Sports

Tom Flores leads the long list of sports’ standouts

From left, Tom Flores, Greg Papa and Jim Plunkett in the broadcast booth at the Oakland Raiders vs. Detroit Lions at O.co Coliseum in Oakland on August 25, 2012.
From left, Tom Flores, Greg Papa and Jim Plunkett in the broadcast booth at the Oakland Raiders vs. Detroit Lions at O.co Coliseum in Oakland on August 25, 2012. Golub Photography

Tom Flores forever etched his name as a pioneer for Latinos in sports.

Setting aside for a moment that the native of Sanger coached the Oakland Raiders to a pair of Super Bowl victories, Flores was also the first Latino to win a Super Bowl.

He was the first Latino quarterback in the ancient American Football League and the first Latino general manager during his tenure for the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks.

A former Los Ángeles Times columnist wrote of the contribution from Flores and then-Raiders’ quarterback Jim Plunkett:

“It’s a safe bet that in the coming two weeks the Raiders’ head coach, Tom Flores, and the team’s starting quarterback, Jim Plunkett, will be the most publicized and talked about Chicanos in the world. At least this side of César Chávez.”

Flores, a recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award in 2011 for sports excellence, continues to work for the Raiders doing radio commentary alongside Greg Papa in the broadcast booth. Flores, now 78, returns to the Central Valley annually to visit his hometown of Sanger, Fresno and Visalia in his annual Central California Blood Drive.

A former Fresno City College and University of the Pacific quarterback, Flores became the Raiders’ manager in 1979 and led the silver and black to Super Bowl victories XV and XVIII. Three years earlier, Flores also assisted Raiders’ head coach John Madden in 1976 to Super Bowl victory. He suited up for the Raiders from 1960 to 1961 and again from 1963 to 1966. From 1967 to 1969, he played for the Buffalo Bills, and in 1969, he was with the Kansas City Chiefs.

▪ Álvaro ‘Yaquis’ López is a 2007 World Boxing Hall of Fame inductee. He ended his illustrious career as a light heavyweight on a 61-15 record with 15 knockouts. López, born May 21, 1951 and who comes from Zacatecas, México was a farmworker. He competed in venues throughout the Central Valley and worldwide in Africa and Australia.

His boxing career started through his then-girlfriend's father, Jack Cruz, a local boxing promoter. A year later, López was competing as a professional eventual facing off against the likes of Michael Spinks and Matthew Saad Muhammad with the final bout on Sept. 12, 1984, a 14-year career since his first bout on April 24, 1972. López, who has been married Beatrice Cruz for nearly three decades, his trainer's daughter, now operates Yaqui López Fat City Boxing Gym in Stockton.

▪ José Elgorriaga, who loved Spanish literature and flamenco music as much as he did soccer, directed Fresno State’s men’s soccer team to national prominence in the 1980s.

Known as ‘The Eagle’ by those in his soccer circle and as ‘El Profesor’ in the Latino soccer community – he was a true renaissance man. One hour he would be coaching the Fresno State men's soccer team, and a few hours later he would be reciting Spanish-language poetry alongside guitar great José Serrano.

When he announced his retirement as coach of the Bulldogs (having amassed an impressive 170-58-20 record and a No. 1 national ranking), players cried. He was a life coach.

Elgorriaga grew up the son of Basque shepherds, escaped the Spanish Civil War, was as versed in the writings of Miguel de Cervantes and Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer as he was with the formations being utilized by FC Barcelona or AC Milán.

He began writing a weekly soccer column for Vida en el Valle in 1994 when the World Cup came to the United States. That summer, he also served as an interpreter for the French-speaking Cameroon team. After the World Cup ended, he enjoyed writing his column so much that he continued writing until 2005 when his declining health forced him to quit.

▪ Jim White, the only non-Latino on this list, claimed fame as head coach of the nine-time California Interscholastic Federation state cross country champion, McFarland High School. White coached McFarland the nine victories, the first in 1987, 1992-1996, and in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He graduated from Franklin High School in Stockton.

