His eyes were puffy and red, his heart heavy. Every step assistant coach Chris Lugo took out on the Canoga Park High football field Friday night made the lump in his throat grow bigger.Firebaugh High School is one of the newest high schools in the LA area, opening in 2005. Current seniors will make up its first graduating class -- a quaint detail for this football game at one of the Valley's oldest schools, no? More on Canoga High and Mr. Lugo...
But this is where he was supposed to be. His father, longtime Canoga Park football coach Rudy Lugo, who died Tuesday at age 60 after a two-year battle with lung cancer, would want it that way.
"This field," said Chris Lugo, "is the place we shared the best times of our lives."
Both teams observed a moment of silence for Rudy Lugo before Canoga Park's game against Firebaugh of Lynwood on Friday night. The players on the other side of the field had probably never heard of the man known affectionately in these parts as "Mr. Canoga," the guy who grew up down the street from the school, starred for the Hunters as a baseball player and football player, came back to teach and coach just as soon as he graduated from college, then never left the sidelines for the next four decades. ...
Canoga Park has always been one of the Los Angeles Unified School District's smallest high schools. But most people here look at that as a good thing. The kind of place where four generations of the same family would go to school. Where guys like Danny Argott and his brother Arthur Argott come to cook hamburgers and hot dogs for the booster club every Friday night long after their own sons and daughters have graduated.Read it all here. I'll confess to being slightly annoyed that I couldn't find the score at the Daily News. But that rather fits with this Jan. 14, 2003, article the paper links as part of "remembering Rudy Lugo."
"I was born right down the street and you could hear the football games every Friday night," Danny Argott said.
For the past 40 years, Rudy Lugo was the patriarch of that big family. The guy parents trusted to teach their sons right from wrong, the guy a troubled kid went to for help when he got into a tough spot.
"To me, he was just my dad. I don't know if I ever understood the magnitude of the situation. How much everyone cared about him," Lugo's daughter Melissa said. "But I do now. Every day he lived his passion, every day he made a difference. ... You know how people say someone lived a good, long life. Well, my dad didn't live a long life, but he lived a good life."
In his obituary Wednesday, it was written that Lugo was a wrestling coach, football coach and teacher at Canoga Park. It's amazing how inadequate words can be sometimes.
"He was a great man, and he taught all of us to be men," senior football player Jeffrey Monico said. "He treated all of us like sons. And he taught us how to be men. He taught us about respect, about life, how to respect and treat women. He talked to us about being a good father."
As a coach he was tough, but respected. When he spoke, the entire locker room was silent. If he yelled, you could hear it from across the field.
Then later that night, you'd get a phone call around 10:30. It was Lugo, calling to apologize for yelling, making sure you knew he did it out of love.
"I got a few of those calls," Manary said. "When he'd yell at you, you'd get like the fear of God. But what he was saying was always right. And you knew he loved you."
It was a little strange then, to celebrate Lugo with a moment of silence.
That big, booming voice was as much a part of Lugo as his generous heart.
But maybe this was just one of his inspirational speeches. One that made every player in the locker room grow silent. On this night, in one quiet moment, the silence did the talking.
Coach all right without all-starsRead it all here.
The Daily News recognizes the top high school football players and coaches in the region today with our annual All-Area team.
The group of standouts we've selected represents the best of the best this year from a region that consistently produces major-college standouts and future professional stars.
No one from Canoga Park High is on the team.
And as far as Hunters coach Rudy Lugo is concerned, that's perfectly fine.
While schools like Birmingham of Lake Balboa, Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks and Hart of Newhall produce championships and stars, Lugo's mission is to produce good people. If he succeeds, he reasons, he's as successful as any coach anywhere.
Sure, Lugo would like to win like those other guys. But the Hunters simply don't have the players. The school's relatively small size (2,000 students) and the fact open enrollment allows the best players to transfer to other schools make it a long shot to win a championship.
With that in mind, Lugo stresses the value of commitment, discipline, teamwork and effort with no guarantee it will ever be rewarded. And, every once in a while, little Canoga Park will upset a big, bad team to show the players it's OK to dream.
Making the most of a little, the Hunters finished 4-6 last season. Hardly a disgrace, particularly if you take Lugo's perspective.
"It would be nice to have Division I college players," Lugo said. "But that probably won't happen. So you work with what you've got, and there is nothing wrong with that. If you're working as hard as you can to be the best you can be, no matter how good that happens to be, you have nothing to be ashamed of. That goes for players and coaches."
As all good coaches do, Lugo painstakingly prepares his players for each game. The players might not know at the time but, if they're paying attention, they absorb a lot more than a series of schemes.
That's where the losses can come in handy, as tools to teach critical lessons that winning can't provide.
"Our responsibility is to help teach kids to deal with all the situations they'll experience in life," Lugo said. "It's attitude. It's about how do people react to situations. That's the most important thing because that enables a person to deal with the daily frustrations of life. So what they learn on a football team, which is a family, they can take to their own family should they encounter problems with finances or health or even disagreements among themselves.
"Hopefully, some of the habits and work ethic they take from their experience playing football will help them in the future."
Oh, I found the score in the Long Beach Press-Telegram: "Canoga Park 26, Firebaugh 6: Tim Wilson ran for 190 yards and two TDs to lead the Hunters (3-6) over the Falcons (1-7)."
Meanwhile, folks are writing their remembrances, thank yous, and farewells on a board set up at the school.
And after Tuesday's funeral mass, all are invited to a funeral potluck meal at the school.
Yeah, that's my high school. We're Les Libres, the Class of 1977.