Year That Was 2021

Year That Was 2021: In memory of local sports personalities who passed away

Rich Alday

Rich Alday (Andy Morales/

Legendary Pima baseball and Ironwood Ridge softball coach Rich Alday passed away on Jan. 6 at age 71. Alday closed his Pima career with a record of 517-251 in 17 seasons when he retired in 2018. He coached the Aztecs for 16 seasons, from 1974 to 1989, before returning in 2017 aspiring to notch his 500th career victory with Pima. Alday coached at New Mexico for 18 seasons, becoming the Lobos’ most victorious coach, compiling 515 wins. He finished with a total of 1,032 wins in his collegiate career. Alday also was Ironwood Ridge High School’s softball coach from 2014 to 2017. He coached that team to state championships in 2014 and 2016. His record there was 107-33.’s Andy Morales wrote of Alday, “Without exception, his many friends and former players will use the words ‘decent’ and ‘good guy’ to describe him. I cannot think of another sports figure, or otherwise, in the Tucson area to have this kind of loving following. All kind words for such a kind man.” The baseball community of Southern Arizona and New Mexico — a representation of the many impacted by Rich Alday — gathered at El Rio Golf Course on Sept. 18 to pay homage to the legendary coaching figure. About 120 people consisting of Alday’s family, former players and friends gathered to play 18 holes with proceeds from entrance fees going toward the Pima baseball program. The event at El Rio brought many local luminaries together with Alday’s wife Norma for food and an opportunity to reminisce in the clubhouse after the rounds were complete. “I know they are honoring Alday and they love him, and hopefully now they pass it forward, too. because there is a lot of things in this life we have to realize — family, friends and our community,” Alday’s wife Norma said. “Look at all the locals that are here and they are beautiful young men. I’m proud of them. Alday always was. We’ve been blessed.” Alday was then honored in memorial service attended by close friends and family on Oct. 10 at the Sheraton El Conquistador.

Sammy Alday

Sammy Alday

Alday’s brother Sammy, a former Tucson High and Pima baseball standout who went on to coach Sunnyside’s softball team, passed away eight days after his brother Rich on Jan. 14. Sammy played for Rich at Pima. He was a teacher in the Sunnyside Unified School District and local disc jockey for more than 30 years.

Ismael Arce

Ismael Arce (Andy Morales/

Former Tucson High School boys soccer coach Ismael Arce, who led the Badgers to the 2014 state title, passed away on Jan. 28. Andy Morales wrote of Arce, who was also a longtime social studies teacher: “Arce was a beloved teacher who held firm to his belief in making a better society today by teaching the wrongs of the past. He taught about issues such as the Holocaust and how the horrors of that past reflects on society today.”

Julian Barcelo

Julian Barcelo

Tucson High School graduate (Class of 2017) Julian Barcelo, a standout lineman with the Badgers who went on to play at Mesa Community College and Snow (Utah) College, passed away May 10. Barcelo reportedly passed away in his sleep at 1 a.m. the morning. On Twitter, former Tucson High coach Justin Argraves wrote this about Barcelo: “Devastated to hear the news of the passing of Julian Barcelo. Barce was a tremendous leader on and off the field who had a positive impact on everyone he knew. Truly one of a kind. Prayers go out to his family, friends, & teammates during this difficult time. You will be missed!”

Robbie Dosty

Robbie Dosty during his Arizona career (Tucson Citizen clipping)

News of the passing of former Coolidge High School and Arizona basketball standout Robbie Dosty came out June 4. Dosty, who was drafted into the NBA after his career with Arizona, passed away from cancer. He was 62.“Robbie is without question the greatest basketball player to ever wear a Coolidge uniform,” Coolidge coach Dave Glasgow mentioned. Dosty starred on Joe Partain’s first state championship team at Coolidge in 1975-76 and is still the school’s career leading rebounder with 648. He was an all-state selection in 1974-75 and 1975-76. After serious rollover automobile accident during his Arizona career, Dosty produced a storybook comeback in his career, averaging 13.4 points and 6.6 rebounds a game as a senior in 1980-81. The Golden State Warriors selected him the fourth round.

Hicham El-Mashtoub

Hichem El-Mashtoub

Former Arizona and NFL offensive lineman Hicham El-Mashtoub has passed away at the age of 49 on Sept. 15 after a reported battle with cancer. El-Mashtoub was a 295-pound center born in Beirut, Lebanon, and raised in Montreal, who played with the Wildcats under coach Dick Tomey from 1991-94. He was occasionally viewed as reckless, yet engaging in a few fights during his Wildcat career. Fellow offensive lineman Warner Smith, who passed away in 2018 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), told former Arizona Daily Star reporter Anthony Gimino in a 1994 article: `If you’re not careful, he’ll put one right past you. He’ll make people do what he wants them to do without them knowing it.” He was drafted in the sixth round of the 1995 draft by the Houston Oilers, and he spent two years with that franchise before completing his pro career with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL in 1999.

John Garza

John Garza

John Garza, a member of the state-champion Garza family with the Sunnyside wrestling program from 2005 to 2008, passed away on Aug. 22 because of health reasons. He was 32. Garza made headlines at The Arizona Daily Star in February 2020 for creating a unique financial literacy course at Pistor Middle School and he was a headliner at Sunnyside along with this twin brother Paul, both of whom contributed to the Blue Devils winning a state-record 14 consecutive state titles between 1998 and 2011 under former coach Robert DeBerry.

