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West Ranch's Dody Garcia: Sports first, life next

SCV sports fixture is finally putting life before athletics

Posted: June 5, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 5, 2012 1:55 a.m.

West Ranch’s first and only athletic director, Dody Garcia, is relinquishing her job so she can pursue an assistant principal or principal job in the future. Garcia has been involved in sports in the Santa Clarita Valley for 40 years.

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When West Ranch High opened its doors in 2004, the campus was still a work in progress.

Students were taking classes at Ranch Pico Junior High — across the street from West Ranch.

Fields of play more resembled mounds of dirt.

Football, the breadwinner sport at every Santa Clarita Valley high school, started from behind.

There were no locker rooms.

Kids had to be bused to Hasley Canyon Park in Castaic — some six miles away — for practice.

If practices ran long, the football team would get kicked off the field by youth soccer leagues.

And some parents had enough.

Their final straw was when the bus wouldn’t return the kids from Castaic to the high school.

They were livid.

During a meeting, they let West Ranch administration know that they were angry.

It got to West Ranch Athletic Director Dody Garcia.

Her first taste of a job she so desperately wanted to be good at was bitter.

So bitter it nearly brought her to tears.

After 30-plus years of being involved in sports in the Santa Clarita Valley at now five different schools, she had built a reputation for being one of the most organized, most loved and most moral people in the sports community.

Garcia felt she was in a man’s world in a man’s job — sports and athletic director.

So facing the parents, she didn’t want to show vulnerability.

She sucked up any tear that threatened to drop and maintained her composure.

A man wouldn’t show those emotions, she thought. Neither would she.

***

Dolores Garcia, nicknamed “Dody” because her dad’s cousin was also named Dolores and nicknamed Dody, spent her last day as West Ranch High athletic director last Friday.

For parts of five decades she has been one of the most influential female figures in Santa Clarita Valley sports.

Garcia, 54, gave her resignation to West Ranch High Principal Bob Vincent in late 2011 because she wanted to pursue an assistant principal or principal job in the future.

She is just resigning as athletic director and will remain as a teacher at West Ranch.

To  pursue a future in administration, she’s giving up sports to become a more well-rounded candidate by focusing more on the academic side of administration.

From her days as an athlete at Canyon High, when female athletics were in their competitive infancy in the Santa Clarita Valley, through multiple coaching stints and supportive roles in valley sports programs to her last position overseeing an entire sports program, Garcia has done it with grace, values and always with a child’s best interest in mind.

“It will be a shame that she’s gone — that’s the big down part of the story,” says Valencia High Athletic Director and longtime friend Brian Stiman about Garcia’s resignation. “That part’s sad. In this day and age with athletics, we need people like her who stand up and stand up for what is right. There are way too many people who have given up. She’s one that never did, never gave up for what is right, for what athletes should do and from the perspective of their parents. She always stood by it. Very few people do that out here right now.”

Times have changed — especially here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Stiman’s comment alludes to the many issues plaguing the Santa Clarita Valley’s high schools — kids transferring schools for athletic-motivated reasons, private schools luring talent away from the area, increasing parent complaints over playing time or disagreements with coaches.

In each case, Garcia looks at fairness as a way to make her decisions.

“Winning is not the end result,” Garcia says. “The end result is keeping athletics fun while keeping high morals and values.”

***

That belief system comes from her upbringing.

Garcia’s family was raised Catholic. Her mother worked as a retail clerk and her father was in the military and later spent the majority of his working life in service jobs.

So she learned about morals, values and service.

She had developed a love for sports from playing with her brothers and neighborhood boys.

“As a kid, she was always thought of as a tomboy, always in the street playing football with all the other kids,” says her brother Mike. “People would always be amazed how good she could throw a football.”

Garcia found a love of football through her father, Robert, who she used to watch Los Angeles Rams games with on TV.
As a 9-year-old, she remembered her mother, Irene, saying, “Bob, she’s a girl. She’s not a boy.”

“I said, ‘But mom, I like it.’”

Garcia also remembers asking her mom not to throw away the excess flour from the fried chicken she was cooking so that Garcia could use it for foul lines on a makeshift baseball field.

Garcia brought that love of sports to the Santa Clarita Valley when she moved to Canyon Country in 1971.

In the fall of 1972, she started her sports career at Canyon High School.

Back then, girls sports weren’t CIF-sanctioned.

Games would be played on “play days” where schools would get together, play a sport, then exchange baked goods afterward.

By 1973, the CIF sanctioned girls sports and Garcia was on the first-ever league championship girls basketball team at Canyon.

The diminutive point guard, despite being just 5 feet, 2 inches tall, also played volleyball and softball for Canyon.

But she showed at a very early age how dedicated she was to the promotion of sports.

