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Builder of Aztec Empire at La Quinta High : 'Lifer' Baseball Coach Benches His Social Life

June 02, 1988|PAUL McLEOD | Times Staff Writer

For 15 years at La Quinta High School in Westminster, since he became the school's head baseball coach at the tender age of 22, Dave Demarest has fashioned the program he calls the "Aztec Empire" into one of the most successful in the CIF Southern Section.

Demarest has achieved success at a high price: His personal life has taken a back seat. He is caught in the coaching whirlwind, a dedicated individual who has spent most of his life either playing or working in athletics. He has become a "lifer," the kind of guy you expect will always be around ballparks, whether it is his profession or not.

A lifer's social life always takes a back seat. He admits that baseball is his immediate family. He is not ready to leave its inner circles.

"Settle down? Naw. Not for me," the bachelor said while lunching the other day. "I like to travel and meet people."

He once told fellow teachers that he would like to have children someday. But, as yet, there is no romance in the works.

Demarest has a coaching record of 275 wins and 108 losses. Only once in this decade has he had a team that did not win at least 18 games. La Quinta, which won the Garden Grove League title, was the top-seeded team in the CIF Southern Section 3-A Division playoffs this year. Although it was eliminated last week in the opening round, the post season appearance was its 11th consecutive under Demarest. And, the club won 20 consecutive games and ranked third in Orange County most of the year.

For the first time however, Demarest is talking candidly about leaving his post.

"La Quinta is ready for a change and so am I," he said. Trouble is, he is not sure exactly what he would do and he says he will not leave the Aztec Empire to just anyone. He wants to make sure the winning tradition continues.

Demarest says he would like to start a baseball program at a new high school or be a college assistant or pro scout. He needs a change of pace, he said, because he is growing tired.

"Sometimes," he said with a sigh while discussing his schedule, "I think that if I could just find someone with a condo on Maui who wanted to trade houses for the summer I'd do it."

Those who have witnessed his ambition say that if he leaves La Quinta, the move will probably be no better for his personal life. For some time he has found it difficult to separate his personal and professional lives. The only time he took a break from his year-round schedule was in 1975, when he spent the summer in Tahiti.

Demarest, who grew up in Palos Verdes Estates, was a two-sport star at Palos Verdes High and the school's athlete of the year in 1968. He was courted by several major universities to play baseball, but settled on Cal State Long Beach because the 49ers were the only ones to allow him to play basketball, as well.

When Demarest arrived in Long Beach in the fall of 1968, he quickly realized that his basketball career was over. Jerry Tarkanian had been named coach and Demarest found after the first week that as an average-build guard he did not fit into Tarkanian's run-and-gun style.

But on the baseball field he fit in nicely. In his four-year career as a center fielder he did not make an error (that remains a 49er record). He was a team captain and most valuable player. In addition, he was chosen an Academic All-American Athlete of the Year.

When his university career was over, he worked in a summer recreational camp. Teaching was not a profession he had given much thought, but his work in the camp made him realize he enjoyed helping kids. Friends encouraged him to enter the profession. An acquaintance set up a job interview at La Quinta in the Garden Grove Unified School District as a mathematics instructor. At the time he was unaware that the school's baseball job had become available.

"It was the right place at the right time," he said. Soon after he was hired, despite some reservations about his age, La Quinta officials appointed him the baseball coach there.

It could just as easily have been basketball, which he terms "my first love," or boxing, where he was a Golden Glove, that would have eventually hooked him. As a freshman basketball coach at La Quinta, his record was 176-24 in 10 years.

"As a lower-level coach," said Palos Verdes basketball Coach John Mihaljevich, "he just had outstanding teams."

Twice he was offered the head basketball job at La Quinta. He turned it down because he did not feel he could do justice to the players as the coach of two major sports with overlapping seasons.

Just as well, because athletics have dictated his life style since he was a 6-year-old growing up in Rocky Point. "There are days I wish there was something else I could do," he said with lament. "Athletics have been my whole life."

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