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SCV coaches and administrators: Returning the favor

Local sports figures are now helping kids find the same love for athletics that they enjoyed

Posted: February 28, 2010 10:11 p.m.
Updated: March 1, 2010 4:55 a.m.

(From left) Hart girls basketball head coach Zach Koebel, Canyon boys basketball head coach Chad Phillips, Saugus athletic director Kevin Miner, West Ranch athletic director Dody Garcia, Hart golf coach Pete Calzia and Canyon athletic director Rich Gutierrez are still very active in prep sports in the Santa Clarita Valley after playing at local ...

 
There isn’t much about Santa Clarita Valley sports that doesn’t bring back a fond memory or two for Dody Garcia.

Garcia has coached or taught at every high school in the William S. Hart Union High School District except for Golden Valley. She became West Ranch High’s athletic director when both schools opened at the same time in 2004.

Forget stumping her with local sports trivia.

Garcia kept stat books for some of the valley’s best football teams for Brian Stiman at Valencia High and Harry Welch at Canyon High.

She’s part of a host of local teachers, coaches and administrators who grew up in the area and have come back to spread the passion for sports they found as student-athletes.

And they do more than recollect history.

They continue to shape it, leaving a legacy that seems to perpetuate itself.

Garcia can rattle off several names she’s had in her classroom or on the court who now roam the sidelines with their own teams.

“That’s what happens when you’re old,” she says with a laugh.

Garcia saw Nate Sparks’ vertical leap in her 11th-grade physical education class at Valencia High in 2002, and she suggested he try out for the junior varsity volleyball team, which she coached.

He eventually earned a spot on the varsity squad that won a CIF title the following year.
 
“We had a really good team my senior year,” Sparks says. “I was probably one of the shortest middles in the CIF, but we were able to get the job done thanks to great teamwork all the way around.”

Now he coaches both boys and girls volleyball at West Ranch.

Garcia also remembers watching Rocket Collins — who is now the varsity boys basketball coach at Valencia — while he was a player at The Master’s College in the mid-’70s.

Back then, The Master’s was known as Los Angeles Baptist College, and Garcia recalls asking for Collins’ autograph as a star-struck teenager.

“It was a small town back then, and sporting events were a big deal,” Garcia says. “He was one of my idols.”


A reason to return

Many coaches have come back because they were so profoundly moved by their high school experience that they want to share the positive impact it had on their life.

Canyon boys basketball head coach Chad Phillips says two things stand out from his high school playing days.

“I think I played with one of the best players ever to play in the valley in Greg Minor, and I believe I played for the best coach around in Greg Hayes,” he says.

Phillips adds that Hayes, Canyon’s former head coach who is now on the coaching staff at Valencia, inspired Phillips to the profession because of the bonds he builds with his players.

“I think I’m the way I am today because of (Hayes),” Phillips says. “I would have run through a brick wall for him — any of us would have. He just had this presence (as our coach) where you just didn’t want to let him down.”

Phillips was fresh out of college when he returned to teach at his alma mater, and then he got a chance at the job he says he always wanted.

“It was meant to be,” Phillips says. “I hate to say I walked into it. I was a teacher on campus, I was so young and naïve.

“I was so excited. I thought I was ready. I tell you I’m probably a 100-times better coach now than I was then.”

He still managed to lead the Cowboys to a Foothill League title in his first year in 2001, a feat he duplicated in 2006.


The more things change

Phillips says he also remembers a 25-point upset loss to Hart his senior year against a team that featured current Hart girls basketball head coach Zach Koebel, who was a junior at the time.

Koebel remembers well, too.

“That was our big rivalry in the ’90s. There was no Valencia, Golden Valley or West Ranch, and in 1994, Canyon had Greg Minor, Charles Woodard. … They were picked to be the team to beat,” Koebel says. “We put the wax on them.”

Koebel says that even though he’s coached for both Canyon and Hart, rivalries and loyalties die hard.

