The Year in Sports: In Memoriam 2013

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(Editor's note: The Yahoo! Philippines Sports team looks back at 2013's memorable moments in sports with a series of year-end articles on the topics and events that had the biggest impact on our readers.)

I want to take this opportunity to look back and remember those who have changed our lives in one way or another in this beautiful world called sports but have departed from this world.

In the foreign front—according to several sources—there have been at least one hundred individuals who advanced to the Great Beyond; some of them making an immediate impact on my life. The ones that stood out from those abroad were former boxing heavyweight king Ken Norton, who was one of five pugilists that felled Muhammad Ali. Norton’s son Ken, Jr. went on to become a notable National Football League (NFL) star. Norton’s shocking split decision victory over Ali in 1973—after breaking the jaw of “The Greatest” in process—made it clear that no one is invincible, even an icon like the man formerly known as Cassius Clay.

On the basketball side, we bid farewell to Dr. Jerry Buss, the man credited for the Los Angeles Lakers’ integral success in the NBA. Buss intrigued me for actually being quite adept at another passion of mine: poker. He actually finished second place in a World Poker Tour (WPT) event a few years back. Bill Sharman, the former Celtic who guided the Lakers to its improbable 33 game winning streak in the 70’s also passed this year, as did unheralded Ossie Schectman—the man who scored the first basket in NBA history back in 1946 (yes, the American version of Joy Dionisio in the PBA—or Peter Martin in the MBA).

Hiroshi Yamaguchi might not immediately ring a bell for us sports fans, but the former Seattle Mariners owner in Major League Baseball (MLB) was actually the man who put Nintendo on the mainstream map. The inimitable William Moody a.k.a. Paul Bearer also went on to the WWE in the sky.

But perhaps the death of Pat Summerall was the one that affected me the most this year.

Summerall had been the staple for NFL broadcasting since 1994 when he teamed up with John Madden for Fox’s telecast of the games. He retired in 2004 and his cool demeanour against the passion of Madden is what endeared him to me and millions of football fans around the world. Ironically, it was also in 1994 when I began my sportscasting journey.

While there were so many sports figures who kicked the bucket in 2013, here in the Philippines there were also a handful of game-changers who joined The Creator after leaving their imprint on the local sporting scene.

Here are the five that made the most noise and a phalanx of others who deserve our prayers and respect:

Karyn Velez, 24—former badminton national team member

In the wee hours of August 13, 2013, Velez was on her way home to her Pasig City residence when reports allege that her car somehow crossed to the other lane of C5 and collided with a closed van. Velez died a few hours later due to severe body injuries. She was a member of the 2009 Sudirman Cup contingent and was even ranked #1 in the country before what she later referred to as “politics” in her sport prompted her to move to the United States to gain more ranking points while competing internationally. Velez, who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but grew up in the Philippines, went to Ateneo de Manila University and had been training at the Asuncion Badminton Clinic (ABC) under former national team standout Kennevic Asuncion at the time of her passing.

Gonzalo “Lito” Puyat II, 79—former president, FIBA

He was called by many “The Grand Old Man of Basketball” and for good reason: Puyat became the first Filipino hold the highest position in world basketball after being elected as the FIBA president in 1976, a position he held until 1984. One of the immediate impacts of his leadership was having the Philippines host the 1978 FIBA World Cup of Basketball (then known as the FIBA Championships). The country has never hosted the prestigious meet since and many say it will take a man as influential as Puyat to even consider having it done. “Spar” is he is known in the hoops circle, was also the longest serving president of the nation’s then National Sports Association (NSA) for the sport: Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP—which has now been replaced by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas). Puyat was BAP boss from 1969-1995 and it was also during his administration that warring factions of the former Manila Industrial Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA) broke away and formed the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in 1975. Puyat died of cardiac arrest.

Atty. Cornelio Padilla, Jr., 67—former cycling Olympian, two time Tour of Luzon champion

Known as “Padi” to his friends, the man hailed as “The Best Cyclist in Philippine History” succumbed to his second heart attack just a few weeks back on December 8, 2013. This Far Eastern University (FEU) product first gained prominence as member of the national cycling team to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics before being one of the pioneer riders on the now defunct national cycling tour. Padilla has the rare distinction of winning back-to-back Tour of Luzon titles in 1966 and 1967 and went on to become the President and chairman of the Philippine Cycling Association. In 1998, while traversing the steep uphill slopes of Antipolo City, Padilla suffered his first attack prompting him to give up his first love due to the strenuous nature of cycling to his heart. He went on to become legal counsel for National Bookstore and remained close to cycling due to his affiliation with Air 21’s Tour Pilipinas—a revival of what used to be known as the Marlboro Tour where he was its race director.