White, who first trained the high school farmworkers in the sport in the early 1980s, retired from his coaching duties 10 years ago, but continues to mentor McFarland kids.

Early McFarland runners would work the fields with their families before school and do cross country training in the evening. White, who lives with his wife, Cheryl, in a neighborhood just outside the school's football field, was portrayed by actor Kevin Costner in ‘McFarland USA,’ the Disney movie based on the McFarland High 1987 cross country squad. White is a Pepperdine University graduate. He taught four decades in various grades in McFarland.

▪ The entire Mendota High School Aztecs varsity football team was the focus of an ESPN documentary that showed football players from one of the highest unemployment rates in the Fresno County working in the fields to help their families.

The Aztecs were led by Edgar Segura, a 2012 graduate who led the team Central Section Division IV championship victories in 2011 and 2012. The team self-imposed a move to Division V, where they have not won a championship, but have lost in two finals.

Segura along with numerous teammates awoke at 4 a.m. to join local farmworkers in the nearby fields before school. Mendota High provided meals to the players before games to make sure players had a meal before playing.

Robert Mejía, who was arrested last year for alleged insurance fraud, returned to the team for this current season. Mendota lost to host Immanuel (Reedley) in the championship of the Central Section's Valley Championship Division V game.

▪ Fernando Cabada is known for his long distance running worldwide: Aside from his seven National Association of Interscholastic Athletics (NAIA) championships in college, he opened his marathon career in 2006 in Fukuoka, Japan and was the top American runner in Berlin last year on a time of 2:11:36.

Cabada, 33 of Fresno, earned the NAIA titles competing for Virginia Intermont College on a time of 2:12:27. He graduated from Buchanan High School (Clovis) in 2000. Cabada is focused on the 2016 Olympics and competing in the Boston Marathon.

▪ Ultramarathoner Oswaldo López of Madera won the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2011. Prior to his victory, he was runner up for the previous two years in the 135-mile race in the Death Valley desert competition that's known as the world's toughest foot race.

López, 43, is also a mariachi and performs for several groups in the Central Valley. López, born in Guadalajara, México, trains in Madera and the Sierra foothills for the competitions, which include the San Joaquin River Trail, a 50-mile course he finished in seven hours, 36 minutes and 45 seconds. He's won twice the Shadow of the Giants 50k race in Fish Camp with a time of three hours, 54 minutes and 14 seconds.

▪ Tony ‘Tiger’ López is a super featherweight boxer from Sacramento and a three-time world boxing champion. Lopez, who finished his career on a 50 wins, 8 losses and 1 draw, won his first professional bout on May 3, 1983 in his hometown. López, 52, is a bail bondsman in Sacramento. A month ago, he announced plans to campaign for mayor.

López, who was raised in south Sacramento, attended Burbank High School before winning the International Boxing Federation Super featherweight title twice and the World Boxing Association lightweight title. In July 1998, Ring Magazine proclaimed 'Fight of the Year' when Lopez defeated Rocky Lockridge at the Arco Arena in Sacramento for the IBF World Super featherweight title. He again beat Lockridge the following to defend the title. He successfully defended the title over John John Molina in 1988, but lost it to Molina the following year. In 1990, he faced Molina again, winning by split decision and regaining the coveted title. After a 1991 draw with Brian Mitchell, Lopez retained the IBF title and gained the World Boxing Association super featherweight title. He held the WBO and National Association Boxing Organization super lightweight for a year before losing to Héctor Quiroz in his final bout of his career on Feb. 20, 1999.

▪ Mexican-born boxer Héctor Lizárraga hails from the fields of the Central Valley. Lizárraga was born in Mexicali in Sept. 1, 1966 and learned to fight on México’s streets. Raised by his older sister, he was brought to Fresno at age 15. He quit school to become a farmworker and help with the family's survival. He was trained for boxing by another farmworker and fought in his off time.

