Arroyo Grande High mourns loss of Coach O

Stephen Oliverius was a familiar sight at Arroyo Grande High School over the past six years.

“Coach O,” as he was known to students and staff, started substitute teaching for the Lucia Mar Unified School District in 2004, only a few weeks after he retired from teaching and coaching for Clovis Unified School District.

Teachers at Arroyo Grande High began to request Oliverius as a substitute. He ran Arroyo Grande High’s after-school detention and Saturday school and joined the football staff, where he took on the duty of filming practices so the players could review them.

“It was not the most desirable job but he made it his own and loved helping us and we sincerely appreciated it,” high school senior Hunter Norton said Monday.

Oliverius, 74, died Oct. 16. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer over Easter vacation, and his first question to his doctor was, “Can I go back to work Monday at school?” his wife, Jennifer Oliverius, recalled.

Students at Arroyo Grande High are selling T-shirts this week with a large “O” on one side and a signature saying of Coach O’s on the back: “Big Pop on Ready,” referencing a unique way that Oliverius got students’ attention, Principal Ryan Pinkerton said.

Students will take a group photo of themselves in the shirts on Thursday, and plan to donate part of the proceeds from the sale to a nonprofit.

The football team will wear a small “O” on their helmets during Friday’s game against Paso High, and a moment of silence will be held in Oliverius’ honor, Pinkerton said.

Originally from San Bernardino, Oliverius start teaching in his early 20s, and spent most of his career with Clovis Unified, Jennifer Oliverius said. The couple was married 24 years.

“The hardest thing for Steve was having to give up the students and the coaches” after his diagnosis, she said.

Arroyo Grande High students have also missed Coach O since he left earlier this year.

“He always made an effort to not only be a substitute, but to ask about life outside of school,” said Norton, an offensive tackle and defensive lineman on the football team. “He cared about everyone more than he needed to as a substitute teacher.”

Junior lifeguard honored

Pismo Beach lifeguard Josh Burke has been named California’s Most Outstanding Junior Lifeguard of the Year by the California Surf Lifesaving Association.

Burke, a 14-year-old freshman at Templeton High School, was one of 14 nominees submitted by lifeguard agencies throughout the state.

An accomplished paddle boarder, Burke participated in the 17th annual Ken Harmount Pier-to-Pier Paddle in September, a 6.5-mile paddle, for the junior lifeguard division, said Rick Howard, a Cal Fire captain and lifeguard administrator.

“Josh has impacted the Pismo Beach Junior Lifeguard program by simply contributing,” Howard wrote in an application for the award. “He contributed by showing up every single day with a huge smile, an above normal positive attitude and a loving heart.”

Burke said Tuesday that he enjoyed working with the instructors during the six-week junior lifeguard program.

“I’ll definitely do it next year and until I can’t do it any more,” he said. “And then I’ll become a lifeguard.”

Burke’s other interests include running and volunteering. He’s currently involved in the high school’s mock trial.

Burke will receive a $200 scholarship and will have his name added to the Bobby Burnside Memorial Award — an original 1960 copper rescue buoy — which will be displayed at Pismo Beach City Hall, Howard said.

The South County Beat column runs on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.