From heartfelt eulogies to a closing rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," Monday’s funeral was a team effort that Mike Ornelaz would have been proud of.
Several hundred well-wishers packed the pews and lined the aisles at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, showering the Ornelaz family with an outpouring of love and support.
It was a celebration of life worthy of the longtime teacher and assistant coach, who forged a legacy of assisting others in a career that spanned more than four decades. He passed away from pancreatic cancer on June 30. He was 69.
Monday’s gathering was also about remembering Ornelaz's dedication.
The extra ground balls. The demonstration of proper technique. The words of encouragement and the occasional “kick in the pants.”
The common theme? Coach O was loved and he will not be forgotten.
“He was like a second dad or a big brother,” said BHS football coach Michael Stewart, who first met Ornelaz after graduating from BHS. Ornelaz was the head football coach at Highland at the time in 1983-84. “We go way back. We’re like family. We’re talking about a long-term effect. From far and near, he was always leading and coaching.”
Stewart’s relationship with Ornelaz came full-circle when the former Los Angeles Rams defensive back applied for the head football coaching position at BHS.
“He was one of the first people that were there for me and supporting me,” Stewart said.”A lot of the reason why I’m here is because of him.”
Ornelaz was born in Bakersfield in 1949 and spent most of youth living in Oildale. He played baseball and football at North High, graduating in 1967. He played two years of football at Bakersfield College and then another two at UNLV on a football scholarship.
Ornelaz started coaching and teaching at El Dorado High in Las Vegas before returning to his hometown.
After a 14-year stint at Highland, which included six years as head football coach, Ornelaz moved to BHS, where he served as an assistant to the football and baseball programs.
Ornelaz was a common link as the BHS baseball program negotiated through multiple head coaching changes. For the last three seasons, that meant helping to guide current Driller baseball coach Mario Garza.
“I think more than anything, he was a mentor and he was just a great individual to learn from,” Garza said. “He was just a leader on the field.
“The thing about Coach is he was old school. He was very stern, but very educational. It was always a teaching moment. He would let the kids know (what they did wrong) and then he’d explain why he was on them. He was such an educator. He was a true teacher and student of the game.”