and make good life decisions, as only Coach Hamlow could do. It helped me be able to graduate with a BA degree from APU in 1989. Fast forward almost 30 years later (Spring of 2018), and he is helping coach my son in basketball at Glendora High School. What I witnessed over the last two years was a person with a passion to teach the game of basketball and give his time to all of the boys in this program. He teaches them basketball skills and also helps develop these student/athletes into fine young men.”

San Dimas assistant principal, Rita Kear: “I have to tell you that Cliff was such a great blessing to our basketball staff the years Gordon coached here. For our boys who had no role model of dad or grandfather, “Senior” as they called him, became that role model to so many. Coach Hamlow would mentor and coach kids not only about basketball, but life. So often, when these boys would return to campus, they would ask me ‘is Senior here? I want to see him.’ He is an awesome man, who I get to call my friend, and he’ll always be a Saint to me.”

Former APU player & San Dimas basketball coaching legend, Gary Prestesater: “You couldn’t ask for a better man. He goes to church, lives a Christian life and treats everybody the same. His success was because of the way he treated people. He always had good and challenging practices and conditioning was something he focused on. We were always prepared to compete against any opponent.”

Editors Note: This site is going to honor an SGV area mom and dad on Mother’s & Father’s Day, who went above and beyond for their children, school and community.