For that league championship season, Garcia helped basketball coach Ardyce Masters make a banner recognizing the accomplishment.

“We made a felt banner and she would help sew it. It was the only banner in the gym for many years,” Masters says.

***

Garcia says she was on the long-term plan for college.

She wanted to become a teacher, but life and sports kept getting in the way.

From 1976 to 1979 she went to College of the Canyons and played on the first volleyball and basketball teams in school history, winning the team MVP in the 1975-76 season for the Cougars basketball team.

In 1976, she became the freshman girls volleyball coach at Canyon as a 19-year-old.

She would also coach basketball and softball at Canyon until she took a job as a Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation supervisor in 1989.

Garcia also coached JV volleyball at Hart High between 1977-79 and freshman softball at Saugus in 1979.

“One of my best coaches of all time,” says Masters, who was Canyon’s girls athletic director from 1972-1997. “She was, first of all, very knowledgeable. If there was anything she needed to do, she would learn about it. She could be tough. She’s this little person. But she had a good relationship with the girls. ... She was always exceptionally fair. She was always prepared. Always knew what her team’s job was and her job was. She’s a ball of fire.”

She had a similar relationship with the boys.

Garcia’s fascination with football led her to ask Canyon head football coach Tony Fadale in 1981 if she could do statistics for the Cowboys football team.

In 1982, when Harry Welch took over, she kept doing stats for the Cowboys and continued until 1993.

“It wasn’t a stat thing. It was a person who is so invested in the program, so invested in Canyon High School that putting statistician in front of her name is not doing justice,” says Stiman, who was an assistant coach for Canyon football while Garcia did stats. “Honestly, she was probably as important as myself and everyone else there.”

All the while, this passion for sports was getting in the way of her professional career.

At times, Garcia was holding down multiple jobs, going to school and coaching multiple programs at once.

While at Canyon, she befriended administrator Dr. Paul A. Priesz. Priesz later became the first principal at Valencia High and told her when she got her degree, he would hire her.

***

In 1999, Garcia received her bachelor’s degree in social sciences from Cal State Northridge and true to his word, Priesz hired Garcia.

“Absolutely it was a dream come true,” Garcia says.

And as soon as she got the job, she gravitated back to sports.

In ’99, she coached freshman girls basketball.

She was even a defensive backs and tight ends coach for the Valencia freshman football team in 2001.

Three years later, West Ranch High was on the verge of opening its doors.

“I have always had great admiration for Dody. I met her at Canyon in 1983 when I was ASB director at Canyon and she was an instructional assistant working in the social studies department,” says West Ranch High Principal Bob Vincent. “As a principal, it was my job and responsibility to hire an athletic director. She was No. 1 on my list because of her involvement with athletics.”

Says Garcia: “Starting the athletic program at the time, it was exciting. I was so proud and humbled that he hired me — the first brand new school in the area with a female athletic director. For him to have confidence in me in a male-dominated profession, I was proud and humbled to get the job.”

***

It’s now been eight full sports seasons for West Ranch High School, and 2011-12 was the school’s most significant and successful sports year.

The school won Foothill League titles in baseball, softball, boys soccer, boys basketball, girls tennis and girls and boys golf.
Two teams — baseball and volleyball — made CIF-Southern Section division semifinals.

Garcia has never played in any game or coached any of these athletes at the school.

Yet there are those who say she’s responsible for the success.

“She’s the backbone,” says West Ranch’s next athletic director and its first-ever varsity softball coach Cassandra Perez. “The days that are amazing, she’s there to celebrate and support. The days you want to crawl into bed and not come out of it, she’s there to say, ‘It’s OK, you can do this.’”

Back in 2004, it’s something she had to tell herself.

Since facilities weren’t finished at West Ranch High, Vincent and Garcia met with the angry parents at College of the Canyons.

“We had real questions about what the future would be, but we could see in the long run it would work,” Vincent says. “She was discouraged, but she came in there and she proved it to them with excellent practice facilities and excellent game opportunities.”

The turning point came Nov. 10, 2004.

West Ranch’s freshman football team played the other brand new school in town, Golden Valley, and fell behind 22-0 late in the first half.

In a wild comeback, West Ranch defeated Golden Valley 26-22.

Vincent remembers embracing Garcia after the game.

It was the unofficial start of the sports program.

Eight years later, the starter is ending her run, pushing sports aside for new aspirations.

On top of pursuing a different career path, she will have more time for church, charity and travel.

But sports aren’t far away. The Foothill League’s athletic directors are keeping her on as league secretary for 2012-13.

She’ll have an opportunity to play for her brother’s co-ed softball team on Saturdays — something she wasn’t able to do as athletic director.

Garcia is also planning on running a half-marathon in September.

“It’s who I am,” she says of sports. “And I like that.”

661-287-5529

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