Courtney Gano

'You're gonna be okay, Court'; Gano dedicates final season to her dad Greg

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
Savanna Collins
Jun 25, 2023

Courtney Gano is one of the moms of Athletes Unlimited Softball, competing for three seasons in the league while raising her almost three-year-old son.

But before Gano was “Greggy’s mom” she was Coach Gano’s daughter.

As she competes in the final season of her seven-year professional softball career, she’s dedicated it to the Gregory her son is named after.

‘I’m so proud of you’

A year ago while competing in the inaugural AUX season, Courtney Gano had a feeling something was wrong. Her father Greg Gano lived two hours north of San Diego and drove down to watch her play, just as he’d done her entire softball career.

But now he’d arrive early to take more frequent naps with Gregory before games started. Or, he would leave early in the fifth inning saying he didn’t feel well or needed to rest. She noticed he was tired – a lot.

But in the final game of the season, he stayed not only seven innings but ten as Courtney’s team went into extras. He was there in the stands when she hit a walk-off grand slam to give her team the victory.

After celebrating with her team, Greg was the first place she went. He was along the third base side cheering and crying for his daughter, overwhelmed with emotions.

“He had tears in his eyes and I remember him just saying, ‘I’m so proud of you,'” Courtney said.

It was a memorable moment for Courtney in her career. She’d struggled throughout the season, disappointed in her performance.

“I’d be really upset after the games and I wouldn’t perform well… He always reminded me [and] would always say, ‘You’re gonna be okay, Court.'”

Now 29 years old, those reassuring words hadn’t changed since her childhood.

‘You don’t need my first name, I’m Coach Gano’s Daughter’

Greg Gano is a legend in California high school football. He was a head football coach for nearly 30 years and spent the majority of his career at Los Altos where he won four CIF Southern Section championships.

Courtney was there for it all; riding the bus, cheering as the mascot, and hauling equipment as the ball girl.

As a child, Courtney played her own games on the sideline during practices and ate Pizza Chalet ordered from the local joint on Sundays when the coaching staff came over to watch film. She’d cemented herself with him full-time at age 10. It was just ‘Dad and Court’ – all the time.

When Courtney reached high school, there was no phase of teenage angst that made her embarrassed of her dad. She was the opposite.

“I’d see him walking down the halls and I would yell, ‘Hi, dad!’ I wanted to make sure everyone knew that he’s my dad because that’s how loved he was. That’s how proud I was and I am still.”

Greg was a coach that embodied so much more than the title. Courtney remembers having Thanksgiving with the entire team and Christmas shopping for players her dad knew might not have presents under the tree.

Throughout those childhood years, Courtney made relationships that would carry through to the professional level.

She played travel ball for the Corona Angels at 15 years old alongside AU teammates Taylor Edwards and Danielle O’Toole. Greg even coached O’Toole’s younger brother in high school. Their families became familiar through the long days spent at the ballpark and traveling across the state for tournaments.

“They know some stories and they have stories of their own. Like, ‘Remember when you used to make your dad go to the snack bar and get you nachos, and he’d come back and you’d tell him it wasn’t right and he’d go back?'” Gano laughed. “I was so spoiled … Those types of things it’s fun and it’s a special thing.”

‘That’s not a coincidence’

After seeing her compete close to home in California last year, Greg traveled to Rosemont, Ill. for the 2022 Championship Season in July. He mentioned he was having trouble swallowing.

“He had cancer at the time, but we didn’t know it,” Gano explained.

He returned home to California and one evening began vomiting blood. He dialed 911 before falling unconscious.

That night at 2 a.m. Courtney got a call from Michael O’Toole – Danielle O’Toole’s dad. He was the fireman who showed up to care for Greg at his home. The other fireman who responded was one of his former players.

“That’s who I got the call from, Mike O’Toole. ‘Your dad’s in the hospital. I’m by his side. It’s gonna be okay. I’m gonna keep checking on him.’

“And that’s not a coincidence,” Gano said.

That call was during the final week of the 2022 Championship Season in August. Courtney flew to California and moved her dad to Seattle where her home base is for treatment. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

‘You’d be great in purple’

After his first chemotherapy treatment, Courtney picked him up and brought him to the Washington Softball field so she could finish up practices. She was the director of player development last year for the Huskies.

