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MORE MARIANAS SPORTS HISTORY

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By Eddie Siguenza

COMMENTARY – I finally had the time to analyze Dr. Kurt C. Barnes’ Sports Legends (of Micronesia) from 1966-2012, as reported by Robert Balajadia. It’s clear a lot of effort went into this and it’s great to see legends of past get recognized, especially athletes deep in the eastern South Pacific.

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Former Guam sports journalist Eddie Siguenza, currently deployed to Afghanistan, gives his perspective on Marianas Sports Legends. (courtesy photo)

Glad to see Pohnpei’s Elias Rodrigues named first in Track and Field. He ran the Guam Marathon once, led the race a while and might have won had he not taken a wrong route.

It’s an honor to see Saipan’s Tony Rogolofoi mentioned three times – the only athlete in this entire list to do so – in baseball, basketball and coach. (Guam’s Joe Taitano should have been mentioned here …)

And without question, Palau’s baseball list brings memories of that incredible Mobil Games run they dominated for quite some time. Their vicious red uniforms resembled Cuba’s national team, and Palau dominated our region’s baseball the same time Cuba dominated baseball internationally in  the 1990s.

My column isn’t so much to praise this list, however. I credit the attempt that was done, but it’s clear the thorough homework wasn’t there. Let me mention a few Guam athletes left off this list who should be mentioned:

MEDIA – Eduardo C. Siguenza should be here. Yes, my father. It’s incredibly dishonorable to leave him out. No photographer contributed more to Guam sports than my father. He’s the only non-political figure to have supported more South Pacific Games (1969-2003, 10 total). My father was recognized so well in Guam sports, he would walk into any sports facility on Guam for free and without questions. Tony Diaz, former Pacific Daily News sports editor and Hafa Magazine creator, isn’t mentioned either. Another flub.

FOOTBALL – Where’s Willie Brennan? Where’s Loring Cruz? I would have also thrown Allen Blend and Dan Elliott into this ring. Here’s another name: Scott Persing.

OFFICIALS – Missing are Steve Guerrero, Mr. Longevity, and dare I say it, Barry Mead. True, Mead was Mr. Controversial everywhere he went. But he was still a good official who put a lot into the sports he officiated – baseball, softball, basketball, soccer and football. When he wasn’t officiating, he’d be on the sidelines as a coach, giving those officials a bad rap. Yes, Barry Mead. I said it.

PIONEERS – Sadly missing are Nick Francisco, who dedicated multi-multiple years to Guam Babe Ruth youth baseball organization, and on the opposite end, Greg Calvo and Greg Borja, the incredible pair who gave so much to Guam Little League baseball.

BOXING – Phil Clarson.

HOCKEY – Joe “Steel Toe” Naputi.

MEN’S FAST-PITCH SOFTBALL – Ray Aguon and Joe Castro. Only John Hattig threw harder and better than Joe Castro during Guam’s fast-pitch run in the 1990s. Aguon and Castro are etched together – forever – for what happened in the 1991 South Pacific Games gold medal game against the host team, Papua New Guinea. Guam led 3-1, with two outs, entering the bottom of the seventh inning – and lost 4-3. Aguon and Castro were the centerpieces of the freakish play that scored the winning run. Never, in Guam’s history, will any play ever top what happened here.

MEN’S BODYBUILDING – Jesse Lujan. Before he became a senator, he put Guam on the bodybuilding map. And I would have also ranked Paul Quenga ahead of Vince Gumataotao.

MEN’S BASKETBALL – Bill Reyes. This is sickening he’s not included. Three SPGs, winning gold, silver and bronze medals. He made an attempt for a fourth SPG in 1991, but injuries forced him out. Nobody except Joe Taitano had more heart on a basketball court. Reyes would get punched, kicked, slapped and thrown out many times, but it was all because of his passion for his teammates. He hated and despised opponents (and referees) who took advantage of his Guam team. Even Samoans remembered his name and were wary of where he was on an SPG court. Sometimes, Reyes would show up at a gym just to WATCH a game, and he’d still get thrown out. Passion, passion, passion. Not much better than Reyes. Missing from this list, too, is Steve Nygard. Reyes and Nygard over Arnold Mesa Jr. and Juan Cruz in ANY lifetime.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL – The only one who should be on this list is Therese Sison. Delete the others. Sison appeared in four or five SPGs. However, women’s basketball has accounted to nothing in Guam’s history, or at least in previous years. This is one of Guam’s most unproductive sports. Ever.

WEIGHTLIFTING – Mancini Santos. He won a silver medal in the 1987 SPG. He had an incredible story. Weightlifting coach Milan Cukovic was walking through a gym one day and saw this little kid playing basketball against taller opponents. “You’re in the wrong sport,” he told Santos. A year later, Santos earns a silver medal.

SWIMMING – Hollis Kimbrough. I believe he won seven medals in one SPG in the 1970s. Sadder than Kimbrough is the fact Ed Ching and Frank Whitman aren’t mentioned. These gentlemen were to Guam swimming what finadene is to barbecued meat. If not in swimming, I would have included Ching and Whitman in Pioneers category.

CYCLING – This sport wasn’t mentioned. But I would have fought for Jazy Garcia. He was the man to beat for many years, even when he wasn’t a man – just a teenage kid. Deservingly, he represented Guam in the Olympics.

ADMINISTRATOR – Again, another unmentioned category. I would place Mike Reidy here. Kudos to him for being the main key for Guam’s inaugural Olympic movement and first-ever participation in the 1988 Seoul Games in South Korea. No one remembers the Guam Amateur Sports Federation (GASF) anymore because it has long deceased. It’s now called the Guam National Olympic Committee.

My memory of our region’s sports has diminished, I admit, but not totally. Still, there are athletes from other islands I would have hoped to see in Dr. Barnes’ list:

KOSRAE BASEBALL – William Palik. There has been only one perfect game ever thrown at Guam’s Paseo Stadium. Palik did it as a member of the Kosrae Speedos in the Guam Amateur Baseball League. Later in the season, or the following year, Palik pitched three back-to-back-to-back games because his team ran out of pitchers. He got hammered in the third game, but he still put a mark in Paseo Stadium history.

NORTHERN MARIANAS BASEBALL – Chris Nelson. He was also an effective pitcher in the Guam Major League.

FSM OFFICIAL OR ADMINISTRATOR – Jim Tobin. I believe this is his name. He lived on Guam for a while, then moved to the FSM and was a key behind FSM’s inaugural entry into the 1991 South Pacific Games, which led the way for their first-ever Olympic participation. He deserves credit for opening the door.

I’m sure my input is late. However, as Dr. Barnes attempted to honor past and present athletes, so do I.

Siguenza is a former sports journalist for the Pacific Daily News and Guam Tribune newspapers. He resides in California and is currently deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army.

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