Legendary coach honored through memorial game

China Granger

Both Redwood and Tam players wore ‘GC’ shirts to honor the late coach Gary Casassa.

The initials “GC” spray-painted around the field were impossible to miss. They were stenciled on the bleachers, inside the dugouts, on first base and on home plate. A cloth banner with the letters was hung beneath the scoreboard, each letter four feet tall. It was a small tribute to the enormous impact that legendary coach Gary Casassa, who passed away last December at 61 after a five-month battle with melanoma, had on Redwood softball.

Casassas initials, "GC" were spray painted across the bleachers.

On Thursday, community members gathered to watch the varsity softball team play Tam in its first home league game. The game was dedicated to Casassa, who coached the team for 27 seasons. In a fitting close Redwood defeated Tam 7-2.

“We are playing for [Casassa] today, but everyday we play for him,” said junior and starting pitcher Morgen Celis. “By playing on the field we’re kind of showing a little bit of him through us.”

To honor Casassa further, the money raised at the game will go to support melanoma research and awareness, according to head coach Emily Atkinson. Along with the $1000 already raised by the community, proceeds from entrance fees, T-shirts, bracelets, keychains and food sold at the game will support the cause.

Atkinson, who took over this season after nine years of assistant coaching with Casassa, came up with the idea to organize the memorial game.

“Just have fun, relax and enjoy the day and represent Gary,” Atkinson said.

To honor his memory, both Redwood players and their rivals at Tam donned jerseys with Casassa’s initials for the game.

T-shirts, bracelets and keychains were sold at the game to support melanoma research and awareness.

In addition to Redwood’s varsity team, Tam players intend to put “GC” stickers on their helmets for the entire season, according to Tam head coach John Scarsella.

“[Casassa] loved the game, loved the girls. I’m just glad that we’re able to do this and honor him,” Scarsella said. “[Casassa] always treated the other team the same way he did his own.”

Other Marin teams have paid tribute to Casassa as well. According to Atkinson, during an away game against San Marin earlier in the week, the opposing team took time to honor the coach. 

“[San Marin] had a moment of silence and we were all in tears. So we’re trying to keep it happy today and keep it positive and focus on the good we are going to do with the fundraiser,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson is also trying to get approval to name the field complex after Casassa. The Site Council has approved the proposal which will now be proposed to the district Board of Trustees.

Many players had "GC" stickers on the back of their helmets.“It keeps him here and girls will ask about him,” said Atkinson. “And we’ll be able to tell stories and share memories.

Senior shortstop Sabrina Nunez said that naming the field after Casassa would be an appropriate tribute.

“[Casassa] has been here for so long, almost 30 years, and I feel like the next 30 years should know about him too. He is almost synonymous with Redwood softball,” Nunez said. “It feels natural to do this, to name [the field] after him.” 

The game drew support from around the community for the players, fellow coaches and family members of Casassa’s. Redwood students attended with signs as well as faculty members like Principal David Sondheim, Assistant Principal LaSandra White and Athletic Director Jessica Peisch.

A picture of Casassa hangs just outside the Redwood dugout.“It’s really nice for the softball community to come together and support one another. At the end of the day, that’s what high school sports are about,” Peisch said.

Even people who didn’t know Casassa personally came to support those who did, according to Atkinson. Softball players from Bownet, a 12-and-under travel team that Atkinson also coaches, came to the game. Girls from the Petaluma-based team carpooled to support their coach and donated baked goods to be sold.

“They planned that all on their own—the parents and [players]. I had nothing to do with it, they just texted me one day and they’re like, ‘Hey, we’re coming,’” Atkinson said.

The outpouring of support was no surprise as Casassa was loved and  well known in the softball community, according to Nunez.

“It just shows how much [Casassa] had an impact on the community,” Nunez said. “It’s nice to see everyone out there.”

Head Coach Emily Atkinson wearing a "GC" sticker on her helmet during the game.Despite his absence, Casassa’s players remember him through the lessons he instilled, according to Nunez.

“He wanted us to play like gender didn’t matter, like where we came from didn’t matter, like how good we were didn’t matter,” Nunez said. “He always said be ballplayers, not just players and not just girls on the team.”

Atkinson added that the future of Redwood softball looks different without Casassa. Each year, fewer and fewer Redwood players will have known Casassa on the field.

“I’ll be sad, honestly, when we get to a point where the girls didn’t know him because he was such a great person,” Atkinson said.

But Atkinson and assistant coach Mark Mesinger will remember Casassa long after that.

“It will be a little easier every year, for Mark and I. As long as we’re here, it will still be tough, but it gets easier game by game, day by day.”

Casassa’s passing has brought the team closer together, according to Nunez

“I think it gives us more of a purpose,” Nunez said. “We all have something to bond over, we’re all hurting.”