“He got to kind of see me doing my thing on the field with the girls. And he had always said, ‘I think you’d be great in purple. I think you’d be great coaching alongside Coach Tarr.’ And I kept saying, ‘Well, maybe someday. Maybe someday.'”

Greg came out onto the field to snap a photo with his daughter, his grandson Gregory, and Washington Head Coach Heather Tarr. Aside from family, Coach Tarr was the last person to visit Greg before he passed.

Washington was the one and only visit for Courtney and Greg during her softball recruiting process. While on the visit, he leaned over to one of the other girls on the visit and told her, “My daughter’s coming here.”

Courtney laughs recalling one of her earliest memories at Washington with her dad.

“He wanted it for me. He loved Washington. And so that was our first trip together … Our only one. I committed right then.”

Greg got to see Courtney’s softball career unfold. He wore Husky purple for four years. He saw her don red, white and blue with Team USA. He made many trips outs to Rosemont when she played for the Chicago Bandits in the National Pro Fastpitch league. And he got to see her return to the game as a mom competing with AU.

Just like she got to be there for it all in his coaching career, Greg was there for it all in her playing career. And before she knew with certainty what path she would take next, Greg was sure his daughter was going to be a coach.

“He got to see every level of what I did. He got a good glimpse of himself in me. He knew I was going to become a coach before I did.”

In June of this year, UW Softball and Coach Tarr announced the addition of Courtney as an assistant coach.

‘I’ll always show up’

There are many ways Greg lives on after his passing in November.

His coaching legacy continues through Courtney. She sees the similarities that they care for their players as people first, guiding them to be better humans and then better athletes.

“Showing up is something that he always did. I just want them to know I love and care about them and I’ll always show up.”

His legacy also lives on in his grandson who has his name.

When Courtney found out she was having a boy, there was no doubt she and her husband Abdul were naming him Gregory.

“I see so much of my dad in my son and they had such a great relationship. And I know it’s so early on, it’s Gregory’s early years, but he still talks about his papa all the time. This morning he said, ‘Papa’s in heaven with God’… It’s those kinds of things are so emotional but so comforting.”

Before Greg passed, Courtney captured as many memories as she could. They recorded birthday messages to play for Gregory on his birthday. Greg had one of his favorite photos of him and his grandson laughing together turned into a painting. It hangs in Courtney’s home where Gregory can see it.

“My son doesn’t get to experience my dad as long as I wish, but my dad got to experience my son for as long as he could and they had a special bond.”

‘You’re gonna be okay, Court’

In her dad’s final days, Courtney didn’t understand how he could be so at peace when her whole world was falling apart. She wondered, ‘How could you be okay with leaving? How do you know I’m gonna be okay?’ But she now recalls his assurance.

“He was so confident in knowing that he loved me, how hard he loved me, and that he cared for me. He had no regrets, nothing … That now gives me some comfort and peace to know he was okay with what he was leaving this world. He gave it everything that he wanted. And that’s the kind of impact that I hope to make. I want to be able to feel that when it’s my time.”

Courtney still feels like the other half of her is gone but she has ways she’s found to connect to her dad seven months later. You’ll notice the butterflies on her social media posts and her nails. “Butterfly Kisses” was their song; they used to dance to it together in the living room. With tears but softly smiling, Gano remembers how he’d hold her. She’d lay her head against him and they’d sing the song.

“And so now, I always see butterflies. It’s the craziest thing. It’s just a reminder that he’s with me.”

His memory is also laced into the leather of her glove. Periwinkle laces for esophageal cancer awareness and Dad embroidered in his favorite color green. She was able to show him the glove before he passed and it sat by his bed while he was in hospice care.

Now, Courtney will slip on that glove Tuesday when she takes the field for the last time as a player.

She’ll be with her support system and her teammates that have become family; the new ones and the old ones who knew her and Greg growing up in West Covina, Calif. Gregory will be there too, surrounded by his entire league of aunties.

Courtney doubted if she would return to play in 2023, but now she’s glad she did. Softball was always their thing and the last time is in honor of her dad.

“I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it and I have this sense of peace now being on the field.”

Her dad’s voice cuts through the sadness, the performance anxiety, and the pressure.

“I love you. I’m so proud of you. You’re gonna be okay, Court.”

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