Beloved softball coach passes away

Sarah Kimball

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Varsity softball coach Gary Casassa died on Dec. 7 at the age of 61.

In the beginning of August, Casassa was diagnosed with melanoma. Nearly two weeks ago, Casassa lost his five-month battle with cancer.

Casassa coached softball at Redwood for 27 seasons, during which he led the team to 12 MCAL titles and two first place NCS finishes. Casassa was also inducted into the Redwood Athletic Hall of Fame earlier this year for his softball coaching career.

Emily Atkinson, who served as an assistant coach for Redwood’s softball team and has known Casassa on a personal level for the past nine years, credits his success to the relationships he built with his players.

[Casassa] cared about the girls and made it personal for them. He shared real information about himself

Casassa poses with the sophomore players on the team.

Casassa poses with the sophomore players on the team.

when he was in high school, and he wasn’t afraid to open up and really let the girls see the real stuff,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson also shared that Casassa not only influenced his players, but also enabled her to become a better coach.

“I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be able to coach with him, because he showed me that it is so much more than just teaching them the fundamentals of the sport. He showed me that you can have a good program, and have a good team where the girls really buy in, and not have to be super strict or serious,” Atkinson said. “You can have fun and enjoy yourself, and still get what you need to get done.”

In the spring, Atkinson will serve as the head coach for the varsity softball team. She hopes to use some of the skills she learned from Casassa for coaching this year’s team.

“I learned from him that it is more than just the game. It is more about these girls and where they are at and what they want to do, and what they need on an individual basis versus what the team needs all the time,” Atkinson said.

Senior Ali Lee, a three-year varsity softball player, will miss Casassa’s ability to balance fun and hard work.

“He was a coach that valued a relationship with the players more than winning. He made sure to make relationships with everyone, whether it was a huge one or a small one,” Lee said. “He included everyone in everything. For example, at one point we had 20 people on the team, when only nine girls play, so that was a huge team, but he was just so nice that he didn’t want to cut anyone.”

Lee knew from the beginning that Casassa’s coaching would be different than anything she had experienced before.

“With coaches, when you walk on, you know if you are going to have a relationship with that coach or if you are just going to play the sport. With Gary, you knew it was going to be much more than just playing softball. He would do anything. I have never had a coach like him before,” Lee said.

On Friday afternoon, a group of Redwood softball players gathered on the Redwood field with flowers to honor Casassa’s life.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the California Pacific Medical Center Foundation to support melanoma research. The local softball community plans to hold a public memorial, though no plans have been set.

 

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