If Darci Lewis could have it her way, she would like to go first when it comes to inducting the 14th annual class into the Napa High School Athletic Hall of Fame during the Oct. 9 dinner and awards program at the Embassy Suites Hotel.
Lewis isn’t nervous one bit when it comes to coaching her girls basketball team, which she has led to six Monticello Empire League championships in seven years. But the former multi-sport athlete — a 1995 graduate who won 13 varsity letters for the Indians — may get teary-eyed when it comes to delivering her acceptance speech.
“I’d rather be the first because I think everyone else is so amazing,” she said last week. “I’m nervous about this speech. I don’t want to cry, which I normally do.”
When she looks into the audience, Lewis will see not only her own family, but a room full of people closely tied to Napa High athletics who have followed Lewis’ career as an athlete and now as the head coach of a successful basketball program.
She will enter the Hall of Fame as an athlete, joining Bob Herlocker (coach), Mike Brown (coach) and Glenn Hughes.
Hughes is the co-owner of Napa Valley Physical Therapy Center and a special category inductee. He has been the trainer for the Napa High football team for the last 20 years, donating his time and services.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Lewis, 33. “People said, ‘You always knew you were going to go in.’ I never assumed that I would go in. I think it’s a really big deal.
“I always thought of myself as a good athlete, but I never thought much more than that. I felt like I was someone who worked hard, so I was like one of the workers — I was a worker athlete, not necessarily the most skilled, or at least that’s how I saw it.
“To get something like this, it just kind of shows that your hard work does pay off. It’s a really big compliment.”
Lewis didn’t take seasons off at Napa High, excelling in tennis, cross country, track and field, and basketball. She will join her father, former boys basketball coach Denny Lewis, who is already in the Hall of Fame.
“It means everything to go in with my dad — it’s very special,” she said.
Lewis literally grew up in Napa’s Messner Gym, spending her summers there playing basketball and volleyball and looking on as her dad coached basketball for 28 years.
She starred as a distance runner, competing in the CIF state cross country meet twice and winning a MEL individual title. She took first place in the league track meet in the 1,600 meters. She was also an All-League and All-Napa County player as a point guard and was Napa High’s Female Athlete of the Year.
“I loved all the sports and I loved high school,” she said. “I’m a huge proponent of the multi sports.”
Lewis was the Napa Valley Register’s Female Fall Athlete of the Year in 1993 and 1994 for cross country and tennis. She was the female scholar-athlete of the year at the College of San Mateo, where she played basketball and ran track and cross country. She also ran cross country and track for the University of Montana.
She will enter the Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility.
Former Napa High athletes who graduated in 1995 or before were eligible for consideration this year.
“Napa is an amazing school,” said Lewis. “That gym, I love Messner Gym. I just have such an association with it.
“I love Napa High and I love coaching here.”
The Hall of Fame spans generations and several decades, dating all the way back to 1912. Tristan (Austin) Ruiz was inducted last year, bringing the HOF’s membership to 119.
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A combination of athletes, coaches and special category inductees make up the HOF, which is now in its 14th year.
The purpose of the NHS Athletic HOF Foundation is to honor the school and its athletics department by recognizing the achievements of former athletes, coaches and others who have made significant contributions to the school’s athletic programs.
The nomination process is open to the public each year. Research and background information for each nominee must be provided by the nominator and must be documented. The Hall of Fame’s selection committee votes on the nominees. A successful nominee needs 75 percent of the total points possible.
Some of Lewis’ best memories as a youth were going to the gym in the summer with her dad.
“We were just active the whole time he was down here,” she said.
“It was so much fun. My best memories are going to my dad’s games, watching his team go to Arco, watching the Amador Valley game.”
Napa beat host Amador Valley-Pleasanton, one of the top teams in the state, in the Northern California playoffs.
“The gym feels like my second home, since I grew up in it,” Darci Lewis said. “Getting to coach where my dad did, and standing where my dad did, it’s just very fun. And also being in the same gym you played in, it’s got a lot of memories.”
There is a lot that Darci has taken from her dad, when it comes to coaching.
She runs her dad’s flex motion offense and puts in presses that are similar to what Denny used. Like her dad, she is also an excellent teacher of the game and knows exactly how to motivate and develop team chemistry and cohesiveness.
“A big part of my philosophy is very similar to what my dad’s philosophy was,” she said. “I’ve changed a few things and tweaked a few things and I think I coach differently.
“But a lot of what I have is from my dad.”
Denny is also in the Lincoln High and San Francisco Prep Athletic Hall of Fames. Denny’s 1990-91 and 1991-92 teams won MEL championships and had a combined record of 43-14. Fifteen times during his tenure, Napa teams went to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs and the 1991-92 team won the section title.
Darci’s sister, Michelle, was an assistant coach for the Indians for several years.
Denny stepped down as the boys coach in 2002, after 28 years with the Indians, but has helped with Darci’s teams.
“We’re an extremely close family,” said Darci.
“My mom (Kay) is at every single game and is the most supportive person. I think we’re extremely lucky for what we have as a family.”
Lewis, a University of Montana graduate, is also grateful for the coaches she played for at Napa — Tracey Emberley, Keith Orr, Sue Sears and Ron Diemoz.
“You got a lot of different experiences playing for different people,” she said. “I met all my friends through sports. I loved it. I was very happy with all my coaches. All my coaches taught me something different. What every coach taught me is something I use today.”