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Dan Guerrero: Pioneering role model who followed his dreams

College athletics provided him access and opportunities first at UCLA and then in life.

Growing up in a blue-collar town in southern California, Dan Guerrero placed his hope for a better life in sports and the pursuit of a college degree.  Knowing he wanted to excel in sports and in life, he looked to his community’s heavyweight boxing stars, fellow Hispanics and other minority athletes for inspiration. One of those athletes just happened to be Jackie Robinson.

Little did the future baseball star know just how closely he would follow in Robinson’s Bruins footsteps.

Robinson, a four sport student-athlete at UCLA, broke the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947 when he first stepped on the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  In doing so, he became a role model for millions for not only for being the first African-American in the major leagues but also for how he handled himself in the face of bigotry and racial prejudice.  Guerrero himself would go onto to break down similar barriers in pursuit of his dreams to become a leader in college sports.

Guerrero’s parents, neither of whom graduated from high school, worked hard to support their family and fulfill their American dream.  But they wanted more for their children.  Each night, his father would wish him good night by saying, “My son, you’re the best.”

Seeking to live up to those words, Guerrero used the combination of sheer determination, good grades and enviable skills as a second baseman to earn a baseball scholarship to UCLA in 1969  never dreaming    he would become his alma mater’s director of athletics in 2002.

“I never envisioned a life of labor for myself, and neither did my parents. Education was the key, and my hope was in sports,” Guerrero said. “It was a saving grace for me in many ways.”

Guerrero immersed himself in baseball at a young age to distract himself from the gangs, violence and drugs that plagued the streets around him.

“I spent hours practicing each day, making myself better, developing my soft hands,” Guerrero recalls. “I’d spend my lunch breaks working with my coach for extra practice.”

The extra practice paid off. Guerrero had a big decision to make as a senior in high school: sign a contract to play professionally for the Pittsburgh Pirates or accept one of the several baseball scholarships offered to him. Guerrero chose the latter, and he put on the UCLA uniform for the first time in 1970, just as Jackie Robinson had 31 years before.

Dan Guerreo, UCLA, Photo: UCLA Athletics

Guerrero even played Robinson’s position, second base. His talent and discipline on the field warranted him the nickname “Warrior.” A star on the diamond, he was inducted into the UCLA Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996 joining his idol Robinson in the pantheon of UCLA greats.

After college, Guerrero once again declined an opportunity to sign a professional baseball contract, this time with the St. Louis Cardinals, and instead traveled abroad to play professionally and teach baseball in Italy.  While there, he met his future wife, Anne Marie.

Returning to the United States, he began a career in nonprofit work that eventually led him back into college athletics.  Today, Guerrero sees sport helping hundreds of student-athletes reach their potential just as they did for him.

“College athletics provides access and opportunities for kids like me,” Guerrero said. “I was able to get my education and play the sport I love.”

As Guerrero serves in a role that helps young men and women live out their dreams through their sport and education, his father’s words still ring in the back of his mind.

At the very least, if he is not the best athletic director in college sports, he certainly is in the top echelon.  His UCLA teams have won 26 NCAA team titles in 14 different sports during his tenure.  Besides his countless athletic career achievements, he’s also been named one of the nation’s 100 Most Influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business Magazine, and he was ranked #28 of the 101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports by Sports Illustrated in 2003.  In 2014, he was named the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year award - the only athletic director at the NCAA Division I level to earn three such awards (2006-07 at UCLA, 2001-02 at UC Irvine).

Jackie Robinson would be proud.  And so would Guerrero’s dad.

Biography

Dan Guerrero
Athletic Director

Hometown: Wilmington, California

Current city: Los Angeles

Education: Bachelor’s degree in history, 1974, University of California, Los Angeles; master’s degree in public administration, 1982, Cal State Dominguez Hills

Sport: Baseball

Fun Fact:  He wishes he could play piano like some of the jazz greats.

After the Game

We are proud of all our former student-athletes, and in recognition of their accomplishments after their playing days, we launched NCAA After the Game.  Our goal is simple: to celebrate the former student-athlete.

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