Paraclete High School lost a beloved member of its family on Oct. 31 when longtime teacher, coach and assistant athletic director Andy Gavel suddenly passed away.
Gavel, who was just 10 days shy of his 63rd birthday, had a stent put in his heart on Oct. 26. He was doing so well that he was at his doctor’s office on Oct. 31 getting a release to go back to work. With the approval in his hand, he stepped in the elevator and collapsed. He could not be revived by the healthcare professionals.
Paraclete honored him with a Rosary and Memorial at Paraclete High School on Wednesday. His funeral mass is today at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 1600 East Avenue R-4 in Palmdale.
Gavel was a staple at Paraclete and was always helping out wherever he could. Whether it was taking tickets at football games, calling the newspaper to report scores and stats or just being an administrative presence at games, he was always there.
“Huge loss for the school, for sure,” said Paraclete Athletic Director Margaret Neill. “I am totally going to be lost without him. He did so much for the school that nobody even knows. The students don’t know, the other teachers don’t know, because he just kind of stays in the background.
“But he did so much for me, especially the winter season where I’m really going to be lost without him. He kind of controlled the gym while I was over at soccer.”
Gavel graduated from St. Bernard High School in Playa Del Rey and matriculated at Loyola Marymount University. He came to Paraclete from Bishop Amat in 1982. He left for two years to work at Crespi, but came back to Paraclete to teach and coach boys basketball. He always helped out wherever he was needed.
“He never said no,” said Paraclete Principal John Anson. “Whatever it was that was needed, Andy was the guy that would step up and do it.”
He taught AP U.S. History, AP Government and Economics at Paraclete for years. But, this year he was asked to take over the position of Christian Service moderator. He wasn’t too keen on the idea, at first, Anson said, because he was afraid he wouldn’t get much time with the students.
But, of course, he couldn’t say no. He found that organizing service projects for the students actually gave him more time to interact with them.
No one was better to teach them about service than Gavel.
“Andy was one of those people that would do anything that you asked,” Anson said. “He was about as selfless a person as there was. Andy was the type of guy that if you asked him for a dollar, he gave you a five, because he just had a heart of gold.
“He took over as our Christian Service moderator this year and he just embraced that with all the love that that position is supposed to have. He had a servant’s heart.
“It was a chance for him to help give the kids that service heart that he had.”
Gavel was known to give money to anybody who needed it, even though he didn’t have much himself. He would also give rides to students who were struggling and do anything to help his students succeed.
“He’d give the shirt off his back and you’d never even know it,” Neill said. “He’d just help anybody.”
J.R. Chapman played basketball for Gavel in the late 1980s and after he graduated in 1989, Gavel would often ask him to come back and help run summer camps, practices and leagues.
“He would call me every summer to ask me about working and helping him in the summers and coaching and whatnot,” Chapman said. “I was like, ‘Coach, I gotta get a job. I made bills this summer.’ He was like, ‘You know what, J.R., you coach for me this summer and drive to all my games and work my practices with me and I’ll pay off your bills.’
“He was just selfless like that. If I could help him help these kids, he would do anything for the kids. It’s a big reason why I volunteer so much of my time now.”
As a basketball coach, Gavel could be pretty intense, but it was only because he cared so much.
“He believed in calling it as it was and he believed in tough love, but at the end of the day, nobody questioned how much he loved the kids,” Anson said. “That’s really what it was.”
Even after he stopped coaching, he was always still in the gym, keeping stats and relaying them to the paper diligently.
“He loved basketball,” Neill said. “He’d do anything, he’d drink, sleep basketball.”
Chapman saw how Gavel was both as a coach and as a colleague, becoming his assistant coach in the mid-1990s. When he played for Gavel in the 80s, it was a time when coaches yelled a lot and brought passion to the sport. It was something Chapman was used to as his dad coached at the college.
“I knew going in that no one would really invest and put their emotions into anybody, unless they felt like they could do better,” Chapman said. “I learned real fast that he led with his heart. He was the kind of guy that wore his heart on his sleeve.
