2010-06-25 / Sports

Wilbur singing a different tune now

Royal’s beloved athletic director makes a career change
By Eliav Appelbaum eliav@theacorn.com

HITTING A HIGH NOTE—After nearly four decades in the Simi Valley Unified School District, including a stint at Royal High since 1983, athletic director Jim Wilbur retired last week. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers HITTING A HIGH NOTE—After nearly four decades in the Simi Valley Unified School District, including a stint at Royal High since 1983, athletic director Jim Wilbur retired last week. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers Jim Wilbur has been a voice of reason at Royal High, both literally and figuratively.

A fixture at Royal since 1983, the longtime athletic director—revered as much for being fair as friendly—retired at the end of this school year.

Now Wilbur can spend time on another passion: singing.

Wilbur directs the Disney Cast Choir, and he also sings with the Conejo Pops Orchestra. The Highlander will join his wife of 38 years, Susie, with the Pops at a Fourth of July performance at Conejo Community Park at Dover and Hendrix avenues in Thousand Oaks.

Wilbur’s contributions to Royal and Ventura County sports will be remembered fondly.

“Jim is an A+ class individual,” said Matt La Belle, Simi Valley’s athletic director and baseball coach. “The CIF code is ‘Pursuing victory with honor.’ That’s a perfect synopsis of him. He does everything perfectly. He wins and he supports kids.”

Wilbur, 60, worked almost 37 years in the Simi Valley Unified School District. Multiple teams excelled while student-athletes’ grades improved under his watch.

He became the Highlanders’ athletic director in 2000, taking over for Terry Dobbins.

“I was fortunate to have good people to work with,” he said with humble sincerity.

Coaches, athletes and colleagues will miss him.

Royal honored Wilbur and his predecessor by naming the new weight room after them.

The Terry Dobbins, Jim Wilbur Athletic Training Facility opened in April. Royal athletes previously had to work out underneath the stadium bleachers.

Steve Snyder, who has coached water polo at Royal for 30 years, enjoyed working with Wilbur.

“What’s not to enjoy about working with Jim?” Snyder said. “He is so well-liked and well-respected by all the coaching staff and faculty, as well as the rest of the league, administrators and athletic directors in all of Ventura County.”

There are players’ coaches. Wilbur was a coach’s athletic director, Snyder said.

“He always had your back. Always,” the coach said. “There’s no question all of us coaches make mistakes. That’s a given. Jim was always there. He had our backs.

“So much goes behind the scenes in any given athletic program that nobody sees. Jim is so great on following up on details. He’s amazing, just amazing.”

Wilbur contributed to a healthy rivalry between Royal and Simi Valley.

“He’s gone a long way creating a very, very solid crosstown rivalry,” La Belle said. “It’s competitive in every sport, but he set it up and transformed it to where everyone’s shaking hands and hugging at the end. It’s an on-field rivalry and it doesn’t go past that.

“This is a heated rivalry, there’s no doubt about that. But this is sports, not life.”

Andy Andreolli and Kevin Corley will be co-athletic directors at Royal.

Andreolli has worked with Wilbur for three years, while Corley guides the girls’ soccer team. Wilbur will be a consultant for the new athletic directors.

Wilbur grew up in the San Diego area, helping Mount Miguel High win a wrestling section championship the same night the school’s boys’ basketball team won a section crown against Bill Walton and Helix High in 1968.

A wrestler and swimmer in high school, Wilbur majored in music and physical education at Cal Lutheran.

“I went to college, and I never went home,” Wilbur quipped.

Wilbur was an assistant swim coach at Buena High for three years in the early 1970s.

He coached Royal’s wrestling team in 1991 and ’92. Rich Carrillo, the current wrestling coach, grappled for Wilbur.

In addition to starting Hillside Middle School’s wrestling team in 1974, Wilbur also formed the school’s music program, becoming the choral director in 1973-74.

Upon moving to Royal, he rebuilt a virtually dormant music department.

His work eventually shifted into the athletic front office, where he became an assistant athletic director in 1996.

The Highlander thanked his colleagues from the Marmonte League and the county.

“Terry Dobbins was a great mentor. Brian FitzGerald (Rio Mesa), Matt La Belle, Rob Dearborn (Moorpark) and Jim Benkert (Westlake) are four of the best athletic directors to work with,” Wilbur said.

“Those four have been terrific to work with. They’ve made athletics very good in our area.”

There were three things that kept Wilbur sweating bullets in the office: a bus with no team, a team with no bus and officials who don’t show up.

“Those are the three scariest things that could happen,” he said.

While he enjoyed working with Royal coaches and students, Wilbur said he won’t miss overbearing parents who thought their children were entitled to spots on a team.

He took pride in leading a balanced sports program where multiple teams enjoyed success.

Royal volleyball, softball, wrestling, cross country, track and field, baseball, water polo, basketball and football field competitive teams, among others on campus.

“We have a bunch of kids who work hard and are competitive in just about every sport,” Wilbur said.

“Our biggest teams are not just football. That’s what makes Royal unusual and a nice place to be.”

Under Wilbur’s guidance, multiple teams have won section championships. The school won a CIF Champions of Character sportsmanship award in 2006-07.

While Dobbins laid the foundation, Wilbur continued building something special at Royal.

“We’re going to miss him,” Snyder said.

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