John Williams is surrounded by contentious paperwork in his Lodi office.
He's the assistant commissioner of the Sac-Joaquin Section, monitoring but not necessarily policing the actions of 197 high school athletic departments. This means Williams' daily duties include looking into player transfers, league realignment possibilities and myriad complaints that someone is trying to pull a fast one with residential-eligibility rules.
And his mood after work this winter? It's a different sort of anxiety that brews within Williams this one filled with pride and emotions of a father wanting the best for his son.
Josh Williams has worked wonders in his first season as varsity boys basketball coach at Liberty Ranch High School. The Galt campus is still so new some of the infant trees struggle to take root, tilting in the wind.
John Williams was a weeping mess in the stands Wednesday night at Tokay High in Lodi, a few miles from his office, after his son's team pulled the biggest upset of the section playoffs, regardless of division or gender. Liberty Ranch upset top-seeded Colfax 64-59 in overtime of a Division IV semifinal, earning a trip to Sleep Train Arena today for the championship game against second-seed Summerville.
Liberty Ranch, the No. 4 seed, embraces being the dark horse.
"Josh was running around like a fan, hugging everyone, and I was in tears," John Williams said. "Now they get to play for a championship. From our role, we see a lot of teams come through (Sleep Train). Some come every year. For others, it's a once-in-a lifetime dream. The Sleep Train experience is for the kids, and to see them and their coaches feel important, it's an experience they'll never forget."
"I know my dad is loving this," Josh Williams said. "He's been a great mentor to me. My dad was emotional after that game and so was I. It was good to cry."
The Williams family is deeply rooted in Galt. Williams' 86-year-old father, Gordon, has watched Galt athletics since the 1930s. John Williams has observed or chronicled Galt sports for 50 years. He's a 1974 Galt High graduate, his son a 2000 Galt grad. Williams worked at the Galt Herald newspaper, a town staple, for 24 years. He did it all writer, editor, production "everything but run the press," Williams said.
Williams has worked closely with section Commissioner Pete Saco for 12 years in the fastest-growing section in the state. With growth comes change.
It pained Williams and many longtime Galt residents when Liberty Ranch opened five years ago. Nothing cuts into the heart of a one-school town more than a new school opening. Galt High athletics have taken a hit. Player participation is down, as are the victories. Liberty Ranch athletics, meanwhile, have surged.
The Hawks' varsity basketball team won four games in its debut season two years ago. It won six last year and now has 22 victories. It's a quantum leap, with the poised Josh Williams and scoring leader Michael Meserole (25.4) leading the charge.
"The city of Galt is not a mecca of athletics, and splitting the town with two schools didn't make it better," Williams said. "Liberty Ranch has been great for this town. I see a lot of old-timers from the community stopping by games. It's been just an amazing season. I saw Josh's team in a preseason scrimmage and thought, 'Holy Toledo. Can they win?' Josh said, 'Dad, they'll be pretty good. Just watch.' He was right. So proud of him."
In an effort to keep his son loose, Williams is using humor. After the win over Colfax, Williams cracked, "Son, now all you have to do is win the title or you take it to your deathbed."
Later, he teased his son that this ride is similar to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's "Miracle on Ice."
"We just beat the Russians!" Williams said. "What do you mean we have another game?"