Graff rebounded from tragedy

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Pictured at left, head coach Glenn Graff celebrates with his Waterloo High School hoops squad following a Waterloo Round Robin Tournament title win in January 1966. The Bulldogs defeated Hillsboro (Mo.), Columbia and Valmeyer. 

(This is the final part of a two-story series on former Dupo High School basketball standout Glenn Graff, who went on to coach at Waterloo High School in the mid-1960s. To read part one, click here.)

At 82, Glenn Graff enjoys living at his homes in Pagosa Springs, Colo., and Alexandria, La., as well as traveling across the country with his wife Hilda in their new motor home.

It’s a far cry from his humble beginnings on the family farm in East Carondelet.

“One thing about being poor, I didn’t like it,” Graff told the Republic-Times in a phone interview.

Following his heralded 75-point scoring barrage to end conference play in February 1956, the Dupo High School senior was bombarded with letters of interest from schools hoping to land the prized hoops recruit.

Graff visited Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, University of Missouri and Quincy College and was leaning toward attending Quincy.

That’s when Louisiana College entered his life.

The freshman basketball coach from the private Baptist school contacted the Graff family, inviting them to visit. His name was Morris Osbourne. 

“He said his brother from St. Louis had seen me play,” Graff recalled. “The guy was a genius.”

Graff said Osbourne and Louisiana College were the only ones to invite his whole family to visit. Osbourne played to Graff’s love for the outdoors.

“Morris started painting the dream,” Graff said. “He knew I could play, but he sold the fishing and hunting. Boy, was he a psychologist.”

Graff was wooed during the college visit with fishing and hunting trips.

“The bass fishing is unbelievable in those bayous,” he said. “It’s just a special place.”

It worked out for Graff, who set the career scoring record at Louisiana College in four years while also earning a degree in 1960.

The main motivation for Graff to graduate from college was his high school sweetheart, Sandy Pulliam, and the family they created. A majorette in the school band and prom queen at Dupo High School, Pulliam  married Graff and the young newlyweds quickly had two children. Wayne is now 62 and Tonya is 60.

“What a wonderful lady,” Graff said of Sandy.

Graff continued his education, attending Louisiana Tech for a master’s degree.  As part of attaining his master’s, Graff wrote a paper about a one-minute run. He had a class of students from nearby Ruston High School run for one minute every day for three months, measuring the distance.

It was very similar in nature to the running program Graff’s father did with him to get in shape as a chubby high school freshman.

“They all improved, and many of them went on to become athletes,” Graff said. “Measuring the accomplishment helps drive you. All of my success came from that.”

Graff began coaching junior high school hoops, then became a high school coach in DeQuincy, La.

After one season there, however, Graff’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer and he wished to be closer to home. 

During a visit to East Carondelet, Graff came across an ad in the paper seeking a high school basketball coaching position vacancy at Waterloo High School.

“I called Waterloo to express interest and met with (superintendent) Walter Zahnow,” Graff said, adding that Zahnow was a “wonderful man.”

During his interview before the entire school board, Graff was asked why the district should hire him.

“Because I know how to win, and when I do lose, I don’t like it,” Graff recalled as his response. 

“That got me the job,” Graff said. “I almost fainted, because I hadn’t even told my wife I was going for it.”

Graff coached at WHS from 1963 to 1968, compiling a record of 70-56 over five seasons. His best two seasons were 1966-67 and 1967-68, during which the Bulldogs won 18 games each.

“My first year there was a nightmare,” Graff said. “My third, fourth, fifth years, we did fairly well. We brought the program around.”

Key players Graff remembers coaching at WHS include “Big” Bruce Hudson, Bryan Jost and Mike Cheney. 

Graff also coached cross country at WHS and counted runner Roger Mueller among his top athletes.

In 1968, Graff decided to return to Louisiana to accept an assistant coaching position at Louisiana Tech.

“I had too much adventure about me,” Graff remembered of that decision. “I wanted to see what was on the other side of the mountain.”

At Louisiana Tech, Graff was tasked with recruiting the first black athlete for the college.

“They turned recruiting totally over to me,” Graff said.

While at Louisiana Tech, Graff became friends with such sports legends as Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw (“I taught him how to fish,” Graff said) and former Denver Broncos quarterback Mickey Slaughter, who later became an assistant football coach at Louisiana Tech.

“Glenn Graff is one of my heroes from way, way back,” Slaughter said recently. “Glenn was a big, strong rebounding machine. We became fast friends. He was some kind of basketball player in his day.”

After two years at Tech, Graff returned to Louisiana College to serve as an assistant to legendary head coach Billy Allgood.

Graff said he was “weeks away” from being named head hoops coach at Louisiana Tech when tragedy struck.

His wife Sandy died in a vehicle crash in Louisiana, sending Graff’s life into a tailspin.

“My life went backwards for a long time after that,” Graff remembers. “You know, life is a bowl of cherries, but sometimes there’s a lemon.”

With two kids to raise on his own, Graff left coaching and assumed an assistant principal position at Buckeye High School in Deville, La.

That’s where he met his current wife, Hilda, a mother of two who had lost her husband to a freak accident as well. They’ve been married nearly 49 years.

Hilda was buying products from Amway, which sells health, beauty and home care products.

Eventually, the couple got involved in Amway themselves, tripling their income in the first two years.

The Graffs started a home-based business known as Network TwentyOne, which is a training and support organization for distributors working with Amway. 

Glenn said he is still active in that business, which has made his entire family financially successful.

“It’s been good,” he said. “It keeps me going.”

They key to this success, Graff said, goes back to the hard work, dedication and motivation to succeed that started on that family farm in East Carondelet and first came to light in the Dupo High School gym.

“You gotta keep going and keep fighting,” Graff said. “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.”

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