“It was so long ago, but it’s tough, you know,” Koebel says. “The feelings don’t go away. I still get more fired up as a coach to play Canyon than I do for any other team in the league, and I think it goes back to that.”

Kevin Miner, Saugus’ athletic director who played football there as well, says encouraging this type of school pride and sense of community among his students is one of his main goals as AD.

“I coached football this year, but going out to support the other sports, I think that’s just something that I remember as an athlete at Saugus,” Miner says.  “We loved going and rooting on our classmates. That was something that I’ve tried to continue on, and gain that student body support.”

The time, memories and dedication that go into playing sports help create a community with familial bonds, says Rich Gutierrez, Canyon’s athletic director who also played football at Saugus.

He says he didn’t necessarily grow up in the Santa Clarita Valley, since he used to live in Huntington Park.

After moving to the area to attend Saugus, he developed friendships with teammates and rivals, many of which continued as rivals became teammates when he played at Los Angeles Valley College.

Gutierrez describes a trench mentality that develops among teammates on football teams and a respect for opposition that develops.

“It’s probably the camaraderie we build over the time we put in,” Gutierrez says, referring to football. “I wouldn’t want to take anything away from any sport, or put one sport over another, but you truly rely on everyone else to be successful.

“And I mean the conditioning. I mean every player regrets it, I know I did myself as an athlete, but you look back and that’s what you remember — the sweat and the smell of the grass. I think that’s why you come back. You want to create those same memories because it’s so special to you.”


A little help from friends

When it comes to hiring coaches, Miner says that if a candidate is an alumnus, there are no guarantees but it can help get a foot in the door.

“I think it’s a little bit of an advantage,” Miner says. “Do we give preference? Not necessarily. We’re always looking for the best person in the best situation.

“When we did the hiring process for the boys soccer coach, (Seth Groller) was a guy we knew who was being groomed by (Nate Wright) to take over, so it was a slam dunk. But we still asked him the same questions we asked everyone else.”

It also came up when a Saugus grad was hired as the baseball coach in 2005, he says.

“We knew John Maggiora was very interested,” Miner says. “It came down to we had him and a gentleman from Crescenta Valley who were pretty neck-and-neck. But it was something that we did consider, because (Maggiora) knew the tradition of Saugus baseball and he knew how successful it has been.”

He says coaches who have gone through a program have a unique understanding of these traditions and pride, which are invaluable team-building tools.

Mike Herrington, Hart’s athletic director and head football coach, says more than half of his football staff is from the area or played at Hart.

That includes Herrington himself, who is a Hart alumnus.

He estimates about half of the coaches at the school are also local products.

That includes Pete Calzia, who played baseball at Hart and has coached football, baseball and golf over the years.

Calzia says his calling to come back home came from former Hart Principal Laurence Strauss in 1984.

Strauss remembered watching Calzia pitch for the Indians before Calzia left the area to play college baseball.

“(Strauss) called me up and said, ‘I want to interview you for the math job, and I can tell you right now you’re going to get it,’” Calzia says.

He added that the challenges that come with teaching in the classroom and coaching on the field have their own rewards that keep him coming back.

“When you teach high school and you coach at a high school, there are lots of things that go on every day. It’s not a boring job,” Calzia says. “If you’ve ever raised a teenager, you know.”

 
The legacy lives on

Before Canyon and West Ranch faced off for the Foothill League girls basketball title on Feb. 11, a few of the Cowboys players recognized Garcia’s name from stories.

As she introduced herself and wished the players good luck, one smiled and says, “Tell them who you really are.”

As a 10th-grader, Garcia was the point guard on a team that won Canyon’s last league championship in girls basketball in 1973. She still talks to several of her teammates from the squad, including Margaret Neill, who’s now the athletic director at Paraclete.

“The things I remember most are the relationships,” Garcia says. “I still stay in contact with a lot of athletes I’ve coached, and that’s the part I like about passing the torch on to the next generation — having a positive impact. That’s the reason we get into teaching in the first place.”

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