Mike Cano, a renowned sports official and beloved coach and administrator at his alma mater of Bishop Diego High School, passed away on Wednesday after a short bout with cancer.
Mr. Cano, 62, had completed a one-year tenure as the Cardinals’ interim athletic director just two weeks ago. He also coached several sports at the school and served as the moderator for the school’s Associated Student Body.
“The void that Mike’s absence is sure to leave here at Bishop is palpable,” head of school Karen Regan said. “His impact on our students as a coach, teacher, and administrator was so positive and it feels unfair that given the current circumstances, we cannot come together as a community to properly celebrate his life right now.
“We look forward to the day when we can honor him and the impact he had on so many.”
Mr. Cano, who graduated from Bishop Diego in 1976, worked from 1985 to 2015 as the water distribution supervisor for the city of Santa Barbara. His 37-year career with the Channel Coast Officials Association began even earlier, in 1979, as a football referee and as an umpire for both baseball and softball. He eventually became president of the organization.
He was selected to work the CIF-Southern Section football finals five times and also worked the 1996 Shrine Football High School All-Star Classic that pitted the best players from California and Texas.
Tom Crawford had just become the head football coach at Bishop two decades ago when assistant coach Steve Robles introduced him to Mr. Cano.
“Mike said he was willing to come to our practices before the season to talk to the boys about some of the major rules and about sportsmanship and that sort of thing,” Mr. Crawford said. “He wound up doing it every single year that he was officiating.
“We’d take a break and he’d spend 20 minutes talking to the guys and answering their questions. I think he just loved the school and he loved the kids. He was such a great mentor. He’d do anything for them.”
He said he noticed that Mr. Cano usually officiated his football games as the umpire, positioned right behind the line of scrimmage.
“That’s how I picture him, always wanting to be in the thick of it,” Mr. Crawford said.
As a baseball umpire, Mr. Cano worked the CIF-SS Division 1 championship games at Dodger Stadium in 1998 and Anaheim Stadium in 2003. He also umpired the 2012 Division 5 final at UC Riverside.
The Channel Coast Officials Association honored him “for his service” with its 1998 Dick Olmstead Award and “for his performance” with its 2016 Cal Houston-Burt Davis Award.
Mr. Cano also officiated junior college and college baseball games from 1985 to 2012, umpiring in both the NAIA’s Golden State Athletic Conference and the NCAA’s Big West Conference. He also umpired California Collegiate League summer games and was selected to work the 2010 National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.
He refused to take a breather five years ago when he retired from the city. He offered his services to then-athletic director Dan Peeters, who took him on at Bishop as both his associate A.D. and as a coach for several sports.
“He started working with coach John Ceriale with our girls softball team,” Mr. Peeters said. “Then we started a girls golf program four years ago and he took the lead on that. He was also the head JV baseball coach for three years.
“He did all the equipment, too, as well as became involved with ASB the last few years. He had a tremendous influence on the kids and was willing to serve in any role. He’s been such a large part of our success.”
Mr. Cano’s service became even more vital in 2017 when Mr. Peeters’ 4-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia.
“He took on a very large role at that time for me,” Mr. Peeters said. “I’ll be forever grateful for his support, allowing me to support my family and my son during his first year of treatment.
“He was a wonderful man. His consistent, selfless commitment to others had a profound and positive impact on those around him. I’m a better man for knowing Mike Cano.”
Mr. Peeters left Bishop last summer to take the A.D. job at La Reina High School so he could work closer to his home in Camarillo. Mr. Cano made it a seamless transition for Bishop by agreeing to serve as interim A.D. Aaron Skinner, another Bishop alum, was hired last January and officially took over as athletic director on July 1.
“Mike wore a lot of hats around here,” said Mr. Crawford, whose duties at Bishop now also include auxiliary head of school. “He’d do whatever was asked of him without hesitation or complaint.
“He loved being around the students and getting the opportunity to impact them in a way that was outside the typical class environment.”
Nine years ago, former News-Press lifestyle sports columnist Mike Takeuchi asked Mr. Cano how he had overcome a previous health issue: “(He) said that in addition to his walking routine, he found that living a life full of love and frequent laughter was a key to him regaining good health.”
He is survived by his mother, Mary Cano; sisters Teri Carter (Bruce) and Liz Cano; nephew Kyle Carter; nieces Andrea Huffman, Denise Matus (Bill), Tamaria Franz, Danica Lamb (David), and Shae Blood; and grand-nephew Brandon Lamb.
Mr. Cano was preceded in death by his father, Daniel Cano, and by his sister Yolanda Huffman.