Friends, family and team members – past and present – bid farewell to a man who shaped not only a sports program, but the lives of those he touched.
By Brandon HENSLEY
To know Dan Berry was to know a man who loved corny jokes, fast food, and one who valued relationships on a level that transcended what he did for a living.
A large Falcon community filled the CVHS auditorium on Saturday to remember the softball coach who reached extraordinary heights during his tenure, but also impacted many beyond the field.
Berry died Oct. 26 after suffering multiple seizures at the school two weeks prior and was taken to Verdugo Hills Hospital. He was 65.
Former CV Principal Sam Nicholson remembered the day in 1982 when he interviewed Berry for the job. Berry had garnered a successful reputation as coach of the amateur La Crescenta Condors, and Nicholson wanted the right person for CV’s new softball program, which would begin in 1983.
“When we interviewed him we said we were looking for a coach to stay for as long as it took to build a strong softball program. He told us, with a smile, he was just the person to do that,” Nicholson said.
Under Berry’s guidance, CV won 570 games and captured 20 Pacific League titles, including the 1986 CIF championship.
Kelly Schroeder is now a sixth grade teacher at Mountain Avenue Elementary but in 1986 she was part of the team that won the title.
“It was beyond amazing,” she said of the win. “Everyone still looks back at it with such pride.”
The members of that 1986 championship team have remained close.
“We do stay in touch. We are like family,” Schroeder said.
And at the head of the family was Coach Berry.
Schroeder attended the memorial with teammates. She said the tribute to him, with all those that spoke of his character, guidance and sense of humor, showed how many lives he had influenced.
“For me it was impressive to see our original team, [the other teams] and the entire community [there],” she said. “He knew the game inside and out. It was clear that he nurtured the program from the beginning.”
Nicholson also had high praise for the program Berry created.
“[The program was] dependent upon hard work, respect for your teammates and respect for your opponents,” Nicholson said adding that Berry led by example and was the perfect role model for high school girls to follow.
The large gathering of people at the memorial not only included former Falcon greats such as Heather Lindstrom, Baillie Kirker and Erin Ashby, but also current members of the Glendale High team and Hoover High coach Rich Henning.
Berry was able to touch players’ lives even after softball. Lindstrom, a pitcher for the 1986 team, said that when her husband died two years ago, Berry called her to see how she was doing, and shared with her how he dealt with grief when his wife Ruth passed away.
“He understood that life doesn’t always go as planned. But he also understood that God has a plan, and he lived his life in that truth,” Lindstrom said.
After Lindstrom spoke, members of the 1986 team stood up and went to the front, where Berry’s championship ring was given to girl’s athletic director Peter Kim. The ring will be given back to the school.
“He wore this ring with a lot of pride,” Kim said. “Coaching softball was God’s gift to him to use to serve others and to help them. He knew exactly what his assignment was on this earth.”
Over the course of the service, there were some light moments when some recalled Berry’s penchant for repeating the same eye-rolling jokes that his players had to endure every day, and stories of how much he loved meat loaf and going to Burger King.
All of this helped him grow close with his team.
“He meant the world to me and I feel so blessed for him to be such a huge part of my life,” said 2008 graduate Lainey DePompa.
“He did all he could to make our days brighter in life,” said current player Stephanie Berrellez.
After a slideshow of Berry’s life, former and current players went to the softball field, a recent addition to the school and one Berry helped make a reality. There they lined up along the first and third-baselines and added whatever comment or memory they had of him, and a banner dedicated to Berry was attached to the fence in centerfield.
Then, on a day that was cold and dark, enough sunshine broke through to temporarily warm the field for the final act, when Berry’s family members lifted balloons of Falcon blue and white into the sky. .