Designated as a featherweight, he started boxing at 16 years old and finished his career with 38 victories, 12 losses and five draws. Lizárraga fought his first professional bout in 1985 and the last in 2003. He earned the International Boxing Federation featherweight world title in 1997 over Welcome Ncita. Lizárraga was unable to represent the United States in the Olympic Games because he was not a U.S. citizen at the time, but later became a U.S. citizen. He entered law enforcement working as a police officer in Selma and Mendota before leaving for southern California. He occasionally helps with youth boxing at Aleman Boxing Club in Fresno.

▪ José Carlos Ramírez comes from the foothill community of Avenal. He started boxing at age eight in a local gym operated by former state prison worker Armando Mancinas.

The Ramírez family, all farmworkers, once housed over 12 people in less than a three-bedroom home in Avenal.

Ramirez earned accolades for his amateur boxing record and numerous national titles including the 2012 U.S. Nationals that led to the 2011 U.S. Olympic Boxing Trials. His amateur record was compared to legends Óscar De La Hoya and Fernándo Vargas, and Ramirez represented the United States in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

He represents the Latino Water Coalition endorsing the organization, which advocates for water in California, through the ‘Fight For Water’ boxing events in Fresno County.

▪ Brooklyn Nets’ 7-foot center Brook López played alongside his twin brother Robin López for San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno towering over their peers for the Central Section.

Brook competed for Stanford University from 2006 to 2008 before deciding to enter the NBA Draft, where he was a first-round select in the 10th round by the New Jersey Nets.

Brook, who this year played his first NBA All-Star Game in 2013, made the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2009. He averages 19.1 points per game, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists. The 27-year-old twins donated $25,000 to the re-opening of Rotary Playland/Storyland, a kid's amusement park at Roeding Park in Fresno, this year.

▪ Andrea Durán is a third baseman for the Pride in the east coast based National Pro Fastpitch, where she has won three national league titles. She was Player of the Year last season with a batting average of .362 on 47 hits and 26 RBI.

Durán, age 31, helped the United States to a silver medal in the 2008 Olympic Games, a gold medal in the 2007 Pan American Games, and four World Cup Championships.

While competing for the University of California, Los Angeles, she helped the Bruins to a 2003 and 2004 National championship title, and was a 2006 Pac-10 Player of the Year, and a 2006 All-Women's College World Series Team. She earned 2004 All-Pac 10 Academic Honors and 2004 ESPN The Magazine Honors.

▪ German Fernández of Riverbank High School shattered a 21-year-old time by 14 seconds in the 3.1-mile California Interscholastic Federation Division IV state cross country record previously held by Marc Davis, one of the best long distance runners in California. In his first CIF state meet, he won in his sophomore season. The following year, he finished in second, but was injured. Fernández, a 2007 Riverbank graduate, was recruited by universities throughout the nation.

Fernández competed at Oklahoma State University, where he won the 8-kilometer at the 2008 Pre-National Invitational and the Big 12 individual title. He set a new NCAA and a World Junior Indoor mile record for his 3:55.02 time. He also won the NCAA Outdoor 1,500-meter race sprinting the course in 3:39.00. Since college, Fernández, age 27, has become a professional athlete for Nike and trains vigorously, but online critics believe the gifted is struggling.

▪ Blanca Ramírez was honored at the 2015 Latino Spirit Awards by the Latino Caucus this year at the state capitol for her endurance and spirit for running in seven marathons on seven continents before her 13th birthday. She became interested in running at age 11 on a visit to Disneyland, when the amusement was offering a 5-kilometer race for kids.

Ramírez, who aspires to run the Boston Marathon at age 18, lives with her family in La Puente, California. She's already being courted by high school coaches for track and field and cross country squads. She competed in the Los Angeles Marathon, the Orange County Marathon. Internationally, she ran in Rwanda in the Kigali International Peace Marathan, the Grassland Marathon in China, the International Marathon in Paraguay, the Tiniwha Marathon in New Zealand, the Torcy Marathon in France, and this year, the White Continent Marathon in Antarctica. This year, Blanca, a sixth-grader, ran with her father Dimas Ramírez, a real estate flipper, in a marathon in Big Bear in September.

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