Glenn thrives amid adversity

For Dan Glenn to be alone, is a rare occurrence.

Or so it seems because everyone wants to be around someone who is so high on life. Look after a volleyball match at Newport Harbor High. Coach Glenn can usually be seen smiling, giving a handshake or a hug to those who approach him to talk about his team or just about what’s going on with what’s really important, his family.

Sometimes his voice is hoarse from all the shouting he unloaded during the match. But usually there’s a smile, a grin so welcoming that it almost says, you are great and you are my friend.

It’s been this way for the past 23 years at Newport Harbor, where the gentleman coach has helped build young girls into women, boys into men, troublemakers into leaders.

Most people want to be in Glenn’s presence, but it’s not as if he wants to be alone anyhow. A husband and a father of four, a teacher and a coach of one of the top volleyball factories in the nation, Glenn will still find time to make those around him happy.

But there was a moment, a day when Glenn was grateful to be alone.

Most times, especially at an appointment with an eye doctor at UCLA, Glenn has his wife, Mary, at his side. Yet back in February, she couldn’t make it there. As a school counselor, she was needed to speak to a group of students, giving them advice for college.

But the only college that was on her mind was UCLA, actually its hospital facility.

“Mary is a worrier,” Glenn says. “But that’s what makes her such a great mother and that’s why I love her.”

If she was worried on this particular day it was with good reason.

Glenn was diagnosed with iris melanoma, a rare form of cancer in his right eye. Life could never be the same, not with the ‘C’ word around, even in Glenn’s charmed life.

When Glenn, 50, found out, he thought it was maybe best that his wife was not there. Maybe it was good that he was alone, he thought.

She would probably break down and weep. Not even his smile could stop those tears.

And what if he cried too? As it was, he was fighting back tears as he told her the disappointing news over the phone.

He had to tell her. She asked and he’s never lied to her. Well, there was that one time when their daughter, Tegan, fell down the stairs at Grandma’s house. But that was an innocent fib.

He knew he had to tell the truth this time, especially with something so serious. No smiling now. Yet in all the moments of his life, this was the one yearning for his everyday optimism.

It was as if he was made for this news. He’s always taught his players to live in the moment, forget the past.

Why play for a championship ring? That’s what he would always say, thinking it was just a prize to show off and a reminder of what’s left behind. No, live for now and build for the future. Control what you can.

This is what was needed and this is what Mary longed for, as the tears flowed and depression crept in.

As days went by and the realization set in, Mary worried more. The stress came in a wave as she researched the disease, learning of the possibility that Glenn could lose his eye, or worse yet, the cancer could spread all over his body.

How could this happen to Danny? How could this happen to us?

Only one in one million people are diagnosed with iris melanoma.

But Glenn said something to calm his wife’s seemingly endless fears.

To paraphrase, I never coached a volleyball match where I went in thinking that I was going to lose. That’s like how this is. We’re not going to lose, we’re going to beat this.

“I kept replaying that over and over,” Mary said. “I started thinking, ‘we’re going to beat this and we’re going to do whatever we can.’ ”

Glenn is doing whatever he can, and to help others too. He’d probably prefer that this story not be told, but if it can help Friday’s cause, he’s fine with it. Corona del Mar will play at Newport Harbor in the annual Battle of the Bay. The players will be wearing pink to support cancer research and all the money raised will be going to the Hoag Hospital Cancer Center.

The match is also exciting for Glenn because he knows it will be the best preparation for his team as the Sailors head into the playoffs. Newport Harbor, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division I-AA, will try to clinch a share of the Sunset League title today at Edison. Then come the Sea Kings, then the playoffs. Last week, the Sailors (23-6, 8-1 in league) suffered their first loss in league play. But Glenn made sure he had his players move on. Forget it.

He tell’s them, “What you’re about to do is more important than what you’ve already done.”

During all of the horror earlier this year, Glenn, of course, saw a fairy-tale ending. He pointed out there was some good news, just a 5% chance of the cancer spreading. If he maintained his healthy lifestyle and didn’t become careless with his eye-doctor appointments, that would increase his chances of beating the cancer.

It was a good thing that the freckle of melanoma on his iris was surgically removed.

Yes, everyone seems to want to be around the man who virtually welcomes adversity for that is perhaps the best way to build character.

At the core of Glenn is a man who is happy, upbeat. Away from the court, he’s actually laid back. Of course there are times when he is sad, when he cries. Like the time when his players came with flowers to the hospital to visit Mary when she delivered Glenn’s third child, Tegan. Tears welled in Glenn’s eyes when he told the story later during the team’s season-ending banquet. The Newport Harbor girls also broke into the Glenns’ house to decorate the place to welcome mom and dad home.

