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John Glenn’s Parra steps down from head coaching post with many memories

By Loren Kopff

With no playoffs in sight for the third straight season, Linda Parra was still in the John Glenn gymnasium on the final Saturday morning of the regular season for her team’s second to final practice. Even without a full squad on hand, the ones who were there were practicing with some of the alumni as if the team was still playing for another week or so.
This past Tuesday night against La Mirada, Parra coached her final game at Glenn, wrapping up a 12-year career that was more like a roller coaster. She won four games in the 2002-2003 season, then had four straight seasons of at least 17 victories including a Suburban League championship. But the Lady Eagles failed to reach the playoffs the last three seasons and concluded this season at 4-22 overall, the most losses in her tenure at Glenn. Still, the former Mojave High and California State University, Los Angeles standout had a blast and leaves as one of the two most tenured Suburban League coaches with one school. Scott Roczey, the other former 12-year veteran, coached at Artesia from 1994-2006.
“It’s been a great 12 years, even though sometimes there are moments in your coaching career where you want to give up or you feel emotionally exhausted and defeated,” Parra said. “In the overall picture of it, there are so many memories in the 12 years that have been great memories. I’ve have gotten a great group of kids that I have been able to work with and change their lives, and they’ve changed my life. It’s been so positive in so many ways.”
Parra departs with 155 wins. Former Glenn and Norwalk head coach Richard Drake won 173 games in 13 seasons with the two teams while former Cerritos head coach Holly Matchett (2001-2008, 2009-2012) won 154 games in 10 seasons with the Lady Dons. And, of the seven playoff victories in Glenn history, Parra and Drake each have three of them.
Parra is calling it quits at Glenn mainly to spend more time going to her children’s practices and games. Brandon, who will turn 10 in May, and Taylor (eight), are both actively involved in youth athletics. Parra says that seeing their games hasn’t been a problem, but going to their practices has always conflicted with conducting practices with her high school teams.
“Brandon and Taylor, when they were younger, they weren’t practicing three days a week or four days,” Parra said. “Now they’re at a point where they’re in practice and I’m here, and I’m not with them.”
When Parra replaced Drake in 2002, she inherited a squad that had won two league games the previous season, but still advanced to the playoffs. Glenn went 4-17 overall and winless in league in Parra’s rookie season, but turned it around the following season, going 18-9 overall and finishing in fourth place. The team lost to Ocean View in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III-AA first round playoffs. Glenn was led that season by 6’ 2” transfer Natasha Lobendahn (514 points) and Anna Conrad (372 points).
“It was very humbling but it also taught that group of girls that losing wasn’t going to be acceptable,” Parra remembers of her first year. “It took them a few years to get to that winning point. But, it was definitely an experience. I was an in-your-face coach and they ran a lot. I’ll never forget that first year.”
Throughout the years, the 5’ 3” Parra could be heard loud and clear throughout every gymnasium she walked into, except sometimes referees had a hard time noticing her when she was calling for a timeout. Parra attributes her coaching style and demeanor to that of Bobby Knight, an in-your-face type of coach. Even with all of the demonstrative coaching and yelling, not one of the 80 players Parra coached ever walked out on a practice or a game. She credits her high school coach, John Gallen, for the way she has been coaching the past 12 seasons.
“My high school coach is by far one of the most influential people in my life other than my parents,” Parra said. “I spent numerous hours with that man. If I had a bad game, the next day I was in the gym at lunch time. He spent that time with me. My parents and him would drive us to Chino Hills to play with [former Ayala High girls basketball head coach] Mel Sims every Saturday. I grew up playing weekend basketball in Los Angeles to get better competition because there wasn’t as much of it in the desert area. His philosophy of coaching is what I’m all about.”
Parra was an All-CIF representative during the 1995-1996 season as a senior, before taking her talents to CSULA from 1996-2000.
“In the early beginning when she had some of those outstanding centers and guards, her teams were always well prepared; always well prepared for me,” Drake said. “Her teams were always feisty and competitive. I also believe that her teams always emulate who she probably was as a player.”
In Parra’s fifth season, the Lady Eagles won the league for the first time since the 1991-1992 season with a team that had a pair of intimidating six foot sisters, Brandi and Champign Hood, who combined to score 908 points.
Parra’s potential successor, Christina Hernandez, virtually clinched the league title against Cerritos with a pair of free throws with 16 seconds remaining in the last game of the regular season. Hernandez would be the first person to hug a tearful Parra at the conclusion of that game. Glenn had two home playoff games, the second against top-seeded Hart. In fact, that was the last time Glenn hosted a playoff game.
“It wasn’t that season; it was everything that took place before that season,” Parra said of the success of the 2006-2007 campaign. “That group had a phenomenal summer. We took them to many different tournaments where they [finished] in first place. Their best memory was the Las Vegas Tournament where we played a team from out of state and we were down by 15 at halftime. We changed up the defense and we went on a run and won. That team only lost two games all summer and that whole momentum of winning continued throughout the season.”
“They had their own inside style,” Drake chuckled. “One Hood would take a shot that looked like a shot but in reality it was a pass. While our team looked for a rebound, the other Hood sister would catch it and put it in. Clever plays for the Hood sisters but she’s always had, for quite a long time, a good run of quality inside players.”
As successful as Parra was in the first half of her Glenn career, it’s been nearly the opposite the last three seasons. The Lady Eagles have gone 20-59 overall and 4-32 in league since Glenn’s last trip to the playoffs. Parra attributes the past few years to the lack of year-round players she has had. Another part of that is the fact that the Suburban League, at times, can be completely unpredictable. Six of the seven teams have won at least one league title during Parra’s time at Glenn.
“The Suburban League is definitely a very interesting league to coach in because there isn’t the dominant factor,” Parra said. “It’s about what you get in and what works for that given year. You can go undefeated in league and then the next year, you take third because the next year, another group comes in. Our league is not dominated by individual talent. It’s dominated by teams who can play together.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in the Suburban League or whatever,” Drake said. “It’s a grind to be a coach. You have to love it. But at normal high schools, you always have turnover, no matter what you do.”
Parra contemplated stepping down following the 2009-2010 season. But when she saw the upcoming players on the horizon, most noticeably Myra Gomez, she decided to stick around a few more years. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out the way she had thought, but Gomez was the one constant the past four seasons. She will graduate as the last four-year player to have played for Parra and leaves Glenn with 727 points, sixth most under Parra.
“I’m blessed to have had her as a coach,” Gomez said. “She’s taught me everything I know. She’s my second mom. She’s just so supportive and she always knows what to tell me, even if it’s constructive criticism.
“It was stressful [as a freshman] because I had five seniors [on the team],” Gomez added. “I had the privilege to play with my sister.”
“What an investment of four years of hard work and being versatile enough to go from having to be a point guard one year to a center the next year,” Parra said. “She is definitely the player that makes you want to stay.”
Parra says she will still remain in coaching, but with third and fourth grade girls. She will still remain as the school’s co-athletic director and hasn’t ruled out coaching high school basketball somewhere down the road.