Friday, October 13, 2006

"Canoga Park High's Lugo teaches ... about life"

Rudy Lugo was my PE teacher in 10th Grade at Canoga Park High School. This was general PE, where we played touch football (well, it was supposed to be touch football, but this 105 lb. Center was usually in the mud after "blocking" a couple of Chicanos who probably each carried twice my weight), soccer (I once scored a point for the other team with a shot off my head; I was bit better as a Goalie), basketball (you really don't want to know), track (now running I could do, finishing in the middle of the pack), volleyball (I actually played for the Hunters my senior year, receiving a JV letter!), calisthenics, etc.

Through it all, Coach always encouraged me to do my best and taught me to the best of his and my (meager physical) abilities. Fortunately for him, I was a Math major -- and I didn't wear my glasses when trying out for the Hunters' baseball team. (He was JV baseball and football coach in those days.) But neither did I bail out when Mac (legendary CPHS baseball Coach Doug MacKenzie), pitching at the baseball team's tryout, called for a suicide squeeze -- and fired the next pitch straight at my ear. I'd not gotten much wood on the ball yet, but I could -- and did -- lay down that bunt.

I didn't take any classes from him in 11th or 12 grade. But when I read the front page article about him in yesterday's Los Angeles Daily News, well, that's the same Coach Lugo I first had 32 years ago in the Fall of 1974. And for those who wonder why 14 years after being called to Zion I'm still Pastor at a declining, urban parish that some had given up for dead long before I came here, well, Coach was one of my teachers -- one that I've never forgotten -- who taught me well through his subject.
Canoga Park High's Lugo teaches more than football; he teaches about life
Article Last Updated:10/11/2006 09:50:47 PM PDT

CANOGA PARK - He speaks softly now, barely louder than a whisper.

The booming voice that has ruled the football sidelines at Canoga Park High School for 38 years is now raspy and weak.

Lung cancer and three rounds of chemotherapy have taken their toll on Rudy Lugo. He's lost weight, hair, energy - but never his faith.

"I need football," Lugo said. "Cancer is a terrifying experience. It's a monster. Sometimes, I wake up at night looking at the ceiling in my house, and I just want to break down.

"But I have to fight. And football will give me the positive attitude, the strength and the courage to fight this, to beat this."

Lugo comes to work the days he feels well enough, just to be around the students, the coaches, the game. And while he speaks softly, his words have never carried more weight.

"When he talks, the kids just go dead silent so they can listen to him," said Ivan Moreno, who has taken over as co-head coach along with Kevin Carlsen, an All-City player under Lugo in 1997.

But Lugo is still the man.

For 38 years, his image has been the same as the Hunters: tough, scrappy, making do with what you have, finding a way to overcome any limitation.

If they're bigger than you, be faster. If they're stronger than you, work harder in the weight room. If they've scored three touchdowns against you, score four.

He was never afraid of losing - only of not trying hard enough.

"It's never been all about winning," Carlsen said. "For him, it's about turning the kids into men. That's what he did for me.

"In a lot of ways, he's been like a second father."

Looking in the mirror, Lugo can recall all the pep talks he has given, wondering whether he was right - and whether he's strong enough to live the words himself.

"I guess it's my turn now," said Lugo, 58. "To practice what I've preached."

More than a coach

Word of Lugo's illness spread quickly through the football community after he was diagnosed in August. Since then, his former players have been dropping by the boys' physical-education office at Canoga Park High - one comes just about every day - to check on him.

They don't talk much about cancer, though. They come to ask how the team's doing, to hear about some of the players or to scout next week's opponent.

But mostly, they come to see Lugo.

"He's the kind of teacher you remember 20 years later because he really touched your life," said Jim Smith, who has taught P.E. with Lugo for 15 years. "It's amazing to see the players who come back year after year to thank him.

"He didn't just coach them or teach them football; he teaches them about life and how to be men."
Read it all here.

I don't expect Coach to remember me, but I'm going to drop him an e-mail to thank him and tell him I'm praying for him.

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully hear our prayers and grant to your servant, Rudy, the help of your power, that his sickness may be turned into health and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ. Amen.


Anonymous said...

It is ironic to come across the news of Rudy. I didn't have him as a teacher at CPHS, however I knew him from Our Lady of the Valley Church.
He knew my family before I was around.
I will keep him in my prayers,
Kevin Dumas

steve the legend said...

I'm really late her but I was in Rudy's P.E. class in 1973.
One day at basketball practice he told us to stop shooting because he had an announcement.
I, mr idiot, took one more shot and he yelled that he had said to hold up on the shots.
After practice he came to my locker and apologized for yelling. I told him he had every right and he said he should have never embarrased me in front of my friends.
In 30 plus years I have always tried to remember that everyone deserves respect even if I believe I am in the right.
Thank you Coach Rudy for touching my life, I hope the best for you and Nancy and your family.

Laurel Nelson said...

I graduated from Canoga Park High School in 1997 and remember Kevin Carlsen (the new coach) and also remember Coach Lugo. I remember his daughter too. I had no idea he had cancer, I hope he's recovered since this article was written.

Tawnya said...

I graduated from Canoga in 1988. Mr. Lugo was my Spanish teacher for 2 years. I don't think I would have graduated if it wasn't for Mr. Lugo. He gives everything he's got to his students. I'm so grateful and privileged to have known him and had him as a teacher. God bless his family,
Tawnya Palma (Dominick)

Pastor Zip said...

See here for an entry on Mr. Lugo's retirement and here for the report of his death yesterday. Thanks for sharing your reflections and remembrances.

Anonymous said...

Rudy Lugo was my Spanish teacher and football coach. He always took the time to speak with his students and he never talked down to them. He was a friend and a mentor to all. He will be sorely missed.

Todd Bockhorst

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lugo's funeral and memorial service were standing room only. Canoga students were given a minimum day and the reception was held there. It was breathtakenly amazing to see the hundreds and hundreds of people that turned out. I was in awe of the amount of people Mr. Lugo has touched. His daughter, Melissa spoke with strength, dignity, respect, and ultimate devotion to her parents, their lives, and their love for eachother.
I pray Christopher and Melissa have the support they need to grieve in a healthy manner.

Anonymous said...

I was very fortunate to going to Coach Lugos funeral yesturday. I was so very moved by all who came out to give support to the family. The funeral was jammed pack with people, standing room only and even tv screens outside for those there as well. I meet my husband at CPHS. He was on the football team and had the pleasure of being not only in Rudy's spanish class, but alos on the football team for two years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and all those whose life was touched by this great man.