By Brandon HENSLEY
While his personality may have been rough around the edges when dealing with those that covered his team, Dan Berry was one smooth operator when it came to guiding his Lady Falcons softball team on the field for the better part of three decades.
All of this will be remembered as the Falcon community will hold a service for the late coach inside CV High’s MacDonald Auditorium on Nov. 19 at 11 a.m.
Berry, 65, died Oct. 26 at Verdugo Hills Hospital. He suffered two seizures at the school on Oct. 11 before going into cardiac arrest. He was taken off a ventilator the week before he died, in the hospice wing of the hospital.
Berry’s legacy at CV, as well as around the Southern California prep sports world, was well cemented long ago. He helped start the softball program at the school in 1983. He left to coach L.A. Pierce College from 1995 to 1997, but returned to the Falcons in 1998, where he stayed for good.
The numbers are simply dominant for Berry; a 570-117 record, 20 Pacific League titles – including one this past year, shared with Burroughs – a 240-24 league record, and a CIF Southern Section Championship in 1986. (CV also won league titles in 1995 and 1996.)
According to his former and current players, Berry’s sometimes hard personality toward the media belied his reputation as a father figure who was well respected.
Former league MVP and 2011 grad Erin Ashby called Berry the heart and soul of the program.
“He [cared] so much about his own players, and about their lives, beyond softball,” she said. “He worked to get players better, not only in the field but as better people.”
“The level of respect everyone had for him made them want to work hard and give all they could,” said senior Allison Lacey. “The program’s pretty much built on respect.”
Berry also had a penchant for telling jokes, albeit corny ones. Sabrina Walentynowicz, a senior captain on the 2007 team, recalled one of the jokes he frequently used on the girls.
“What do you call a potato with glasses?” she recalled. “A spectator.” After a while, she said, “everyone just finished his sentences.”
But maybe not so surprisingly, Walentynowicz said, Berry even had a reason for using that one. His point was for everyone to not sit on the sideline, to get in the game and participate.
Last week, Lacey and former teammate Nikki Salas both got tattoos on their backs of a softball with the coach’s name on it and the initials DIG, which stands for “Dang I’m Good,” something Berry often made his players say to themselves if they made an error or were feeling down.
“If he got a smile out of everyone, that was a good day for him,” said Lacey.
Now he’s not there anymore, and the players feel his absence as they practice and condition in the fall.
“It’s just different,” Lacey said. “He’s not out there to say hi everyday making us smile with one of his corny jokes. Some of the seniors will say a joke of his and everyone smiles.”
It was only this summer that Lacey drove Berry in his car to Burbank to watch a softball game. But it wasn’t until they got off the freeway that Lacey realized she hadn’t taken the emergency brake off, and the car started to smoke. From then on, Berry would jokingly ask Lacey, “Do you smell that? That’s my car burning.”
“He wouldn’t let me live that down,” said Lacey.
Still, it always came down to softball with Berry. He was meticulous, competitive, and he left a winner.
“He was out there two hours before games prepping the field,” Walentynowicz said, “ he was out there every day raking the field even the day after it would rain, making sure everything was all right. Softball was so important to him.
“I feel for the team at CV now.”
The family is making a video/photo tribute to the coach for Nov. 19 service. Anyone with photos of Coach Berry are invited to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.