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Ardyce Masters: Equality and excellence

Impact of former coach, athletic director transcends sports

Posted: December 28, 2010 10:01 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Ardyce Masters, who coached multiple sports at Canyon and also served as girls athletic director, has been an influential figure in the Santa Clarita Valley. Ardyce Masters, who coached multiple sports at Canyon and also served as girls athletic director, has been an influential figure in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Ardyce Masters, who coached multiple sports at Canyon and also served as girls athletic director, has been an influential figure in the Santa Clarita Valley.

A  little more than a decade ago, Ray Sanchez stood at a podium, ready to deliver a speech at a banquet honoring the retirement of former Canyon coach and athletic director Ardyce Masters.

As Sanchez peered down at the hundreds of faces staring back at him, he realized something.

Masters was much more than just his former high school volleyball coach and physical education teacher — she had become a legend in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“I thought I was part of this small club,” says Sanchez, who currently coaches girls volleyball at Valencia High. “It turns out that she had that same relationship with hundreds of people all the time she had been there.”

Not many would argue that Masters coached both the girls and boys volleyball teams through some of their best seasons at Canyon in the 1970s and '80s. But those who played for her say her success cannot simply be broken down to wins and losses.

In fact, it can’t even be limited to athletics, nor can it be limited to Canyon High alone.

For what she’s done for sports in the SCV, Masters has earned the respect and praise of coaches, teachers and administrators from around the area and beyond.

Masters arrived in valley in 1970 after graduating from UCLA and earning a master’s degree in physical education at Baylor University.

At that time, there was no girls volleyball program.

For that matter, there wasn’t much of anything for girls to do athletically, which Masters found simply unacceptable.

A former volleyball and badminton player herself, Masters took the initiative and organized girls basketball, volleyball in both genders, softball and badminton programs that would compete against other area high schools.

“It’s just something I did,” Masters says. “I didn’t really think much about it. I just decided there were things that needed to be done.”

Before that, basketball and softball teams existed at Canyon, but they competed in the Girls Athletic Association, which meant they competed against each other.

Roughly once a week, all the girls who wanted to play sports at the school would participate in basketball and softball games all day long. Afterward, the girls shared cookies, cupcakes and all kinds of home-made baked goods.

In those days, hardly anyone knew girls athletics existed, Masters says. That was because the subpar level of competition.
It certainly wasn’t because of a lack of talent.

“They got absolutely no recognition whatsoever,” Masters says. “If those girls were in high school today, they’d be getting scholarships all over the place. They were good athletes.”

And in 1971, high school girls sports as we know them today began in the SCV.

Canyon joined the Golden League, where it competed against schools from the Antelope Valley and eventually Hart, the only other SCV school at the time.

Athletes like Jean Verdini were recognized with a Female Athlete of the Year award with cloth banners that were draped on the wall of the school gym.

That was also Masters’ idea.

“I had some incredibly fantastic athletes back then who really supported taking their game to the next level,” Masters says.

Verdini, who went by the name of McCaslin then, was one of those athletes.

She won the award in its first three years of existence before graduating Canyon in 1973. Her name still appears in Canyon’s gym.

“It’s what made the sport fun,” says Verdini, who now lives in Vale, Ore. “It seemed like it was real. It didn’t seem like a day to play all day, have cupcakes and go home.”

It wasn’t long before Masters, who also assumed the role of girls athletic director in 1970, had spread her influence across the valley.

All six of the valley’s high schools now use some form of her player of the year idea for both girls and boys athletics today.

Through her actions and her demeanor, Masters was doing more than just putting banners up on the wall.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without Ardyce Masters,” says Dody Garcia, West Ranch athletic director and a former Canyon athlete under Masters. “She was a mentor, not only for me but for a lot of other people.”

For most of her career, Masters taught PE and coached volleyball. She also coached girls basketball for a few years.

As a coach, she always made sure her players were staying on top of their schoolwork and staying out of trouble.

Whether it was girls or boys sports, she believed in doing things the right way.

No cheating. No recruiting.

And that’s what stuck with people like Sanchez and the rest of crowd that filled the banquet room at her retirement party in 1999.

“Other than my parents, my mom, my dad, she may be the single greatest influence on my life,” Sanchez says.

But as warm and caring as she was to her students, players and co-workers, it was her fiery competitive streak that turned the Canyon volleyball team into a perennial powerhouse while she was there.

“She brought a lot of femininity to women’s sports around here, and she made it OK to be a female athlete and play hard and play tough, but still maintain your femininity,” says Garcia, who played volleyball, basketball and softball at Canyon.

That’s why 11 years after retiring as athletic director, and 24 years after stepping down as the volleyball coach, her effect on the valley can’t be denied.

“I always gave at least 110 percent,” Masters says. “When I quit coaching, I only did it because I couldn’t do it to the max like I wanted. I wasn’t going to be a 50 percent coach.”

And the respect she’s garnered in the SCV sports community has drawn comparisons to another legendary name tied with Canyon High: former football coach Harry Welch.

“A lot of people call her the Harry Welch of women’s athletics, but we prefer to say he was the Ardyce Masters of men,” Garcia says.


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