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Lancaster to retire after 30 years involved with athletics, extracurricular activities at Glendale High

Glendale High co-athletic director Pat Lancaster will retire in June after serving in a number of different capacities at the school over the past 30 years.
(Tim Berger/Glendale News Press)

In a 30-year span, Pat Lancaster shrewdly mastered the art of human multitasking.

Lancaster had plenty of practice by working countless hours with thousands of students at Glendale High in a variety of capacities.

He served as a teacher, aquatics coach, athletic director and yearbook and newspaper adviser at one of the largest schools in the area. In addition to all of those responsibilities, Lancaster gained a significant knowledge of the school’s overall history after doing years of research for projects.

Lancaster keenly fostered amicable relationships with his students and athletes, helping many of them get a head start on achieving their career goals.

Lancaster’s remarkable tenure at Glendale, which began in 1990, will come to an end in June, when he’ll retire while accumulating a wealth of fond memories. Lancaster, 61, handed his retirement papers into the Glendale Unified School District in February.

“It’s been a remarkable 30 years and it’s gone by so fast,” Lancaster said. “I’ve come across a lot of wonderful students, who have gone on to do great things with their lives and it’s been rewarding.

“I got to be involved in a lot of different capacities and I learned a lot.”

THE PATH TO GLENDALE HIGH BEGINS

Lancaster enjoyed an impressive career while playing water polo at Muir High in Pasadena under the guidance of legendary coach Walt Culbertson.

Lancaster, a driver, graduated from Muir in 1976 and played two seasons at Pasadena City College for coach Ron Ballatore before receiving a scholarship to continue his water polo career at Cal State Los Angeles, where he earned a degree in journalism.

After graduating from Cal State Los Angeles, where he played for coach Mike Moode, Lancaster coached the boys’ water polo team at Pasadena High from 1980-85. He then returned to Muir, where he was an assistant for Culbertson from 1987-90.

“I learned so much about water polo from Coach Culbertson and he was definitely my mentor,” Lancaster said. “I asked him a lot of questions and sought advice from him on how to become a better coach. It was like getting another education.”

Glendale High co-athletic director Pat Lancaster saw the Nitros win two CIF Southern Section championships. The boys' water polo team won a title in 2013 and the girls' squad captured a crown in 2017.
(Tim Berger/Tim Berger/Glendale News Press)

Lancaster began looking for a full-time teaching position in 1986 and had a few job interviews between 1986-89. However, the market was essentially dry.

He at least still had water polo to turn to while continuing his job search.

Lancaster came back to Pasadena to coach the boys’ team in 1989 before coaching Muir’s girls’ swimming program in 1990, while working as a substitute teacher in the Pasadena Unified School District.

“Those three years being a substitute teacher were harder than my 30 years teaching at Glendale,” Lancaster said. “I didn’t have any idea about what to expect, but I’m very glad I went through it because it would go on to give me another perspective on what it would be like to someday teach.”

A ROADWAY FINALLY OPENS

At the end of the spring season in 1990, Lancaster found himself in the crossroads. He pondered if any full-time teaching jobs would finally be available, along with where he might coach next.

Lancaster finally got the break he had been searching for when he received a phone call from Pete Loporchio, who was the Glendale aquatics coach before achieving a wealth of success at Crescenta Valley.

Loporchio, who was also a teacher at Glendale, and Lancaster met for an on-campus tour of Glendale High. Loporchio planned to remain a teacher at Glendale and became the men’s water polo college at Occidental College in 1990. He suggested Lancaster meet with then-principal Sam Harvey.

Lancaster took the recommendation to heart, paving the way for a meeting with Harvey.

“Pete told me to call Sam Harvey and make an appointment to meet with him,” Lancaster said. “I put on a coat and tie and had an interview that day.

“I knew about Sam because he attended so many Glendale sporting events and he knew who I was. It was one of the easiest interviews in that we talked about sports and a vision for the aquatics programs. He was quite impressed with what I did at Pasadena and he said that’s what he wanted to see at Glendale. I remember him telling me that he didn’t have any teaching jobs open at that moment, but that he’d find something for me.”

Harvey followed through on his promise, signaling the start of Lancaster’s journey at Glendale.

Lancaster taught life science and health and guidance courses during the 1990-91 academic year. In addition, he took over the water polo program from Loporchio and co-coached the team with Todd Byer from 1990-94, as well as coaching the boys’ swimming teams in 1991 and 1992.

MORE RESPONSIBILITIES DOLED OUT

As Lancaster adjusted to his new surroundings on campus, he found himself involved with other school activities.

Lancaster became the adviser for the Explosion, the school’s newspaper, in 1993. He also took on the role as adviser for the Stylus, the school’s yearbook, in 1994. He held both positions up through 2020.

“You just try to help out where you are needed,” Lancaster said. “I had journalism experience before, so that helped.

“I wasn’t coaching anymore after 1994, so I could direct my time to the newspaper and yearbook. I learned there’s very little downtime.”

By the turn of the century, Lancaster found himself back on the pool deck. He coached the boys’ water polo team from 2000-02 that featured standouts Matt Hahn and Narbeh Amirian. The Nitros reached the CIF Southern Section semifinals in 2000 and won a Pacific League championship in 2002.

