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The Priesz Legacy Goes Beyond Academics
April, 2014 - Issue #114
There will be an empty spot in the dugout at the softball field; a void near the 50-yard line of the stadium that bears his name; a sense of emptiness near Valencia's student sections at basketball and volleyball games and an empty chair behind the backstop of the baseball field. For that matter, there will be open spots on the track and tennis courts, too.

For all Dr. Paul A. Priesz talks about academics in his final year as principal at Valencia High, athletics will certainly be a significant part of his legacy after 21 years leading the school, says coaches.

"It's like having a great owner of a professional team. He's like the owner," says Valencia High Athletic Director Brian Stiman. "I actually heard our superintendent refer to him as the owner on several occasions. It starts with him, his support, his leadership, his vision. He does a real good job of conveying his expectations and along with his expectations, he doesn't micromanage."

"In Priesz's 21 YEARS, Valencia has earned recognition as one of the premier public school athletic programs in Southern California with its league, CIF and national championships and its constant production of college and professional athletes."
In Priesz's 21 years, Valencia has earned recognition as one of the premier public school athletic programs in Southern California with its league, CIF and national championships and its constant production of college and professional athletes. Stiman says the success has a lot to do with Priesz.

Priesz would rather talk about academic success and Valencia's school-to-career program as his legacy, but says he understood early how positive an effect sports can have on a campus.

"Whenever you are successful in athletics, it tends to have a positive effect on the culture of the school," Priesz says. "Kids feel good about the school. They feel good about talking about the school. They feel good about coming to school."

The biggest things Priesz has done for the athletic program at Valencia might be what he hasn't done. He's not a meddler, Stiman and other coaches say. He lets coaches coach and steps in at appropriate times, but never to give coaching advice. And speaking of coaches, Valencia's most successful programs are led by long-timers - coaches whom Priesz helped hire and have been at the school more than a decade.

"It starts with Paul. He will get the best out of his coaches and he takes care of the coaches," says one of those long-timers, national champion softball coach Donna Lee. "Not give them all they want, but gives the support. Paul makes it a point to support all the athletics."

And a second long-timer, boys soccer coach Tony Scalercio says: "That guy could be running a Fortune 500 company, but he used his talents to work with kids. I feel so fortunate to know him and to be able to have worked with him the last 17 years."

Priesz played three years of basketball at Chatsworth High School, so that's the sport he knows best. He never had a desire to coach the sport or impart his thoughts onto the Valencia coaching staff, though.

Yet one of the early Valencia football teams, knowing how dedicated he was to it, suggested Priesz call a play for it.

"We called the play and on that play four things went wrong," says Stiman, who was Valencia's first varsity football coach. "We had a loss in yardage, we got penalized, we lost the ball and then a player got hurt. ... I looked at [my assistant coach] Rick Hawn and said, 'Let's shelf that idea.'"

Priesz's role at every Valencia athletic contest, it seems, is just to be there. Before football games, he has a traditional game of catch. For big softball games he'll sit at the end of the dugout. Name an athletic contest and he has his place.

There's a reason, he says, why he does it.

"The hours and days, the kids spend so much time," he says. "I just love to support them."

Stiman says there are times where he thinks about who the next principal will be at Valencia, and being a sports guy, he worries about whether that next person will be as supportive as Priesz. There will be a large void when he leaves, he says.

"I try to act like it's not happening, like he's going to be there," Stiman says. "There will be a hole difficult to fill. ... He's done some great things the 20 years he was here."
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