After 40 years with Pilgrim School in Los Angeles, coach Mike Sarafian recently said farewell to his students and staff.
To celebrate his retirement, the school gave him a folder filled with personal notes from the students about their time with Sarafian. The staff will honor his career and retirement from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20.
“There were some tears,” he said with a laugh about his last day. “There were kids just randomly coming up and hugging me. It was just very humbling and very special.”
In a statement, the head of school, Patricia Kong, called Sarafian “one of the most beloved faculty members.”
“His warmth, passion for all things sports, and dedication to Pilgrim has enriched each and every community member’s experience for decades, whether it be in our hallways, on the field, or traveling to away games with his teams,” she wrote.
Kong added that Sarafian’s mark on Pilgrim goes past the sports programs he nurtured throughout the years, but reaches into every corner of the school.
“Whether it’s at morning drop-off or at an afterschool practice, coach’s booming voice and positive energy puts a smile on everyone’s face and inspires excitement in our students.
“He is one of the first people our visiting alumni seek out, and someone they mention time and time again while reflecting on their time here. It always amazes me how, despite teaching hundreds of students since 1982, coach Sarafian never fails to remember a former student, their accomplishments, and even the accomplishments of their family members. While it is hard to imagine not seeing coach on campus every day, the memories he has helped create here have ensured that he is an integral part of our Pilgrim history.”
Sarafian hails from Pasadena and moved to Monrovia when he was 5. He is a graduate of Monrovia High School and Citrus College in Glendora.
Sports is in Sarafian’s blood, as he played sports in college. Upon graduation, he accepted a job as a student teacher working as a reading specialist at Azusa Unified School District. He helped with the freshman football team, and other squads, and volunteer coached at Monrovia High School.
“It was nice to start getting paid to do something you love,” said Sarafian, who started at Pilgrim School in August 1982.
Staying passionate wasn’t difficult.
“Spending time to teach and coach kids has always been a passion of mine,” he said.
“I never got tired of it. I’m still not really tired of it. I just got to the point where I wanted to spend more time with my family.”
However, he always spent time with his family. His wife, Cheryl, worked at Pilgrim School for about 19 years in a variety of roles, including assistant to the head of school. Their children were educated there.
“We all drove in together and drove home,” he said. “How cool is that? Our grandson — who will be a senior this year — went there, too. But this will be more time than I normally spend with them, which will be nice.”
Pilgrim School is a well-established Los Angeles independent school centered around the growth and development of the students’ minds, bodies and spirits.
It provides the necessary resources to encourage and support students in their exploration of all subjects and artistic expressions while fostering a distinct culture of community.
“We pride ourselves on being one of the best private schools in Los Angeles that cultivates curious and engaged learners with strong values and ethos,” Kong said.
“With around 400 students and 60 faculty members, Pilgrim’s small size also allows for a cohesive effort among faculty, staff and administration to know and advocate on behalf of each and every student. Our ultimate goal is to shape our learners into holistic, empathetic, successful and resilient young people.”
During his time with Pilgrim, he coached a plethora of sports.
“I’ve continued coaching football and took over the head position when our athletic director left,” said Sarafian, who will travel in his retirement, too.”
Sarafian spent the next four decades teaching all grade levels, from preschool to 12th grade. Teaching and coaching were just as educational for him as the students.
“I learned so much about coaching from our previous athletic director, Gene Hicks, who taught me everything I know about basketball.
“I owe so much to him. I owe so much to the athletic director who introduced me to Pilgrim School. We hit it off right away. Everything fell into place. I owe a lot to a lot of people. I didn’t invest the wheels, but what I learned from them…”
Although not as regimented as the school position, Sarafian has set up a “schedule” for home.
“I’m going to wake up without the alarm clock,” he said with a laugh.
“The second thing I’m going to do is go out with my wife — I don’t know what we’re going to do — on a Sunday night and have a dinner and a movie, and not worry about getting home at a decent time.”