“He was a person in my life that taught me it’s not about you, it’s what you give to others.”
He taught all of his players to not only be selfless in life, but also on the court. He taught everyone to be team players, to make those around them better. Chapman said that’s a big reason why his senior year in 1989, the team went 23-2 and went to the CIF semifinals for the first time.
“If you’ve ever seen Gavel, physically he doesn’t fit the mold of an athlete,” Chapman said with a laugh. “But his basketball mind was amazing. He knew the game in and out, his X’s and O’s were awesome and he took the time to really mold his offenses and defenses around the ability of his athletes and that’s really what made my team in 1989 really the best team that Paraclete has had record wise.”
Gavel has the most wins of any coach at Paraclete, Chapman said, adding it is more than 300 victories.
He started a saying, “Hummina,” that was meant as a motivational word to his players. Chapman remembers getting in a playoff game during his sophomore year and Gavel using the phrase.
“He set up a play for me to go in and it gave me the opportunity to take a last shot,” Chapman said. “And his comment was ‘Hummina.’ That phrase was like, ‘Come on you guys. Let’s get up and give it your best.’ … It’s a coach trying to motivate his kids.
“He had beanies made my senior year that said ‘Hummina’ and I still have my beanie to this day.”
After the Paraclete football team’s playoff victory last Friday, the players broke their huddle with a “Hummina!” to honor Gavel.
The Spirits’ basketball team defeated perennial league champ Tehachapi twice in the 1989 season to win the league championship. Gavel told his players they could pass him up and down the bleachers if they did both of those things. So, they did.
“He owned it,” Chapman said with a laugh. “He laid into the hands of the senior class and they lifted him up to the top of the bleachers and back down. His word was always good. If he said he would do it, it’s done. It was hilarious, great times.”
Because he was always so intense on the basketball court, Gavel used to call the Paraclete gym “Gav’s Graveyard.”
“He said that, ‘When my time goes, all I want is for them to paint in this coach’s box and put Gav’s Graveyard, so I could forever be a Paraclete Spirit,’” Chapman said.
Gavel had a great sense of humor that he showed after you got to know him. He always gave the basketball players reindeer or elf names in their last game before Christmas. Some seasons, he also had a singing stuffed animal, who would be the good luck charm and theme for the season. One was a stuffed pig in a leather jacket that sang “Bad to the Bone.”
“Every day he sat down in my office, he made us smile,” Anson said. “I’m gonna miss him, that’s for sure.”
He would make others laugh unintentionally by falling asleep in his chair during athletic events.
“That man could sleep anywhere, I’ll tell ya,” Neill laughed.
In his first playoff win in the 80s, Neill said the team was at an away game.
“The first playoff game that he won, he stood on a chair and bent it,” she laughed. “All the people from the other school were like, ‘Oh my God, look at that chair! Look at what he did to that chair!’”
He would also dress up like a nerd for Spirit Week, complete with tape on his glasses, suspenders and high-water pants. He was also known for his collection of exotic athletic ties.
“He never held back from embarrassing himself to put a smile on others’ faces,” Chapman said.
Chapman also got kick out of Gavel’s driving skills.
“There was nothing better than watching him dance in the car to the Beach Boys,” Chapman laughed. “He probably wouldn’t pass a driver’s test if he took one today, and I say that out of humor, because his mind was always in a million places and we went on some wild rides up at Snow Valley Camp or whatnot.”
Gavel loved life, Paraclete, the students he interacted with and his three sisters — Judy Sims, Susan Gavel and Maggie Gavel-Briggs.
“He very much loved his family,” Chapman said. “He loved his sisters to death.”
And that is who Andy Gavel was, a man dedicated to his students, to helping others and to loving his family.
“If he were to speak to the kids today and give them one thing it’s to really love those around you, to really embrace family, to learn to love with your whole heart and to do so with no reservation,” Chapman said. “In life, his joy and his fulfillment was watching others succeed and that is something invaluable for those to learn today.
“He definitely was family in my eyes and someone I could always count on.”