“Pat was open for us to do our best,” said Hahn, a former All-Area Boys’ Water Polo Player of the Year and All-CIF honoree who graduated from Clark Magnet School in 2002. “I think that played a key role in us having some very good teams.

“We were always out there and we battled hard. He was like the heart of the team and he got the best out of the players.”

Said Amirian, who was a co-league player of the year before graduating from Glendale in 2003: “We were just a bunch of high school kids and he was very much like a mentor to us. He was very knowledgeable about water polo. Personally, he didn’t let me cut corners and he showed that he cared about me. He made me push myself and become captain of the team.”

Glendale and Crescenta Valley were among the dominate boys’ water polo teams in the Pacific League during Lancaster’s second coaching stint.

The Nitros and Falcons played competitive matches when they met, something Crescenta Valley coach Jan Sakonju recalled.

“It was very much a rivalry with respect,” said Sakonju, who has coached at Crescenta Valley for more than 20 years. “The competition was amazing and there was that sportsmanship that occurred. It’s what sports should be about.

“My wife and brother-in-law were coached by Pat at Muir. He and I would watch water polo matches and chat about rule changes and more. He’s like the historian of the Pacific League. If we didn’t know something about a rule or something in our league, we’d check with him about it. He’s made a lot of contributions to Glendale High and the district. He’s a renaissance guy. I’m having to process that he’s retiring.”

ANOTHER COACHING STINT, FOLLOWED BY DIRECTING

In the winters of 2005 and 2006, Lancaster returned to the pool deck, where he served as co-coach of the school’s girls’ water polo program with Alfred Tahmazyan.

The Nitros had a burgeoning team (they reached the semifinals in 2007 for the first time in program history) and Lancaster helped steer the squad in the right direction.

In 2008, Lancaster was given the ultimate responsibility of serving as the school’s athletic director, a title he has held upon his retirement.

“They approached me about the position and I took it,” Lancaster said. “When I began at Glendale, I learned a lot from then-athletic director Bruce Dalton and I watched how he went about managing things. Bruce was the model for me.

“There are so many moving parts and you have to do everything possible to make sure things run smoothly. You have to stay up on CIF rules. You have to organize team schedules and transportation. When do you have to cancel a bus for some reason? Who are the officials for the games?”

Since Lancaster began his latest role, the Nitros won two CIF championships. The boys’ water polo program captured a CIF Southern Section Division V championship in 2013 under coach Forest Holbrook and coach Tom Gossard led the girls’ tennis program to a Division IV crown in 2017.

It marked the first CIF titles for each program and put Glendale back on the map. The Nitros had last won a CIF championship in 1989, when the boys’ volleyball team triumphed in Division III-A.

“It was great to see Glendale have some success, not just in the Pacific League, but also in the playoffs,” Lancaster said. “It’s nice to be able to look at the championships plaques and you start to remember names.”

Lancaster gained the respect of former boys’ basketball coach Steve Snodgress and football coach Alan Eberhart.

Snodgress, who coached the program from 1996-2015, said Lancaster was the quintessential leader in guiding the school’s athletic department.

“You see a deep appreciation for where he’s worked,” said Snodgress, a former Glendale basketball player. “He helped you feel good where you worked and wanted the teams to be successful.

“The really great thing about Pat is that he’s a historian. He’s the person you go to for facts on past events and more. He can make events richer by linking them to the past. He’s very much like a sports information director at a college. You appreciation that more because that’s his calling”

Eberhart served as football coach from 2009-11 before splitting the athletic directing responsibilities with Lancaster from 2014-16.

Eberhart, a Glendale graduate who teaches history, government and economics at the school, said he appreciated Lancaster’s approach to tracing the school’s history dating back to its first year in 1901.

“Our classrooms are right next to each other,” said Eberhart, who also coached the baseball team from 2014-16. “I always liked the way Pat went about his job, plus he was always willing to help me out.

“I had connected with him in the past and would see him coaching his teams. He’s got an incredible memory of the Pacific League in every sport. He takes the time to put out information on the history of the Glendale-Hoover football game. The one thing I learned from Pat is patience. You need to have that as an athletic director because it can very much be an intense job.”

JOURNEY COMES TO A END WITH A TWIST, REGRET

When Lancaster filed his retirement papers, he couldn’t fathom what was about to take place during his final semester.

After the spring sports teams began their respective campaigns in February and early March, their seasons were postponed because of the novel coronavirus. On March 13, the district announced students and teachers would operate online to complete classes.

The CIF announced April 3 that the remainder of the spring season would be canceled for all schools in California because of the global pandemic.

“It’s a crazy thing to have happen, and one we’ve never experienced,” Lancaster said. “You feel bad for everybody, especially the seniors. Also, the athletes who might not play organized sports after they graduate.

“I’ll never be able to see my students again as students and that’s very hard. I couldn’t imagine the way that this would end. We need to stay safe and begin to move ahead.”

Being away from his students has gaven Lancaster time to ponder about his career at Glendale.

“It’s sad to leave, but it’s time,” Lancaster said. “I’m going to miss all of the people and events. I’ll still be Glendale’s biggest fan and maybe I’ll get out to a game.”

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