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Alum Chic Hess Carries on Lessons from Trenton Junior College and Basketball Coach Howie Landa

7/18/12


West Windsor, N.J. – Today, alum Charles “Chic” Hess ’64 (Liberal Arts) lives in an oceanfront home on the beautiful island of Kailua, Hawaii. Recently retired from a highly successful career as a basketball coach, educational administrator and teacher, Hess says he is busier than ever, volunteering as coordinator of a weekly basketball clinic for teens ages 12 to 17 and serving as the Board of Governors Representative of the Southwest District of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

“Since my youth, basketball has been my first love and passion.  And my passion has been my job.  I am one of the luckiest people in the world.  I often reflect on the fork in the road that has made it all possible,” Hess said.

A standout basketball player at Bishop Egan High School in Fairless Hills, Pa., in the early 1960s, Hess admits to having spent considerably less time focused on academics during high school and had no plans to attend college.   Then, during a pickup basketball game in the summer of 1962, he met Howie Landa, the new basketball coach for Trenton Junior College (TJC, now Mercer County Community College). Landa was looking for players.

“God had to be looking out for me that fateful day when Coach Landa altered the course of my life,” Hess said.  “I was one of eight kids in my family and attending college for me was only a dream.  I did not have the academic background that would have predicted college success.”
Hess says his experience at TJC was nothing short of life-changing. “Howie and TJC were the perfect person and college for me at that period of my life.  Without Coach Landa’s influence, I shudder to think what my life would be like today.  It was definitely a fork in the road – an almost a 180 degree change of direction.”

At the no. 2 starting guard position, Hess says he could shoot and score, but still had much to learn.  With no gymnasium, the Vikings practiced at the Levittown YMCA.  “Our practices consisted of four-on-four battles – with Coach Landa as the most feared player on the court.”

Hess proved a fast learner. “I was learning the game and how to score from the greatest coach that any of us had ever met. He amazed and fascinated us with his knowledge, common sense, and passion for the game.  He made learning fun and easy as we won almost all of our games,” Hess recalled.

Hess’s many wonderful memories include hitting the road with the team. “As a kid I never traveled far from my Philly home, and now I was traveling to New York City and other places new to me.”

His most remarkable experience was the trip to Hutchinson, Kansas, for the national tournament – a first for the college and Hess’s first time on an airplane.  “I remember getting an upset stomach on the small commuter plane from Kansas City to Hutch,” he says.

The tummy ache was worth it. “In Hutchison, it was like Mardi Gras for the entire week as the town rolled out the welcome mat for us.  I met so many interesting people.  Suddenly my world expanded,” Hess recalled.

While they didn’t win the title, the Vikings had much to be proud of.  In Hess’ two years under Coach Landa, the Vikings won 53 games and “I learned how to play from the greatest coach around.”

MCCC Alum Charles “Chic” Hess ’64
Today, Hess volunteers as coordinator of a weekly basketball clinic for teens ages 12 to 17 on the island of Kailua, Hawaii, where he currently resides.

Hess admits that academics proved more of a struggle.  Having come to college without important academic fundamentals, he says, “I started at the bottom and slowly learned how to study and organize my academic work.”
With help and nurturing from all his TJC instructors – “especially Doc Donahue, who taught biology, botany and zoology” – Hess graduated from TJC and transferred to East Stroudsburg State College, where he continued to play basketball and began to shine academically.

“I eventually realized the importance of education,” Hess said, who earned both his bachelor's degree (1968) and his master’s degree (1972) in Health and Physical Education. He also earned his certificate as a Secondary School Principal from the University of Pennsylvania and a supervisor certificate in Health and Physical Education from Millersville University.

Hess started out teaching Physical Education in the Pennsbury, Loyalsock Township, and Lebanon School Districts in Pennsylvania, and then served as an assistant principal at Lebanon High School.

As a basketball coach, his career followed a similar trajectory of success.  During his years in Pennsylvania, his high school teams accumulated a 230-81 record, and he was honored with three Coach-of-the-Year awards (1978, 1979 and 1982). In 1979, he coached the Pennsylvania All Stars in the Dapper Dan Classic.

In 1986, Hess earned his doctorate degree in Professional Leadership from Brigham Young University.  With the highest GPA in his class, he was selected as class valedictorian.  He coached basketball at Brigham Young University-Hawaii during the 1988 and 1989 seasons and was recognized as the NAIA District 29 Basketball Coach of the Year.

Back on the mainland, Hess returned to his community college roots, first serving as an academic counselor at Columbia Basin College in Paso, WA, and then at Arizona Western College in Yuma, where his team advanced to the 1991 National Junior College Athletic Association final.  Following in the footsteps of his former coach Howie Landa, he was named Coach of the Year.

After making a permanent move to Hawaii in 1992, Hess continued as an educator through 2007, teaching physical education and serving as a vice principal at the elementary, middle and high school levels. From 1993-2005, he organized and directed the Hawaii Coaches’ Basketball Clinic. In 2010, he coached the Academy of the Pacific boys’ basketball team to the state playoffs.

Hess also authored a well-received book, “Prof Blood and the Wonder Teams: The True Story of Basketball’s First Great Coach” (Newark Abbey Press, 2003), which documents the philosophy, strategy and contributions of Professor Ernest Blood, a visionary coach at Passaic High School in the first decades of the 20th century.  In his review of the book, sports commentator Dick Vitale wrote,This text by Chic Hess is fascinating as it details Blood's brilliant accomplishments plus his passion for the game. The research by Hess is mind boggling…”

Reflecting on his long career, Hess said, “In my own way, I am doing what my friend Howie Landa has done: I have devoted my life to helping kids be successful.  And, like Howie, basketball is my tool.”

Hess wants young people to know that “teachers and coaches are your friends.  Let them do what they love to do.  Your job is to help them teach you.  Read and learn as much as you can because education is the key to a better life.”

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