With 16 seasons to her name as both head softball and varsity girls’ basketball coach, Susan Prado-Ortiz will soon lose one of her titles. The longtime coach will step away from the softball diamond at the end of the season.
“It is just time because I am getting tired,” Prado-Ortiz said. “I am tired of wearing long sleeves, long pants and a mask when I am out in the sun to protect me.”
Some high school coaches are feared and many are admired, but Prado-Ortiz deserves respect for the battle she has faced since 2015. A teacher at Apollo since 1989, Prado-Ortiz has lived by the motto, “Good coaches can change a game, great coaches can change a life.”
She said, “I do not judge my career on wins or losses, but on by the positive impact I have made on my kids and the impact they have all had on me over the years.”
Prado-Ortiz was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2015. She had it removed, but it came back a year later. She went through radiation treatments, and returned to both teams.
“I wasn’t going to let it slow me down,” Prado-Ortiz said. “I thought for sure when it came back I would walk away, but it was a challenge and I was not going to let it take away what I love to do.”
Over her career, Prado-Ortiz has made the playoffs six times, but has never passed the first round of the playoffs. She has compiled a 191-191-1 record over the past 16 years (as of April 14).
“Wins and losses are nice, but there is more to coaching than wins on the field,” Prado-Ortiz said. “If I can make a positive impact by teaching, coaching or just being there for them, then I have been a success.”
While her team has been struggling on the diamond this season, it has nothing to do with her stepping away. And she plans to remain the head varsity girls’ basketball coach.
“I love being out on the diamond and being in the sun, wearing this visor, which I can’t wear inside. It keeps my hair out of my face and I love wearing it,” Prado-Ortiz said while holding up her Apollo visor. “I love being outside, and despite what the sun has done to me, I love being in the sun and fresh air.”
Prado-Ortiz has been battling back since 2014, in addition to cancer due to the death of her mother.
“When I was diagnosed and lost my mom, I thought that was going to be the end of my coaching career. It was tough because my mother was my best friend,” Prado-Ortiz said. “After 2014, I decided I was not going to let that get the best of me, and worked hard to get back.”
Less than a year later, after a chance visit to the doctor, she found out about her cancer.
“I like to believe it was divine intervention because I actually only went to the doctor because my daughter, who had an appointment scheduled, couldn’t make it because she had gotten a new job,” she said. “He has been our doctor for so long, I just went because I felt if an appointment was scheduled, you should go.”
She was diagnosed with basal and squamous cell cancer, which is the second most common type of skin cancer. Between 200,000 and 250,000 cases are reported per year.
Then she was told they removed all of the cancer. Since then she has undergone numerous cosmetic surgeries to correct the small scars on her face. Now, she feels her time at the doctor may finally be over.
“I don’t plan on going back to the doctor unless I see something growing on my face,” Prado-Ortiz said. “I figure the man upstairs knows what is going on and I have great faith and I believe that I am good.”
Prado-Ortiz is a product of the Glendale Union High School District, having attended Glendale High School and graduated from Independence.
“Yeah, I have been around the district pretty much my entire life,” Prado-Ortiz said. “My first coaching job was as a volunteer while I was attending Glendale Community College.”
She credits Independence coach Joanna Burton, who was inducted into the Arizona Softball Hall of Fame in 2014, as her mentor, but also credits her assistant coaches over the years.
“I did freshman basketball with Dick Donahue and then did softball with one of the best guys I have ever met, Jeff Anderson,” Prado-Ortiz said. “I coached (Anderson’s) two daughters and he stayed on as one of my assistants for years.”
While she said she didn’t tell the team that she was in fact stepping away, she said they sort of knew, and they have been fighting on the field.
“The girls know. I told them, ‘Let’s make this the best last season for the seniors.’ They are seniors and I am a senior citizen,” Prado-Ortiz said with a chuckle. “We have had a couple of good tournaments this year. Our record is not that great, but that is not why I am leaving.”
As she heads into her final week as head coach, she says she will remain a fixture at Apollo High School.
“I still love what I do and I am very fortunate and blessed that I picked a profession that I still love,” Prado-Ortiz said. “I come in everyday with a smile on my face and when and if I don’t have that desire, that is when I will completely retire. But I don’t see that anytime in my near future.”
Reflecting on her past and thinking about her future, she said she has no regrets.
“I hope I have brought as much joy to every kid I have had contact with as they have brought to me. I hope they are all self-supportive, self-made young women and I hope that I was a good example to them,” Prado-Ortiz said. “If I take my last breath on the basketball court or in the Apollo physical education area, I would be happy because I have had a good life.”