The last 12 months have been filled with loss and grief of all kinds. The Long Beach sports world said goodbye to a number of people, much more than a usual year, with an obituary running almost every other week on the562.org. We take a look back at those we’ve lost.
The year began with the passing of Southern California sports icon Kobe Bryant, who died alongside his daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash in January. Bryant first wore a Lakers uniform on the court in the Walter Pyramid for a Summer Pro League game and was beloved by local sports fans.
“I met Kobe at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics,” recalled five-time water polo Olympian, Tony Azevedo. “I knew he was born in Italy and spoke Italian so I came up and introduced myself in Italian. We had a talk about leadership and about greatness. Four years later, I’m in London at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics and from behind me I hear this big booming voice yell, ‘Ciao, capitano!’ And it was Kobe.”
The local basketball world lost another pair before their time with the deaths of Naomi Iman Wright (23) and Matthew Mosley in late January and early February. Wright, who was a standout basketball player at Millikan, was stabbed to death in Los Angeles. Mosley, a Poly alum and longtime volunteer scoreboard operator, died from complications due to pneumonia.
The city lost a sports icon of its own in June with the passing of Angela Madsen, a three-time Paralympian who died at sea while attempting a solo row from Southern California to Hawaii. Madsen passed away at the age of 60, having celebrated that milestone at sea a month prior to her passing. She was trying to become the first parapalegic, first gay athlete, and oldest woman ever to solo row the trip to Hawaii.
The Century Club lost a few prominent members this year, including longtime volunteer Jim Herrick, who passed in July, and past president Keith Cordes, who passed in November. Both were critical in establishing some longtime club traditions including the Middle School All-City Awards Banquet that’s run for decades.
Herrick was also a noteworthy athlete in his own right as a member of the first Dirtbags championship team in 1964, a CIF-SS football champion at Long Beach Poly, and a star for the Long Beach Nitehawks professional fast-pitch softball team.
At Long Beach State, the passing of Millie Stanley and Jim Farrell were felt deeply. Stanley was a Hall of Fame golfer at the university who was a star player-coach in the mid-1980s, winning a national Coach of the Year award. She also won the Long Beach City Championship five times.
Farrell was the scoreboard operator at the Pyramid for the last 15 years, and passed away at 69 years old in November due to complications from COVID-19.
“It will be strange to be at a game at the Walter Pyramid and not have Jim Farrell be a part of it,” said Roger Kirk, who heads the Athletic Communications department and has worked with Farrell since 2007.
In his younger years, Farrell was an elite swimmer. He swam for the Long Beach Aquatic Club, and eventually was a swimmer and water polo player at Long Beach State.
The voice of Long Beach’s biggest sporting event passed in August when Bruce Flanders died at 75 years old. Flanders had been the official race announcer for the Grand Prix of Long Beach since 1978.
“The ‘Voice of the Grand Prix’ has been silenced,” said the Grand Prix of Long Beach organizers in a statement. There are so many Grand Prix moments that Bruce was a part of. We will miss him and never forget his melodious voice on race days.”
There’s no more tragic death than the loss of a child, and four Long Beach/Compton teenaged athletes were shot to death in 2020. The Compton High basketball team lost recent alum Carl Lewis, Semaj Miller, and Millyon Colquitt in the span of a few months, while Poly freshman Arthur Touch was shot in Long Beach a few weeks ago.
Keith “Slice” Thompson, a beloved mentor and longtime Poly football assistant, passed away in November after a battle with cancer. Thompson was a well-known Southern California DJ who helped give Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Nate Dogg, and others their start in music.
Thompson was also a volunteer for decades with the school’s football team.
“He was a real community guy who did everything he could to give back and uplift the kids here,” said Poly boys’ athletic director Rob Shock. “It’s devastating. Everyone at our school and in our community feels like we’ve been punched in the gut. He was committed to the kids in our city as a mentor and a coach. We’re all going to miss him. This really hurts, it hurts a lot.”
Finally, it was a difficult year for Wilson, where the losses of Susan Pescar, Tierney Kaufman Hutchins, and Kurt Holmes were painful.
Pescar, who passed in July at 70 years old, was a championship volleyball coach at the school.
“Part of my heart left me when she passed,” said Wilson All-American Rebecca Strehlow-Watson. “Personally for me, she was more than just a coach. She was a mother figure, a teacher, a caregiver.”
Kaufman Hutchins, an alum and standout athlete at the school, passed at 35 years old in August along with her unborn child, Keira Wade Hutchins, due to complications during pregnancy.
“Her biggest super power was the ability to connect with people,” her brother Dalton Kaufman said. “She was very social, but also very genuine and humble.”
Holmes passed suddenly this month at home at the age of 62. A teacher and golf coach at Wilson, Holmes left a legacy and kindness and excellence.
“He was a friend and just a good guy who was always there for me, for colleagues and for students,” Wilson athletic director Jeff Evans said. “He would go out of his way to help kids. If they didn’t have lunch he always had snacks in his classroom for them. He’d open his room at lunch and it was always a happy place. I don’t know a kid who would have anything bad to say about him.”