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Legendary Manti High School coach was also a philosopher
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Legendary Manti coach, philosopher and business owner Wilbur Braithwaite died Monday night at age 84.

Braithwaite won 534 games in 37 years at the Sanpete County school, including the 1966 state boys basketball championship. He also coached the school to 11 state tennis titles in 51 years at Manti High School.

But, beyond winning or losing, the soft-spoken poet was known for influencing thousands of lives both in Utah and throughout the United States with his philosophy about life and sportsmanship. He never received a technical foul.

"Gamesmanship never appealed to me," he was quoted as saying in a USA Today story in 2006 when he received the Award of Merit from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The coach was known for sending handwritten letters to people all over the country that usually told a story with a moral or offered down-home advice. He counted former UCLA coach John Wooden and ex-Indiana and Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight among his pen pals.

"In looking back at any competitive game, more important than the game are the friends you see and make, the unity that come to families in living the test together and the chance to risk your ego on the altar of competitive athletics knowing you may end up, in the mind of some, as the hero or the goat," he wrote in 1981, shortly after losing a state title game against Lehi. "My players had moments when they played the game with skill and courage through the tournament. Even in their poorest performance, they did not concede. They never quit. They battled to win. These are the efforts that transcend the event. These are the things that make coaching rewarding to me."

Many organizations and people recognized Braithwaite through the years.

He was named to the National Federation of High Schools Hall of Fame, the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Utah Sports Hall of Fame, the Utah Tennis Association Hall of Fame and the Summer Games Hall of Honor. Manti High School named its new gym and tennis courts after him in 1999.

But he was more than a coach.

He helped operate Manti Grocery, where he started working at age 10 as a delivery boy, packing bags of flour, sugar and produce to nearly every household in town. By the 1980s, Braithwaite's bag boys only delivered to the elderly and home-bound, so the store became a gathering place. When it was replaced with a more modern building, the original store was donated to the This Is the Place Monument, where it stands today.

Braithwaite joined the U.S. Army in 1944 as an 18-year-old after graduating from Manti High. He soon found himself in the 63rd Infantry Division fighting Nazi troops in World War II. Though he seldom mentioned it, he got caught in a minefield, was hit by a "Bouncing Betty" landmine and had shrapnel hit much of his body. It took him 11 months to recover. He said he decided to coach while pinned down by machine gunfire in France, making a vow to dedicate his life to service with young people if he survived.

According to a column by The Tribune 's Gordon Monson, he also studied and played the clarinet and the piano not just because he enjoyed music but to rehabilitate the injuries in his hands.

He attended Snow College, then Weber College and Utah State University before earning a master's degree from the University of Michigan.

Braithwaite was born on May 24, 1926. He is survived by his wife, Jane Anderson Braithwaite, and children, JoAnn, Susan, Carolyn, Paul and Stephen.

A viewing is scheduled Friday at a time to be announced at the Manti High gymnasium. His funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Manti Tabernacle.

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