No matter what life threw at him, Golden Valley High coach Ed Santos was at every cheerleading practice, his first priority at all times, armed with a Diet Coke and a smile.
That commitment made Wednesday’s news all the more heartbreaking for members of his cheer squad.
After suffering a stroke on Sunday, Santos was taken off life support at 9 p.m. Tuesday and died the following day, according to Hart district spokesman Dave Caldwell.
On Sunday, the last day of a World Class Cheerleading camp in Palm Springs, the Grizzlies squad was set to perform. Santos, who was working the camp, hadn’t seen his cheerleaders too often for the duration of the camp.
“We didn’t really think much on the final day when he wasn’t around,” said rising junior cheer captain Valerie Fiore. “(But) we were confused as to why he was missing our final performances.”
Shortly after they performed, Golden Valley cheer advisor Melissa Brewer had informed the team that something was wrong and that Santos had been whisked away in an ambulance.
Santos had suffered a stroke and was taken to Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.
He remained in intensive care on life support until 9 p.m. on Tuesday, according to Caldwell, who said Santos died on Wednesday. The time of death is unknown.
He was 48 years old.
Brewer had called all cheerleaders and cheerleading alumni to the Golden Valley library on Monday to warn the girls that Santos’ condition was critical.
“Everyone was crying,” Fiore said. “We wanted him to see it through because we couldn’t picture this season without him. He was so excited for all the new things he was going to bring in. He said it was going to be the best year Golden Valley has ever seen.
“We plan to keep it that way even without him.”
Santos joined the Hart district in 2001 as a walk-on cheerleading coach. He coached at Canyon and Saugus highs and would have been entering his fourth year as a coach at Golden Valley this school year.
One of his greatest accomplishments at the school was coaching the 2015 co-ed cheerleading squad – one that included four football players – to third place at a USA Nationals competition.
Greater than that, though, was his ability to build a positive image for his team through helping others, whether it was the color guard or dance team.
“He raised the cheerleaders to be people to look up to,” said recent GV grad and cheerleading alum Sammie Biedermann.
“Cheerleaders sometimes get bad raps, but he turned the name ‘cheerleader’ at Golden Valley to be something special. He turned Golden Valley cheer into something nobody ever thought it could be.”
A memorial that included flowers, photos and stuffed animals was set up outside the Golden Valley gym on Wednesday afternoon. A formal vigil or memorial has not been announced yet.
“When we came together (on Monday), a lot of girls were confused if they were still cheering or not, but we decided we’re going to do it for him,” Fiore said. “We’re going to keep his legacy going.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to cover the cost of funeral services at www.gofundme.com/coach-ed-santos-fight-for-his-life.