Weekday mornings when he drops off his child at school and later dismisses students from his social studies class at South Pasadena High following an hour and 40 minutes of instruction, Greg Luna uses one of his favorite tag lines to say goodbye.
“I say to them, ‘Make it a great day!’” explained Luna, who has a positive outlook on life as he hits the refresh button after the news went public this week he’ll soon be out as the athletic director at South Pasadena High. “I think it’s important to remember that we can do so much to make things better. I’m happy with the job I did as AD. I acknowledge that I made mistakes and I understand that there are other ways to approach the job. At the end, I’m satisfied that I put forth an honest effort with an outstanding commitment.”
Luna learned his fate last fall from the SPHS administration that he would not be retained as the Tigers’ athletic director for the start of the 2019-20 school year.
While South Pasadena High School Principal Janet Anderson said she couldn’t respond to inquiries regarding Luna’s departure as AD because it’s a personnel issue, Geoff Yantz, the superintendent of the South Pasadena Unified School District, said in a statement: “We greatly appreciate of Mr. Luna’s contributions to the SPHS athletic program. He has provided a solid foundation for the next athletic director to take the program to the next level.”
While athletics at SPHS have had a certain amount of success in some areas, namely girls’ basketball, cross country, track and field, girls and boys water polo, and girls and boys’ soccer, the school has not measured up in recent years when it comes to football, basketball and baseball.
South Pasadena High’s football team has fallen on hard times, going 3-7 overall, including a 1-3 league mark last fall. The boys’ basketball team finished the 2019 campaign 7-19, 4-6 for fourth place in league, and the baseball team was 1-11 in 2017, 0-12 in 2018 and is off to a 4-8 start this season, including an 0-5 record in league.
Some questioned the athletic director for sending the Tigers to the City of El Monte last season for a pair of football games they were outscored 111-13, falling to El Monte High 59-6 and Arroyo 52-7.
Luna can counter saying he hired the best coach for the job in Victoria Lathrop, who directed South Pasadena High’s girls soccer team to a CIF title a year ago and backed that effort up with another league crown in 2019. The Tigers’ boys’ soccer team also was tops in the league this year.
A second CIF championship went to South Pasadena’s badminton team a year ago.
“Unfortunately, the recent lack of success in the big three sports [football, basketball and baseball] makes it seem like our overall athletic program is deficient,” said Luna. “Overall we win between 5-8 league titles each year. We had two CIF titles last year and most of our teams compete in CIF playoffs. So, although most of our student-athletes experience successful seasons, this is overshadowed by focusing on only a couple of sports. It sends a message that some teams are more important and diminishes the athletic success of many students.”
Luna was asked if a difficult football schedule, in which SPHS incurred a series of lopsided losses may have played in the decision for the administration to make a change.
“Football had an awful season,” he said. “There were unexpected low numbers and many injuries were the main cause. I addressed this by creating a more competitively equitable schedule for next fall. When we created the 2018 schedule coaches and I believed that we would be competitive in every game. After the season, we took a closer look at the future and decided to schedule opponents that had a similar history as ours. This doesn’t go without negative feedback. I have already been told that playing lower ranked schools will not help us improve. This isn’t an easy problem to solve. However, I’m optimistic that the 2019 schedule will be a better fit for us.”
It will be up to the new athletic director to put South Pasadena High in a position to finally knock off rival San Marino in football. The Tigers have not experienced that feat since 2010 or three coaches ago when Ed Smith was overseeing the varsity program.
“As a competitive person, it’s frustrating when we lack improvement,” said Luna. “Wins are easy to quantify but, when our league is stacked with better competition, we also have to look deeper for markers of success. We made coaching changes, we adjusted schedules, we tried to change the overall culture. We just were not able to hit the mark.”
As word leaked out this week he would no longer be the school’s athletic director in June, an outpouring of support started coming his way. He began to hear from parents, staff, and student-athletes. “I’m blessed that so many people reached out to acknowledge our relationship in a positive way,” he said, adding that he looks forward to returning to a full-time teaching position in the SPHS Social Studies Department next fall.
In the end, it comes down to the South Pasadena High administration making a change to its athletic department at the end of the school year.
Asked why the decision was made to take in in another direction, Luna responded.
“They were looking for someone with a better PR skillset,” he said.