An influential coach and teacher at Arroyo Grande High, who was named to the Arroyo Grande Eagle Foundation Hall of Fame earlier this year, has died.
Greg DeNike, 64, died suddenly Sunday. He coached for 27 years at Arroyo Grande High, winning the school’s first CIF title in girls track and field in 1984 and guiding cross country teams to top 20 national rankings in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
DeNike also served as an assistant coach of the Arroyo Grande boys basketball team in the 1990s and early 2000s. He retired from teaching in 2010 and assisted with the Righetti High basketball team over the past couple of years. He was also the Pioneer Valley boys basketball coach from 2005-09.
One of his Arroyo Grande athletes, Louie Quintana, won the national cross country championship in 1990. Quintana now is the head cross country coach and assistant track and field coach at Arizona State.
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“He had the gift of bringing out the best in individuals to help the team succeed,” Quintana said in an e-mail Friday.
DeNike was known for having a “real knack for helping kids believe in themselves,” Arroyo Grande track coach James Brown said. Brown coached with DeNike from 1978 to 1991.
“Greg got us all believing we could win beyond the Central Coast,” Brown said. “He brought the winning feeling to Arroyo Grande and that spread throughout the school.”
Brown said DeNike was appreciative of his induction into Arroyo Grande’s Hall of Fame in January.
“It was great getting him back here,” Brown said. “He was very touched by the induction.”
To counter the speed and talent of Southern California schools on the track, DeNike found ways to improve point totals in distance running and field events to help close the competition gaps.
“The girls team that won that first CIF title had talent,” Brown said. “But he really did a great job in distance and field events.”
Brown said that DeNike had a family get-together, including his five children, the day before he died. Brown said DeNike had a pacemaker and some health complications and had been exercising regularly to get into better health.
Quintana said that he hadn’t run competitively before starting at Arroyo Grande High.
“He molded me from the ground up,” Quintana said. “He realized I had some natural gifts in the sport.”
DeNike and Quintana both were aware he could go undefeated in that 1990 season. But they didn’t talk about it during the season, and DeNike didn’t treat him as a superstar, though he nurtured and encouraged him to be his best.
“I believe we both secretly thought it was possible,” Quintana said. “That was the great thing about Coach DeNike. He wasn’t one to back down from high expectations. As the wins kept piling up, so did the national exposure and pressure to win every race. He embraced it. We enjoyed it together.”
Arroyo Grande athletic director Dwight MacDonald called DeNike “sensitive and compassionate.” After a tough loss in a big girls basketball game against
St. Joseph in the 2010-2011 season, MacDonald received a phone call from DeNike.
“He said ‘I just wanted to let you know that it is easy to call a friend after a big win, but I want to let you know that I am thinking about you after your tough loss. Hang in there!’ ” MacDonald said in an e-mail Friday.
“Greg was a winner as a coach, teacher, friend, parent and husband,” MacDonald said. “His family, the community and I are going to miss him.”
A memorial service for DeNike was held Friday in Arroyo Grande.