Coach Eduard “Dong” Vergeire, 47—former national basketball coach, NCAA champion coach of the College of St. Benilde (2000)

It was broadcasting buddy and basketball coach Allan Gregorio who first texted me the news of Coach Dong’s passing in the early morning hours of September 20, 2013. After that, the news spread like wildfire and then Coach Dong’s Facebook account became flooded with the outpouring of sympathy messages for the loved ones he left behind. I had known for a time that Coach Dong had been undergoing treatment for a kidney ailment, but hadn’t been updated for a long time on his condition. So it was indeed a shock that he suddenly died. Vergeire was at the helm of the 1997 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games cage squad that won the gold medal in Jakarta, Indonesia and had also steered the San Beda Red Lion to consecutive NCAA finals appearances against powerhouse San Sebastian in the late 1990s before taking an unheralded St. Benilde Blazers all the way to the pinnacle in 2000. In the pros, Vergeire was the first Head Coach of the Pangasinan Presidents in the now defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) and has stayed affiliated with many coaches since. “I will always remember Coach Dong as a selfless teacher who used humor to get his point across,” wrote Philippine Star columnist and basketball anchorman Bill Velasco in his obituary tribute to the former De La Salle University Green Archer. Bill hit it on the head. It will always be Coach Dong’s disarming smile and wry laughter that I will remember most from him.

Bobby Parks, 51—seven-time PBA Best Import, former Head Coach of the San Miguel Beermen (ABL)

Coach Perry Ronquillo must have been the one the hardest by the deaths of two of his closest friends: Coach Dong—his former DLSU teammate and deputy in the PBL and Bobby Parks. I wrote a long tribute to Bobby in one of my articles when he passed away due to cancer of the larynx back in March and I actually wrote then that his son—national team campaigner Ray Parks—had lost his two of the most important people in his life in a span of barely fifteen months: his father and his girlfriend, budding broadcaster Maan Panganiban. Of Bobby, I recounted his life and times in my piece then, but looking back now—and seeing him on the countless reruns of the PBA’s “Greatest Games” on Pinoy Extreme TV—it’s only begun sinking in how much of himself he gave to the sport and much he’s made a difference in Philippine basketball. The Beermen went on to capture the 2013 Asean Basketball League (ABL) crown that slipped through Parks’ grasp the year prior. He was their rallying point. SMB Head Coach Leo Austria has made it clear that that championship was for Bobby. His legend lives on through Ray-Ray.

Other notable sports personalities who passed in 2013:

Jonas Garcia, 16, amateur boxer—died a week after taking part in a Central Luzon Regional Athletic Association boxing event prompting pressure on the Department of Education to ban the sport in the high school level.

Dr. Sim Chi Tat—Philippine Canoe-Kayak Federation Secretary General—indirectly because of his death, the PCKF was not able to send a contingent to the Myanmar SEA Games as factions within the federation began bickering on the NSA’s new leadership.

Ernesto “Toti” Lopa—Philippine Bowling Congress (PBC) President—he died while representing the country last August in the Bowling World Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada. Bowling was one of the sports scrapped by Burmese officials in the 2013 SEA Games.

Col. Julian Malonso, 76—Former Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President—he was known as the “provisional” president having held on to the post for less than a year before former Gintong Alay chief Michael Keon took over. Malonso died of a lingering illness.

Leandro “Larry” Mendoza, 67—Former National Golf Association of the Philippines (NGAP) President—Being NGAP prexy was just one of the many hats Larry Mendoza donned in his long service to the country. He became more known as former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Executive Secretary and the former PNP chief. He died of a stroke.

Hector Navasero, 80—Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA) President—perhaps the longest serving NSA head, Navasero will always be remembered for his trademark vest cluttered with all the pins he has collected in all his years of involvement with the sport. He died of Sepsis.

Jose Mari Martinez—former Philippine Football Federation (PFF) President—his controversial ouster as PFF chief made headlines in 2010. He Had been in ill health since.

Edwin Sese—boxing analyst, radio broadcaster—I had the chance to broadcast a few bouts where he was one of the judges. There goes one of the few remaining great boxing minds in the country.

Manolo Iñigo, 75—sports columnist, former National Press Club (NPC) director—“Clean Living” on the Philippine Daily Inquirer was required reading for a budding sports writer like myself in the 1990s. He was insightful and straight to the point without going overboard. He was truly an inspiration to the next generation of sports writers and would-be columnists.

May their spirit live on forever in the people they have touched and the sports they have changed. Let’s raise a glass to them. They will always be remembered.

ALSO READ OTHER YEAREND SPORTS PIECES:

Funniest sports photos of 2013

The Year in Sports: Parity highlights PBA's banner season

The Year in Sports: La Salle, San Beda reign supreme

13 Filipino athletes who excelled in 2013

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email sportztackle@yahoo.com
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.