But with Glenn, or mostly any coach for that matter, there are times when he is frustrated. He says he’ll probably never get over a certain loss that happened nearly two years ago. That was with the boys’ team that seemed invincible, yet lost in the CIF Southern Section Division I final.

That one crushed him so. He grew close to the players on the team. Yet that could be said for the majority of his teams, boys and girls, as he has watched his players grow since they were toddlers and then eventually taught them in the classroom and then on the court.

He now teaches economics at Newport Harbor. On the court, he also teaches values: the importance of hard work, team and sportsmanship. Respect the game, respect others. Stay on top of your academics.

They listen and execute and Glenn respects them for it.

He can be rough on the players, at times bringing them to tears, but he also holds them in high regard.

“I can’t think of a better influence to have on my children than those young boys and girls,” Glenn says. “That’s why I love to have my kids around the team.”

At any Newport Harbor volleyball match, it’s a family affair for the Glenns. Mary comes with the four kids, Hailey, age 9, Jaden, 7, Tegan, 5, and little Brogan, 2. Glenn’s father, Tom, and mother, Phyllis, also attend and support their son.

When the news came about Glenn’s iris melanoma, it shook the family. But they quickly responded.

“That’s devastating,” Tom Glenn said of his reaction when he found out his son was diagnosed with the eye cancer. “He’s my son and I thought this could affect what he loved most. It was scary. We had well wishes and fingers crossed. It was just family support, that’s how we attack things. It gets us through all kinds of ups and downs.”

Around the community, the news saddened many families who have been touched by Dan Glenn. The boys’ team found out the news and it spread in the spring. Many worried, but Glenn continued to flash his smile to calm them.

He kept with his infectious groove, being ultra optimistic, not wanting to change anything in his life, yet realizing the inevitability of transforming. Last spring, he didn’t want to miss a practice for an eye exam, which he receives every three months, but he knew he had to, said Anne Yardley Caldwell.

She has known Glenn since they were in high school, she at Newport Harbor and he at Huntington Beach. They were in the same groups that would go out together.

When she found out her friend was diagnosed with cancer, she too was wrapped in fear.

“I immediately thought of his kids,” she said, nearly starting to cry. “I still get real emotional about it. That was real intense. It was bad. Mary couldn’t even talk. But I never saw him waver. He’s as strong as a rock. He couldn’t let the kids ever see him break down about it.”

Caldwell also knows Glenn well through her children. Kyle, her eldest son, played for Glenn and was on that team that came up shy in 2008. He’s now at UCLA.

“He has such high expectations for all his players,” she said of Glenn, who has won six CIF section titles and four CIF state championships with the girls, as well as two CIF section titles with the boys. “I’m quite sure he’s up at 5 a.m. I don’t know when he eats. He just puts everything of himself into Newport Harbor. That’s passion. He has such a passion for the school, the kids and the program. He does this for the love and the passion not for the [low pay] that he’s getting.”

Caldwell’s youngest son, Cody, is a junior at Newport Harbor and has the potential to be a star.

Yet in Glenn’s program no one receives star treatment. Ask Misty May-Treanor or April Ross, who was the key player for three of the Sailors’ CIF section titles (1997-99) and two CIF state championships, and they’ll tell you the same.

May-Treanor is now considered the greatest beach volleyball player, while Ross is currently thriving in the sport.

“He played no favorites,” said May-Treanor, a two-time CIF Southern Section Division I Player of the Year who was the 1994 National High School Player of the Year. “He pulled the best out of us. He made us work so hard. He really pushed us. There was no joking with him. If you got into trouble you had to run. He’s tough.”

Glenn also practices what he teaches. He praises his players for their ability to juggle so many duties within their schedule, yet he does the same and more.

“He still has a work ethic that I can’t even comprehend,” said Tom Pestolesi, who has known Glenn since he was in the fourth grade and coached with Glenn for five years before moving on to lead Irvine Valley College. “For doing both programs, and to be a teacher, I’m amazed, or whatever superlative word you can put for that.”

While Glenn tends to forget the past, it’s from there he also draws strength. His family, his friends and yes his life is what keeps him happy.

“To me, I have never worked a day in my life,” Glenn says. “I’m going to school to teach and then to coach volleyball. This is what I love. I’ve found something I love. To me there’s nothing better.”