NORWALK - From 1971-82, Bob Foerster was the feisty head coach of the Cerritos College men's basketball team. A real tactician, Foerster posted a 209-118 record during his tenure, which included three conference championships and two appearances in the state championship game. On Wednesday, June 24, 2020, Foerster passed away at home in Coloma, located next to the American River in Northern California.
Upon his retirement from coaching, Foerster was inducted into the California Community College Men's Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1983 and was inducted into the Cerritos College Hall of Fame in 2018.
"Bob was more than just a good friend," said Richard Juliano, who was the Athletic Director at Cerritos College at the time Foerster was employed at the college, and then became a neighbor after moving into a home on the other side of the river. "He was a great coach, a great teacher and a great educator. His office always had students in there seeking advice and he shared all he could with them. He had a great impact on many of their lives."
Not long after the conclusion of the 1981-82 season, Foerster was teaching his night tennis class when he caught himself stumbling while teaching. He needed two hands to turn the key on the ignition of his truck for the 10-mile ride home. He staggered into his Rossmoor home and dropped into bed. The next morning, on March 23, 1982, he awoke paralyzed. He was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which attacks the lining around nerves and interrupts electric impulses from the brain, and is a painless disease. It does not attack the brain, although the physical disabilities often suggest the appearance of brain damage.
The disease forced him to retire from coaching, and he spent 3 1/2 months on life-support systems in an intensive-care room and another 15 months in a hospital rehabilitation ward. He lost 80 pounds. He could not talk for months and did not walk for three years. When Foerster finally got on his feet he required braces and later, a walker. Eventually, he came back to campus to teach, and was asked by then-women's basketball coach Karen Welliver if he would be interested in serving as her assistant coach.
"I was looking for an assistant coach and a I asked around,"Welliver said in a 1984 interview. "Everybody told me that Bob had just returned, so I asked him and he accepted."
The addition of Foerster to the women's basketball program had a long-lasting impact, although he spend just one season on the staff. Welliver stated she was "a sponge" when he talked about his offensive plays, and even continued to incorporate many of his plays in years to come. The following season, Welliver led the Falcons to the first conference title in school history and advanced to the state tournament.
One of Foerster's best coaching performances came during the 1974-75 season when he led the Falcons to the state championship game. Struggling with a 7-12 record, the team went on to win eight of their nine final regular season games to win the conference title and advance to the post-season. They opened with a 76-75 overtime win over Santa Rosa Junior College, before a 47-45 win over Compton College, who was the #1-ranked team in the country at the time. They lost in the championship game to Los Angeles Harbor College.
One of his assistants that season, Jack Bogdanovich, went on to serve as the team's head coach after Foerster was forced to retire due to his illness. He led the Falcons to the state championship in his first season.
"Bob was one of the most organized coaches I have ever worked with," said Bogdanovich. "He was a great leader who was passionate about everything he did and it carried over to his teams. With enough time to prepare, Bob could beat any team at any time. He was incredibly innovative and implemented the aspect of incentives that were well ahead of the times. Working with Bob totally changed my life and I learned so much from him. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to tell him how inspirational he was to me."
A seldom-used guard during the 1976-77 season, Lorenzo Romar spent the following summer following the five items that Foerster noted on a 3x5 card in which the coach felt he needed to improve. He told Romar that he was going to be his starting point guard the following season, although the starting guard the previous season was returning. Romas was ineligible in the second half of his freshman year after failing a class.
"I was on the verge of not coming back and was at my lowest point after I became ineligible for the second half of my freshman season," said Romar, who spent five seasons in the NBA and is now the head coach at Pepperdine University. "Coach Foerster told me I had the potential to be a good player, but said I needed to get better and stronger. Once I had that academic situation, I never let that be a problem ever again. Coach gave me a summer job where I would unlock and lock the gym each day, which gave me the time I needed in the gym to work on my game. He treated me like I was his son and wanted the best for me. He treated my parents like family and became a great mentor to me."
Foerster came to Cerritos College after a very successful coaching career at Bellflower High as a basketball and tennis coach. In his nine years as the Bucs head basketball coach, they won a pair of CIF Championships and advanced to the playoffs in five of those years. While coaching tennis, he guided his teams to 107-2 record and won seven league titles.
He coached the Falcons to five 20-win seasons and won four conference championships, while he was named the conference's Coach of the Year four times and was voted the state's Coach of the Year in 1975.
Although he was forced to give up coaching and retired, Foerster never saw his passion to compete diminish. Upon his retirement, the college's athletic staff bought him a universal workout machine that he used to improve his strength. In fact, on the day he passed away, Foerster spent the morning in the gym working out.
"Bob remained competitive and was always active," said Juliano, who he and his wife Beth visited with on a regular basis after moving to Northern California. "Beth and I visited Bob and (wife) Sandy at his house on the American River not long after his retirement. While we were sitting on the deck chatting after dinner, we noticed a house across the river and mentioned that the view from there must be amazing. Bob mentioned that it happened to be for sale, so Beth and I bought it and we remained very close ever since. We all had dinner together on a regular basis, while Bob and I used to work out together three times a week. In the last several years, our wives would play cards and Bob and I would just sit together and talk."
All who interacted with Foerster walked away with more than what they had before their encounter. He may have been hard-nosed on the court, but he was viewed by all as someone who only wanted to best for everyone.
As he stated in a 1984 interview, less than two years after his illness, "I cannot look with pity on someone more handicapped than I. And I cannot look with envy on someone with less of a handicap."
(John Van Gaston, Cerritos College Athletics)