Paul “Wally’’ Seaver’s love of basketball and commitment to his players was never more evident than in his final season on the bench at Wellesley High, coaching the junior varsity boys’ program.
Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, during that 2010-2011 campaign, the lifelong Milford resident summoned the strength and the will to coach every game.
His last game as coach was against the Natick JV squad, two years ago this week. The 53-year-old lost his battle with ALS on Tuesday morning, and his funeral services were Friday.
“We knew before the season ended that it was a struggle for him,’’ recalled Wellesley High athletic director John Brown. “He had voice issues that made it hard at times to be clearly understood.
“But he kept coaching and even helped out the varsity during the playoffs after his season was over, and that’s what Paul was all about. He was an inspiration to everyone at Wellesley High. It was never about him, but about giving back.’’
Seaver began his coaching career in 1983, as a junior varsity assistant to close friend Steve Manguso at Milford High.
Recalling Seaver’s final coaching role, Manguso said, “He had been away from the high school game for a few years, and was so excited and happy to get the opportunity at Wellesley and to coach again.
“Paul’s influence on the youth in our community was his legacy and his devotion to his family, and their devotion to him was unwavering.’’
During Milford’s home game Tuesday against Mansfield High, the spectators chanted “We Love Wally.’’
A 1977 graduate of Milford High, where he played basketball and football, Seaver was the varsity boys’ coach at Franklin High from 1989 to 1999. His 1998-99 squad won the Hockomock League title.
For the next eight years, he coached his two sons, Paul and Daniel, through the Milford Youth Basketball program. He was president of the Milford Amateur Basketball Association from 2001 to 2008, and was chairman of the Milford Youth Center Commission.
Seaver was recognized by the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association as Assistant Coach of the Year in 2011. In October of that year, the Milford Youth Center’s facility was renamed the Paul F. Seaver Gymnasium.
But the greatest and most touching tribute was paid to him by his older son, Paul M.
A former basketball captain at Milford High, Paul Seaver organized an invitational 16-team high school tournament last July at Milford High and Milford (East) Middle School in his father’s honor. Each squad paid a $275 entry fee, with the proceeds added to ticket sales and corporate and individual donations and presented to Compassionate Care ALS, a Falmouth-based organization that aided the Seaver family and supports ALS research. ALS is a progressive neurological illness that affects approximately 30,000 Americans at any given time. There is no known cure.
Paul Seaver surprised his dad with the news of the upcoming tournament on Father’s Day last June.
“He fought valiantly, but ALS breaks you down. During his ordeal he always put family first. He was able to attend my brother’s high school graduation last year,’’ said Paul, the freshman basketball coach at Canton High. “And when we played at Franklin High on Jan. 15 — where my dad coached — he was at that game for me.’’
Other ALS fund-raisers in Seaver’s honor included a volleyball tournament organized by his other son, Daniel, a basketball game between the Wellesley and Milford varsity teams, and a charity basketball event at Wellesley High.
Caroline Harrington, a senior captain on last season’s Wellesley High girls’ team, wrote a poem honoring Seaver in the fall of 2011. It was published by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.
“Though my time knowing him was short, I will never forget him,’’ Harrington wrote in a preface to her poem. “He was a part of my basketball family. Sadly, our charity basketball game probably will not result in a cure for this horrible disease.
“However, our entire basketball community — from elementary school CYO kids to varsity boys’ and girls’ programs — was united for the love of the game, and for the sake of a great man.’’
Harrington, a freshman at Hamilton College, said Wednesday that she shared an e-mail correspondence with Seaver, and had a chance to talk with him at a Milford-Wellesley basketball game last season.
Seaver asked that her poem be recited at his funeral Friday.