4-sport alumnus athlete declined D1 scholarship, but landed in education

October 12, 2018 — by Allison Hartley

The story of Special Education Teacher and Girls' Varsity Basketball Coach Danny Wallace.

The buzzer sounded, marking the end of double overtime and Saratoga High’s win over Cupertino — Saratoga had earned the 2005 El Camino League title. The crowd of almost 400 roared, rushing the home basketball court and engulfing the sweaty team with excited hugs and congratulations.

As a senior in 2005, alumnus Danny Wallace, who now teaches special education and coaches the girls’ varsity basketball team, won Most Valuable Player of the league in both basketball and volleyball, and MVP of both the track team and the defensive line in football. It looked almost certain that the four-sport athlete would continue his athletics career in college had he not been focused on being a volunteer firefighter since age 16.

Wallace received a scholarship offer from UCLA to play Division I volleyball in 2005, but declined it, opting for a career in firefighting and attending Mission College for an associate degree in fire technology and an EMT license.

“Looking back, I wish I would’ve gone [to UCLA],” Wallace said. “UCLA won the NCAA title in 2006, and I would've been part of that team and could have said I was part of an NCAA championship team.”

Then athletic trainer Heidi Peterson contacted UCLA with Wallace’s volleyball game film during his junior and senior years in high school, and his parents, especially his dad, had been excited about the opportunity.

“My dad took it hard because he would have loved to see me play for four more years — any sport,” Wallace said. “I’m very competitive playing sports. I’m very nice off the court, but on the court, I want to do my best to win.”

Wallace knew he would be taken on the UCLA team as a building player, not a star player; however, at 6’4”, Wallace showed potential with a 40-inch vertical jump and could place the ball anywhere on the court.

“There weren’t many blockers and hitters like me,” Wallace said. “UCLA was very interested in me, and the coach was nice and all, but I felt bad [for declining the offer] because Heidi was the one that did all the work.”

Had he anticipated becoming a teacher, Wallace said that playing UCLA volleyball would have been a great experience, and he could have gotten his teaching credential at UCLA as well. Still, he said he would have initially felt some degree of imposter syndrome regarding his academics, as many of Wallace’s friends weren’t accepted into UCLA. He held these friends in a higher academic regard than himself, so he felt like he did not belong in the academic environment at UCLA, either.

Wallace stopped firefighting at 22 due to the harrowing nature of the work, and decided to transfer to San Jose State University, where he enrolled in social studies and business classes, unsure of his major. He excelled at SJSU, boosting his own perception of his academic capabilities. During his senior year at SJSU, the volleyball coach wanted to recruit him for the team.

“I told them I would play if the team was at a higher level, but I didn’t want to play on a team that’s going to lose a lot of games,” he said. “If I want to commit to something, I want to commit to something that has a chance [to succeed].”

His motivation to succeed is apparent on the sidelines of the varsity girls’ basketball games. Wallace credits his entry into coaching to teacher and longtime basketball coach Mike Davey, who years ago asked him to return to Redwood, his old middle school. There, he helped develop the sixth grade girls’ basketball team during his last year at Mission College when he was considering moving on from firefighting and transferring to SJSU.

“When I started getting involved, I realized how much I loved coaching. The girls responded to me well even though they were sixth graders,” Wallace said. “I realized if I enjoyed coaching, I might really enjoy teaching.”

Encouraged by his coaching experience, he decided to earn his teaching credential.

Wallace considered teaching his favorite subjects, math or history, but found that he wanted to help kids overcome challenges, drawing from his own experience with dyslexia. He chose to teach special education.

“I was hoping to be a role model for kids with special needs, to say, ‘You can achieve a master’s in college if you want to and you can be successful, but it’s going to take time and investment in yourself,’” Wallace said.

He was able to find a job at SHS, where he had enjoyed his high school experience playing sports and liked his teachers and friends. Wallace said he is “happy to work and be a part of this amazing community.”

Ultimately, Wallace believes he landed in the right position as a teacher.

“I love what I do. I really put a lot of time and effort in, and there’s nobody that can tell me I don’t because I come here at 7:30 in the morning at leave at 8 or 9 at night,” Wallace said. “I’m coaching basketball, working on caseloads, calling parents up, helping people or doing what I have to do.”