Hoops And Hope
The enduring legacy of Coach Ernie
The event, now celebrating its 10th year, was created in honor of E.F. “Ernie” Wallengren, a Calabasas High basketball coach who died in 2003 after battling ALS for two years. Hoopfest is not only a celebration of Ernie’s life, but also a continuation of his dream to find a cure for ALS.
All proceeds go to the E.F. Wallengren Fund for ALS Research at The ALS Association. The fund supports stem cell research and was established by Ernie and his family while he was still alive.
This year’s Hoopfest is May 18.
“Hoopfest has been a wonderful way of honoring Ernie and the commitment he had to the community, while also raising funds for ALS research,” said his mother, Claire Whitaker, who helps organize the event with other family members. “It’s meant a lot to me. I tell people, ‘I’m 85 years old, and I’m not going to die until there’s a cure for this disease.’”
A television writer and producer of such shows as “Falcon Crest,” “Touched by an Angel” and “ Baywatch,” Ernie also loved basketball. He and his wife, Cheryl, raised five children, and he often volunteered to coach his kids’ teams.
He became the junior varsity basketball coach at Calabasas High School and started a club team also, reaching out to include underprivileged and troubled youth he saw hanging out at the gym.
When kids couldn’t afford uniforms or trips, he provided them. If they needed a place to stay, they stayed at his house. There were almost always extra plates at the table, and many of those kids went on to play college basketball.
At his funeral, church rows were filled with boys in basketball jerseys, saying goodbye to Coach Ernie.
After Ernie’s death, two fellow coaches suggested creating a basketball-themed fundraiser and Hoopfest was born. Initially a low-key affair, the event now features all-day basketball, a three-point shootout, a silent auction, food, T-shirts and music from radio station KOST-FM, where Ernie’s brother, Mark Wallengren, works as a morning show host.
In addition to Hoopfest, family members conduct a twice-yearly letter-writing campaign, and they established an ALS Promise Fund website in 2011. In all, their efforts have raised nearly $500,000 over the past decade.
“We get back what we put in 100-fold,” Cheryl Wallengren said. “What warms my heart is that so many of the kids he coached still come to Hoopfest, even though they’re grown up. They’ve never forgotten him.”