Dan Berry, who formed and coached the Crescenta Valley High softball team to a CIF Southern Section championship and 20 Pacific League titles, died Wednesday morning. He was 65.
FOR THE RECORD: This corrects an earlier version that stated Berry was 66 when he died.
Berry was taken to Verdugo Hills Hospital on Oct. 11 after suffering two seizures inside the Crescenta Valley coaches’ office. After paramedics arrived, Berry went into cardiac arrest and was treated at the scene before being taken to the hospital. On Friday, he was taken off a ventilator and moved into the hospice wing of the hospital where he passed away.
Born Nov. 28, 1945, in Greensboro, N.C., Berry coached the Falcons for two tenures totaling 27 seasons. Berry, a La Crescenta resident, guided the Falcons to a CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship in 1986. The Falcons recorded a 5-4 win against Woodbridge, giving Crescenta Valley its first and only section crown and the first for any girls’ team in school chronicle.
Jenny Berry Shaver, the second-oldest of Berry’s three daughters, said her father wanted to establish a successful program because softball was his passion.
“He loved softball and he was a disciplinarian who had a strict routine,” said Berry Shaver, who pitched four seasons at Crescenta Valley. “If you followed his philosophy, then you’d be a winner no matter what."
“He could look at any player and know what to make them into. He’s the type of dad who always had your back and he was a very loyal person and a great role model.”
Under Berry, who began the program in 1983, the Falcons went 570-117 overall (.829 winning percentage) and 240-25 in the Pacific League. Crescenta Valley shared the league championship last season with Burroughs before falling to Oak Park, 6-5, in a Division III first-round playoff contest. The Falcons went 21-4, 13-1 in league last season.
“I don’t have any words that would be able to serve justice for what he did for the program,” Crescenta Valley girls’ Athletic Director Peter Kim said. “He wore many different hats and he did that so well with everybody he came into contact with.”
Berry first coached at Crescenta Valley from 1983-94, going 250-41 overall and leading the Falcons to eight league championships.
“He recognized the importance of the program at Crescenta Valley,” said former Crescenta Valley Principal Sam Nicholson. “He helped make it a popular sport and he established the program. He developed pride and tradition. He spent so much of his own time when the school finally got its own field and he kept it in great shape. It’s just so sad for me to know that he’s gone.”
Nicholson and Jan McCreary, then the girls’ athletic director at the school, hired Berry in the fall of 1982 to run a program that would go on to be one of the most successful in the area.
“At that time, we were in the beginning stages of girls’ athletics taking off,” Nicholson said. “Jan thought we needed a softball team and she and I got together to look for a coach.
“We went to a lot of places in our search and Dan’s name kept coming up. He was calm, well-organized and he had a lot of respect from everybody. That’s exactly what we were looking for. Jan said to go ahead and hire him and it was one of the best decisions that I ever made.”
Berry sought an opportunity to move up to the next level in the coaching profession and accepted a head coaching position at L.A. Pierce College. From 1995-97, Berry led Pierce to two appearances in the state playoffs. Following the 1997 season, Berry was hired by L.A. Mission College to build its program similar to how he structured Crescenta Valley and restructured Pierce. Mission opted to cancel its new program and Berry returned to Crescenta Valley in 1998.
Berry had an impressive list of players who donned the Crescenta Valley uniform. Many earned All-Area, all-league and All-CIF honors, including Heather Lindstrom, Leilani Artis, Stacy Atwood, Deneil Dover, Lisa Erickson, Hope Robertshaw, Melinda Moulden, Becca Baldridge, Meredith Cervenka, Melanie McCauley, Amanda Peek, Baillie Kirker, Alyssa Sovereign and Erin Ashby.
Berry, a multiple-time All-Area Coach of the Year, guided the Falcons to back-to-back undefeated league championships in 2008 and 2009, as Crescenta Valley dropped a 3-2 decision to La Serna in the Division III semifinals in 2008 and advanced to the quarterfinals in 2009. In 2000, Crescenta Valley advanced to the Division II semifinals.
On May 2, 2008, Crescenta Valley posted a 23-1 road win against Muir. The victory was Berry’s 500th at Crescenta Valley.
Under Berry, the Falcons won 20 games or more 20 times and went unbeaten in league eight times between 1998-2009.
Former Crescenta Valley pitcher Lauren Strangis, who served as an assistant under Berry from 2008-09 and in 2011, said Berry’s fervor for teaching softball spread on and off the diamond.
“Coach Berry was one of the most caring people,” said Strangis, a former all-league first-team pick. “Whether you were still on the team or you had graduated, he’d come out to the games and he was always somebody who was there if needed.
“He had such a vast knowledge for softball and he loved sports in general. He always said that if you put in the effort and continued to learn that you can accomplish anything.”
Former opposing coaches from the Pacific League recalled coaching against Berry, who also had coached the La Crescenta Condors of the Amateur Softball Assn. since 1979.
“He started the CV program and he was an incredible competitor,” said Kris Kohlmeier, who coached at Glendale from 2000-05. “He built it into one of the premier programs, not only here, but in Southern California.
“You knew when you played against his teams that they were going to be tough, competitive and well-coached. It was like poetry in motion and he was like a maestro. He would point or give some sort of a sign and his players knew exactly what to do.
“Amy Bishop, one of my former players, was on his Condors team. Because of Dan, she got to go play at UC Berkeley. He did a lot of things that not a lot of people in the area knew about to make the players that much better. Some of my players benefited from him and they were able to move on to bigger and better things.”
Burroughs softball Coach Doug Nicol said he built a friendship with Berry dating back to 1993, when Nicol began coaching the Burroughs girls’ basketball team.
Nicol said coaching against Berry last season brought out the best in his team.
“We battled, but we both wanted the same thing and that was to win league,” Nicol said. “I have a tremendous respect for him.
“The team that he had this season might not have been his most talented, but you knew going in that he was going to get the most out of them and he did. His players respected him and I respected the job he did. Whenever you played CV, you knew you’d be playing a competitive team that was well-coached and was going to work hard.”
Berry is survived by three daughters, Karyn Berry De Angelis of La Crescenta; Jenny Berry Shaver of Palmdale; and Wendy Berry of Santa Clarita; brother Leonard Berry of Oregon; sister Erma Martinez of Diamond Bar; and four grandchildren.
A celebration of Berry’s life is pending.