Alumni coach leads Rowe girls volleyball team
R. Roger Rowe School’s first year volleyball coach Dan Brown is himself a product of the Rowe volleyball system. A Rancho Santa Fe native, his first time playing volleyball was with Jackie Mendez, who has been a volleyball coach at the school for almost 30 years. The Eagle alumni now finds himself in the role of girls volleyball coach, hoping to guide Rancho Santa Fe’s next generation of young players.
“It’s crazy, I just love it, especially after being cooped up this last year,” said Brown, 38. “I just love the girls. They’re sweet, they’re sincere and they are a lot of fun. It’s been a joy.”
Brown heads up the Blue Team, made up of mostly seventh graders with a few eighth grade players. Rowe also has the Red Team for sixth graders and a Travel Team for the highest skill-level players. Fourth and fifth graders at Rowe have “Breakfast Club” volleyball before school, which is where Brown first tried playing the sport.
When the Blue Team girls first started playing games this year, they didn’t know what to expect from the competition. Even Coach Brown had the jitters: “I was shaking more than the players,” he said.
In their first match, they struggled getting serves over the net and with passing but Brown was pleased to watch as their skills developed more and more with each game and things just started to click. They beat San Diego Jewish Academy and Santa Fe Christian. On Oct. 13, they beat Pacific Ridge led by Jacqueline Zelnick and her great service rally and on Oct. 14, they beat Maranatha with Mila Grismer having her best game of the year.
“When I watch them compete I’m so fired up, I’m yelling the whole game and they’re playing their hearts out and encouraging one another,” he said.
After one win, he told the girls he thought they played to their full potential and the girls disagreed—they told coach they had more potential, they knew what they wanted to work on and how they wanted to grow as players.
“I just love their attitude,” he said.
His hope is to one day coach his two daughters who are in kindergarten and third grade at Rowe.
“Every single practice they want to go,” he said of his girls, who will be off to the side in the gym bumping back and forth together.
Brown comes from a long history at R. Roger Rowe—his mother Barbara Brown taught at the school for 39 years. After learning the game at Rowe, Brown got involved in club volleyball with WAVE Volleyball and played high school volleyball at Torrey Pines High School, spending his summers playing beach volleyball and surfing in Del Mar. He went on to play volleyball for New York University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in film and TV animation at The Tisch School of the Arts.
Since graduating in 2006, he has kept up playing volleyball in co-ed rec leagues and playing with an NYU teammate who lives in La Jolla. He has returned to New York for alumni games and plans to go back for his 40th: “before it’s too late.”
In Brown’s previous job, he worked as an animator and children’s ministry coordinator for the Rock Church, reaching over 1,200 kids every Sunday.
In addition to coaching the girl’s volleyball team, Brown is now a freelance animator and a balloon artist and decorator known as SD Balloon Man Dan, sharing his colorful and cheerful creations at events and parties. He has donated balloons for several school events and for California Clean Air Day on Oct. 6, he rode his bike through the Ranch with a giant white balloon painted to look like a volleyball bobbing behind.
Brown got into twisting balloons about the same time as he got into volleyball, in the sixth grade. He would make balloons on yearly service trips to Mexico with The Village Church and during his time at The Rock Church. Eventually, he started doing decor for parties with business growing through word of mouth to about five referrals a week.
“The kids love the balloons,” he said of his children who will sometimes wake up in the morning to a kitchen filled with hundreds of balloons before he loads his creations into his car. He always manages to save a few to bring home to the girls.
While playing around drawing on balloons during the pandemic, he came up with the idea for an animated series using balloons, combining his love of art and animation with his passion for his faith and ministering to children. He is in the process of a fundraising campaign for a nine-episode TV series called “Balloon Bible Stories”.
More than just volleyball fundamentals, Brown is excited for what the girls are learning beyond the court. He sees them work through different emotions as they play, rise to the occasion when presented with an opportunity to be a team leader and light up with self-confidence.
He sees them learn the value of teamwork and lifting each other up. Something he learned from WAVE was when someone struggles or misses a point, the girls repeat to each other: “Yes you can”
“If you build confidence in these young girls, it’s scary what they’re capable of,” Brown said.
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