On his routine walk through the Administration Building each morning, Daniel Escalera would often pause at the door of the Athletic Director’s office to say hello to Norm Lacy. Through their long careers at Samo, the two men had become friends, united by mutual respect and appreciation for sports and for the school they served.
Escalera still walks through the Administration Building every morning, still stops at the door to the Athletic Director’s office. But the mindset with which he approaches the office is as noticeably changed as the name posted above the door – no longer Norm Lacy’s, but his own.
Following Lacy’s sudden death from a heart attack last June, Escalera, who has taught at Samo for over 20 years, was chosen to replace him as Athletic Director. The position comes with a meaningful legacy and a unique set of challenges.
“You sit around here and you see his handprint,” Escalera said, “either literally or figuratively speaking in terms of what he’s done with this program.”
The “handprint” Escalera described was heart-wrenchingly visible last June, when tributes to Lacy became ubiquitous throughout Santa Monica – from the hand-lettered signs on the softball field promising he would be “Forever a Samohi Viking,” to the hundreds of mourners packed into Saint Monica’s church for his memorial service. Today, it is still evident in small details, like the hand-labeled binder on the shelf behind Escalera’s desk: “Lacy’s Faxes.”
“There were some people who wouldn’t walk into this office,” Escalera said. “It was hard. It was hard for me.”
Difficult though it may have been for him to step into the position, Escalera still gleans an obvious pride and pleasure from his participation in Samo athletics. A longtime football coach and former high school athlete, he harbors a deep-rooted belief in the power of sports to improve individuals and unite communities.
“Being in the stands and seeing the community come together … just to see what a 16- or 17-year-old can do for the whole community shows how powerful youth can be,” Escalera said.
The community spirit cultivated at Samo by sports and other extracurricular programs, Escalera said, “is very special.” He described the scene at Samo football’s recent match against Leuzinger, where players rallied around senior Cody Williams, who suffered a traumatic spinal injury early in last year’s football season, and proudly donned circular patched emblazoned with the letters “NL” in honor of Lacy.
Escalera said he expects “great things” for Samo and its athletic department this year. “We’ve got so much talent here, student athlete-wise and coaching-wise,” he said. “The depth of commitment of people in the Samohi community – I knew it, but now I really see it.”
After a school year fraught with unexpected loss – in addition to Lacy, beloved teacher Donald Hedrick and longtime administrative assistant Gloria Davis both passed away suddenly last year – Escalera has found the lessons he learned from sports to be powerful tools for coping.
“The challenges make it a rich experience,” Escalera said. “As an athlete, what you deal with a lot is how you’re going to deal with obstacles that get in your way … And this was no doubt one of them. This has been a tough year.”
Ever the athlete, Escalera is a stalwart believer in the potential for growth in the face adversity. So now, though he can no longer greet Norm Lacy on his morning walk through the Administration Building, he – and the rest of the Samo athletic department – is channeling Lacy’s energy and dedicating himself to making this year meaningful.
“His impact is still there, and I think it’s a positive one,” Escalera said of Lacy. “I think we all see in each other some of the wonderful things he represented.”
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