The Dana Hills High School gym was packed to the brim with people wearing Hawaiian shirts and sandals on Thursday evening as family, friends, colleagues, former players and more gathered to celebrate the life of former longtime Dolphins volleyball coach Oz Simmons.
Simmons, who coached volleyball and taught math at Dana Hills for 35 years before his retirement in 2018, died of cancer on Sept. 2 at the age of 62.
Friends, family, Dana Hills colleagues and former players all spoke at a podium at the center of the Dana Hills gym, which will soon be named for Simmons, surrounded by a half-circle of Simmons’ trademark Hawaiian shirts laid on the court.
The podium itself was adorned with Simmons’ coaching jacket, a wide-brimmed straw sun hat, and a bag of volleyballs. A trail of Simmons’ sandals were also placed like footsteps towards the stairs at the end of the gym and an open door.
Those that took turns at the podium shared reverent and raucous stories of Simmons caring demeanor, well-known sense of humor and how they were inspired by Simmons. After a story of something that would sound odd to others but invoked a laugh from the attendees, nearly each speaker would stop and say with a thoughtful smile, “That was Oz.”
Former players of Oz Simmons gather together for a strong yell of “D-H” at the Celebration of Life for former longtime Dana Hills coach Oz Simmons. @dhhs_athletics @DanaHSPrincipal @DHHSOfficial @DHHS_Podfather @DanaPointTimes pic.twitter.com/diEeEuQ87Z
— South OC Sports (@SouthOCsports) September 27, 2019
Former Dana Hills cross country and track coach Tim Butler spoke about stories from the times his three children played for Simmons and tales of the legendary “Camp Oz” beach workouts.
“Oz was somebody I always wanted to be like,” Butler said.
Dana Hills alum and girls cross country coach Nick Smith recalled his early days as a student teacher at Dana Hills. Smith said it was a small competition for who could get to work in the morning first. When Smith would show up first, Simmons would provide a warm greeting, but if Simmons was first, Smith would receive a little jab.
“Nice of you to show up, Mr. Smith,” Smith recalled Simmons saying.
Smith said Simmons taught kids, not math.
Smith also recalled Simmons’ words from an email Simmons sent out before his retirement.
“I will not miss any of you, because that means I forgot all the memories of you,” the email said.
Dana Hills alum and former principal Jason Allemann showcased Simmons sense of humor.
“Oz was rich with inappropriate workplace one-liners,” Allemann said. “always at the exact right time to say them.”
Former players were all asked to come onto the court to be recognized and huddle, and some former players spoke. The players all huddled together and let out one loud chant of “D-H!”
The celebration was also marked by an orchestra quartet playing songs like “Wind Beneath My Wings,” Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Friend Andy Awaa read “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, and sister-in-law Diane Grant read “The Next Place.”
The program was followed by a sunset paddle out at Doheny State Beach, and an open mic was available at the reception in the Dana Hills mall for attendees to share their stories about Simmons.
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports.