Canoga Park shows dedication to late coach LugoRead it all here. Oh, and just to show how we can keep in "in the family," Gary Miereanu is Canoga Park High Class of 1978 (one year behind me) when he wrote for what was then the only weekly newspaper in the LA Unified School District, the Hunters' Call. And I've known Gary he and my sister started Kindergarten together when I was in Grade A-1.
By Gary Miereanu Special to the Daily News
Seventy years of Canoga Park alums poured into the school Friday night for a homecoming game filled with emotions that resonated far beyond the Hunters' final winning tally.
The crowd of approximately 4,000 - including SRO stands on the home side of the field - paid open tribute to Rudy Lugo, dedicating the field in the name of their late head football coach, and retiring his No. 80 from his mid-60s playing days - the first football number to be retired in Canoga Park High history.
"The first time I saw the 'Rudy Lugo Stadium' (sign), I was taken aback," said Christopher Lugo, the late coach's son who now serves as a Hunters assistant coach. "I've been running on this field ever since, well, since I could walk. I'm very honored to have this stadium named for him, and to work at the same place he did. I know he's with me, watching me, helping me, and that makes this dedication that much more special."
Alums from 1938 to 2008 attended the game, including members of Canoga's City Championship teams from 1969 and 1981. But in a clear sign of the times, there was no candlelight ceremony - rather, the Canoga's student body president asked for everyone to open their cell phones, raise them over their heads in order to create an illuminated honor.
In between the festivities, there was a football game. Junior tailback Tom Wilson rushed for 300 yards and two touchdowns to lead Canoga Park (5-4, 4-1) to a 30-14 victory over Grant (4-5, 3-2) in East Valley League play.
And then there's Bill Plaschke's column in Thrusday's LA Times sports section:
It was a wonderful life for Rudy LugoRead the entire column here.
Poor Rudy Lugo.
For nearly 40 years he coached on a football team that never sent a player to the NFL, never brought him a national honor, never even gave him a parking space.
For nearly 40 years he worked in an office with bars over the windows, lived in a home where kids trampled the lawn, hung out at a church where he prayed in darkness.
Poor Rudy Lugo.
As the head coach at perennially modest Canoga Park High in a cluttered corner of the San Fernando Valley, he lived a life as regionally invisible as the greasy garages and doughnut shops that surrounded him.
He was on television once. He made the headlines never. He earned a $3,500 stipend for teaching kids to play a sport that most of them would never play again, in a city that would never make any of them famous.
Poor Rudy Lugo.
He died of cancer two weeks ago, and Canoga Park will never be the same.
"It wasn't like the town lost just another person," former player Ricardo Hernandez said. "It was like we lost a member of our family."
At his funeral, mourners spilled out of Our Lady of the Valley Church and huddled on the front lawn watching monitors.
After the service, when the hearse drove Lugo around the Canoga Park High football field for the last time, dozens of players and fans rushed back to salute him.
At the school, students randomly hung signs on hallways and doorways, teenage writings filled with honor and angst.
"Rudy was much more than a coach," one read. "He was a man who dedicated his life to us kids."
In the downtown streets of this 70,000-person suburb, folks stepped out of thrift shops and bakeries to remember him.
"Best coach and teacher ever," said Felisha Ibarra, who works at a wireless store adjacent to a sidewalk plaque dedicated to Lugo. "It's like everybody around here has been affected by him in some way."
For the two weeks since his death, "Mr. Canoga's" booming voice has not been silenced, but replaced by those who speak in his honor.
Listen to the sobbing middle-aged construction worker who, while spending one football season in a juvenile detention center, received an inspirational letter from Lugo that he still holds today.
"We knew our father touched a lot of people," said his daughter Melissa. "But to actually see all this . . . we had no idea."
Rudy Lugo Night at Canoga High is also covered here on the CPHS website, while tributes to Coach continue to show up on the Memoirs section of school's website.