Contact Form

    News Details

    Lalo Mendoza leaves behind legacy of excellence and racial equality
    • July 3, 2023

    LAKEWOOD — South Los Angeles has produced some of the best athletes to ever compete at the college or pro level, but there might have not been a coach with as much impact on those athletes as Ladislao “Lalo” Mendoza.

    The long-time coach at Verbum Dei Jesuit High School in Los Angeles produced pros such as Hardy Nickerson, Vernon Maxwell, Andre Miller and Kenechi Udeze.

    Mendoza died on June 20, but his legacy has been felt, not just from the players he coached, but from the community he lived in.

    Mendoza’s life was bigger than the accomplishments he had on the field. For many of his athletes and students, it was what he did off the field that made him so beloved in South Los Angeles.

    Whether it was giving one of his players a place to crash for the night or making sure they had their tuition paid, Mendoza made it a point to help out the community any way he could.

    “He was just a good man at his core,” said Lalo’s sister ChaCha Parkin. “If someone needed a ride or needed somewhere to crash for the night, Lalo was there. I can’t tell you how many people Lalo paid for their tuition to go to college. There was truly no one like him.”

    Lalo’s parents Henry and Giuseppina met when Henry was stationed in Italy during World War II. Henry, a Mexican-American from Los Angeles, fell in love with Giuseppina, a woman from Italy, and just 32 days after the war ended, Lalo was born in Marina di Grosseto, Italy.

    Shortly after Lalo’s birth, the family settled in Willowbrook and opened a liquor store named Henry’s Market in Los Angeles.

    Lalo had a knack for sports, learning to play from his father. Henry Mendoza played guard and punter at L.A. Jordan High School and passed down some of his lessons to Lalo.

    Education was a staple in the Mendoza household. Both Henry and Giuseppina emphasized the need for all of their children to attend college and to obtain a degree.

    Lalo first got his start at Compton Community College where he then transferred to California State University, Dominguez Hills and received his BA. Lalo then obtained his master’s degree at Azusa Pacific University.

    It was during his time at Dominguez Hills that he fell in love with coaching. He started off coaching an 8th-grade Catholic Youth League football team after a close family friend, Father James Henry of Verbum Dei High School, encouraged Lalo to get into coaching.

    Lalo loved being a mentor and coaching sports, but needed to find a way to make it a career. That’s when Father Henry told him he needed to become an educator first so that he can make a living off of doing what he loves.

    But then tragedy struck in 1974.

    Henry Mendoza was killed in what was ruled a homicide, leaving Lalo to be the man of the house.

    “I remember Lalo picking us up from school when our father died. It was an emotional moment for all the siblings, but I remember Lalo was so calm. I don’t think he even cried,” said Lalo’s sister DeeDee Mendoza-Bean.

    It was that moment when Lalo had to be the one to lead his family that he developed the leadership skills that he would take throughout his coaching career.

    During his time at Verbum Dei High School, Lalo won five total CIF Championships. He led the football team to back-to-back state championships in 1981 and 1982. His 1982 team went 26-0 which was a state record at that time.

    Lalo also coached football at Compton Community College and Salesian High School in Los Angeles where he officially retired from head coaching.

    In 2006, Lalo came back to coach at Long Beach Cabrillo High School where he served as an assistant coach to his brother Elio. In total, Lalo coached for 49 years in the greater Los Angeles area, helping some of the best athletes get to college and beyond.

    Lalo’s ability to put winning teams on the playing field along with his success putting his athletes through college caught the attention of bigger high school and college programs around the country.

    But Lalo felt that his mission was not to get to the next level of coaching, rather to help shape the young men in his community.

    “Lalo was good friends with Joe Kapp who coached at Cal and he would always say ‘Lalo you gotta come help out at Cal,’ ” said Lalo’s brother Kiki Mendoza. “Lalo would say ‘I never did with my heart, my heart was always with my players.’ ”

    His ability to relate to people played a big part in why Lalo garnered the respect from players in the neighborhood. Lalo started coaching during the Civil Rights era and saw the way many of his Black and Brown players were treated in the South Central community.

    Parkin said that there were many nights that Lalo was pulled over when driving around south central picking up and dropping off players.

    “He would be driving in Watts and Compton and when was pulled over he always told his players ‘Just do what the officer says. I know it’s wrong, but I want you to get home safely,’ ” Parkin said.

    The injustices that Lalo saw his players go through angered him throughout his coaching career, according to Parkin. Though he often said he could never understand the plight his players faced on a daily basis, he knew through his role in sports and education that he could be an ally to his players and the community he served.

    “The man should literally have his name in front of (Verbum Dei),” Udeze said. “I’m gonna try my hardest to push for something like that.”

    The Mendoza family has scheduled Lalo’s viewing for 4 p.m. on July 6 at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Long Beach. The funeral will take place at 11 a.m. at St. Cyprian Catholic Church which will be followed by a reception at Verbum Dei High School.

    Related Articles

    High School Sports |

    Mater Dei football takes care of ‘business’ with title run at Battle at the Beach

    High School Sports |

    Top 10 storylines for Edison’s Battle at the Beach passing tournament on Saturday

    High School Sports |

    Dave White is the defensive coordinator at Edison

    High School Sports |

    Orange County’s top committed football recruits, June 28

    High School Sports |

    Servite football coach Chris Reinert hires coordinators

    ​ Orange County Register