A coach. A teacher. A father figure: How a community was brought together to save Coach Gano


Daniel Pahutan

Students, athletes, coaches, and parents crowd the room as they sit in silence listening to a football player speak on behalf of Coach Gano. The environment was filled with emotion and tension. “One school, one family” was evident on this night.

Brandie Altuna and Kaitlyn Valenzuela

“He’s safe!” whispered Principal Dr. Cabrera, as she walked out of the Chino Valley Unified School District office. I felt some relief leave my shoulders, but the concerned feeling that sat in the pit of my stomach was still there. As I approached the door to the boardroom, hope continued to fill my heart. Somehow my mind was made up; I needed to hear from a football player that Coach Gano had all the support he needed and that he would be staying at Don Lugo High School.

Daniel Pahutan
About 200+ people showed up to support Coach Gano. It was surreal to see how many people cared for their beloved coach. The community was brought together on this night.

Determined to have their voices heard, I saw over 200 Don Lugo students, parents, community members, and coaches piled into the boardroom at 5130 Riverside Drive in Chino with handmade posters that said, “We Love Our Coach!,”  their support was unprecedented and unwavering. One by one, football players and parents trepidatiously stepped up to the mic to explain how Coach wasn’t just their coach, but a father figure. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

A 6’7, 340 lb. offensive lineman was just one of several football players who broke down at the podium while explaining to the school board, just how much Coach Gano meant to them. The toughest football players who do not typically show their emotions “allowed themselves to be vulnerable and honest to rightfully save a man’s job.” Coach Gano is not just a coach on the football team, but he is also a teacher. It’s his teaching job that has become his livelihood; an occupation that is worth fighting for when it became something he lives off financially.

Daniel Pahutan
Football player Daniel Munguia gives an emotional speech on behalf of Coach Greg Gano. He was unable to finish speaking and broke down. This was an emotional site to witness and brought many others to tears.

Devastation arose when news circulated that Coach Gano would possibly not be returning to Don Lugo after allegations were made that still remain confidential. On behalf of this tense situation, a school board meeting was scheduled to be held that would address the potential fate of his job. Lugo parents and students took to social media with the hashtag “SaveGano” to stick by the beloved coach’s side and fight to keep Gano’s position as not only a coach but a teacher.

The Chino Valley Unified School District board meeting was overflowing with community members, friends, and everyone a part of the Conquistador family. Posters were made, voices were heard, and tears were evident as 20+ people went up to give their testimony about Gano and the impact he had on Don Lugo. A few student-athletes barely made it through their powerful statements, fighting back tears knowing the board had the final say.

“Not only was it one school, one family, we weren’t just going to lose a football coach, [we were going to lose a member of the Conquistador family],” comments Principal Dr. Cabrera. She had an idea that a number of supporters were going to show up but she did not know that many people would attend. Coach Gano later saw pictures of several students who went and commented, “there were kids from my P.E. class. They had told me ‘Coach, we’re going to be there tonight!’ And they don’t even play for me, these are students!”

That itself speaks volumes. There is a completely different relationship between coach-athlete and student-teacher. But the people of Don Lugo were quick to knock down any barrier that said otherwise; because no matter who he was to those students, they still gave him their unconditional support.

Daniel Pahutan
The cheerleaders sit on the floor of the boardroom as they listen to the testimonies of community members.

But the reason why he does what he does is that taking care of kids is his passion. It has almost become his duty and that is exactly what coaching means to him – taking care of kids. Coach Gano has provided for so many of his athletes and makes sure that they have all the necessary needs in order to live and breathe.

It’s an enormous wonder as to why a coach like Greg Gano is one of the most selfless men in this community. Parents, teachers, students, and other Chino residents observe Coach Gano in amazement and awe because he has done the absolute most for many of his student-athletes. So what exactly transformed him into the man that he is today?

Growing up, life wasn’t just a stroll in the park for Greg Gano. His childhood wasn’t the easiest of them all and grew up with plenty of hardships that he has wholeheartedly taken into consideration and were practically life lessons that made him want to care for others; young adults to be exact. However, growing up without a father was a significant hardship for him.

Greg’s family was struggling financially and having an absent father made it difficult for all of them. When he was little, his local church would provide a wonderful Christmas for him and his mother had priests stop by at his house because his mother was not able to do that all on her own. And that is exactly what he does now for the unfortunate kids in his life today.

He’s not just a coach to these young men. He is a father figure to all who need him. The father figure that all young men deserve.

“No young man should ever grow up without a dad…he makes sure that his players eat, have shoes, and socks,” says Dr. Cabrera. When Greg was just a young boy, one of his teachers had given him a dime. With that dime, he was able to buy an apple from the vending machine because he was hungry. And from that time, he made a promise to himself that he would do the best to help other people.

Daniel Pahutan
As testimonies are heard, the rest of the Don Lugo community can only sit and wait for the final word.

Dr. Cabrera states, “We have fathers that said, ‘this man is another father to my kid’.” A comment that can be merely difficult for fathers to say about another man. But fathers of Lugo student-athletes are proud to say that about a coach like Greg Gano.

There is a mutual respect between him and fathers. Coach Gano has made it more than clear that all kids deserve a man in their life they can go to when they need help or even if they need someone for support. This is why everyone in the Don Lugo community showed the pride they had for their coach and teacher on Thursday night.

When Gano got the news that he was going to keep his job as a teacher at Don Lugo, it’s safe to say that he was quite emotional over the phone according to Dr. Cabrera. “He immediately sat down and took a deep breath when he got the news that he would be continuing with Chino Valley [Unified School District],” says Athletic Director Coach Donoho. Both Coach Gano and Coach Donoho were located at the first round of the Girls’ Basketball CIF game at the Don Lugo gym on that same night.

As soon as word got around about where he was, everyone quickly drove over to the school to congratulate Coach Gano in person. Coach Donoho recounts, “People started randomly showing up, giving him hugs, and congratulating him.” There is no doubt that the entire Conquistador family was excited, relieved, and happy to know that their coach and teacher was safe to stay.

It really was “One School, One Family” on that day. Everyone went out of their way to make sure they were there during the board meeting to support their beloved coach. Dr. Cabrera had an emotional statement to say about this: “This is a very special place. And I’ve said it many, many times. But yesterday was so much proof and this week was such proof of how amazing Don Lugo is, our kids, and the way that they mobilize. I hope they understand and know that their voice means something and how together like they were [Thursday], their voice means something and can move people. And that’s what this community is about.”

If there was a stronger word than PROUD, I would use it.”

— Dr. Cabrera

The impact that Coach Gano has on both Don Lugo and the community, is beyond incredible. He has led the football team to win the Milkcan two years in a row and make it to CIF. He has brought the entire Conquistador family together and means something to everyone, even if they do not know him personally.

As Dr. Cabrera has said, “For Gano, coaching is about taking care of kids,” and that is exactly what he is doing and many are forever grateful for him. There is no question as to why so many people within this community love him for what he has done. Coach Gano is the epitome of what a Conquistador leader means to all and he will be continued to be appreciated by his family and friends but most importantly, his Don Lugo family