Mike Hayhurst

Mike Hayhurst (Andy Morales/

Mike Hayhurst, who coached high school football for 52 years in his state, with stops in Benson, Marana, Casa Grande, Buena and Tombstone, passed away at age 79 from cancer on May 31. Hayhurst, a native Tucsonan, coached Buena coach Joe Thomas when Thomas was a football and track and field standout at Tombstone from 1998 to 2002. “I am a product of Coach Hayhurst, as are countless other former players that he influenced in his coaching career,” said Thomas to the San Pedro Valley News-Sun. “He was far more than a coach. He was a mentor, teacher, father-figure and leader. “When I came in as a freshman in 1998, it was also Mike’s first year coaching for THS. During his years there, he became the face of Tombstone’s football program. He was not only a highly respected coach, but instilled life skills in his players. He wanted all of us to be good people, and demonstrated that through his coaching style. I owe my coaching career to Mike Hayhurst.”

“Jackrabbit” Joe Hernandez

Joe Hernandez (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona Wildcats legend Jose Maria Hernandez, 81, who became known as “Jackrabbit Joe” while in high school in Bakersfield, Calif., after he exhibited his speed and athleticism by chasing down a rabbit while hunting, died from complications of COVID19 on Dec. 7. He was the youngest of seven children. He was born in Bakersfield to Catarino Hernandez and Esperanza Ortega. Catarino passed away when Joe was only 2 and the family got by with modest means. He attended Garces Memorial High School, where his future as a professional athlete began. While playing on the line, Joe picked up a fumble and ran it in for six — no one could catch him. Soon after, the alumni pressured the coach to put him in the backfield, where Joe ran for more than 2,000 yards. After Garces, Joe attended New Mexico Military Institute and played on their national championship team. There he held the national rushing record. In 1959 he returned home to play for Bakersfield College on their national and Junior Rose Bowl teams. That year the team won the national championship and Junior Rose Bowl championship. Joe was the MVP of both games. Following Bakersfield, he was a top recruit for Arizona coach Jim LaRue. Hernandez was a top receiver for the Wildcats, and was ranked 17th in the nation in scoring. He was inducted into Arizona’s Hall of Fame. He and Bobby Thompson, another California junior college product who joined Arizona at the time, were known as the “Touchdown Twins” for LaRue. Hernandez was a second-round draft pick by Washington, the 17th overall pick in the NFL. He later played for the Atlanta Falcons and the Edmonton Eskimos. After his professional football career ended, he was an independent insurance salesman in Tucson and dedicated his life to raising his family and helping others. Admitting that he had to serve time behind bars as an adolescent because of robbery, he counseled inmates in Tucson state prisons. Joe established a softball league for underprivileged children in Tucson. He created Jackrabbit Ministries, a nonprofit Christian ministry taking him to Eastern Europe, East Africa, and Mexico. He was inducted into the Pima County Hall of Fame, Arizona Mexican American Hall of Fame, and the Bob Elias Hall of Fame. In 2008, Joe received the Man of Faith Award at the Athletes International Ministry Conference. He married his high school sweetheart, Mary Ann Woolridge. They were by each other’s side for 61 years of marriage. Their union produced four children.

Jim Hoffman

Jim Hoffman

Jim Hoffman, the unsung yet dominating defensive tackle who was part of Arizona’s Desert Swarm defense in the early 1990’s, passed away at age 48 on June 27. Hoffman, was not heavily recruited out of Spring Valley (Calif.) Mount Miguel High School, when he joined Dick Tomey’s program in 1990. He evolved into a highly productive complement alongside Rob WaldropTedy BruschiTy Parten and Jimmie Hopkins on the defensive line, one that contributed to Arizona allowing only 65.1 rushing yards per game in 1992 and an unreal 30.1 yards rushing a game a season later. Hoffman was one of the members of Desert Swarm on the famous cover of Sports Illustrated College Football Preview edition in 1994 that included Sanders, Bruschi, Tony Bouie and Sean Harris. The title was “Rock Solid — Arizona is No. 1.”

Doug Jones

Doug Jones (Cleveland photo)

Doug Jones, who coached Pusch Ridge to a 2009 Class 2A state title after a successful 16-year major-league career as a reliever, passed away Nov. 22 at age 64 from complications with COVID-19. After five MLB All-Star game appearances and joining the 300-save club, Jones lived in Oro Valley and coached at Pusch Ridge in the 2009 season. His son Dawson was a senior pitcher-third baseman for the Lions when they won the title in 2009. “The chances of you getting a coach that played 18 years in the professional ball is slim,” Pusch Ridge senior third baseman Joey DeGroff told the Tucson Citizen in a 2009 interview. “It’s nice to have that experience. We’ve learned a lot. It has been great. His coaching style is laid back, but he can be intense as well, which I think works for this program.”

Bruce Larson

Bruce Larson is one of five coaches in program history to win over 100 games at Arizona. He was inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. (Arizona Athletics photo)

Former Arizona basketball coach Bruce Larson passed away at age 94 on April 14. Our Andy Morales wrote: “Sure, Coach led Arizona from 1961 to 1972 and, yes he was a former baseball and basketball player, but he was much more than that to the dozens, if not hundreds of students who were studying in the Exercise and Sports Sciences Department at Arizona in the early 1980s. We were all hoping to follow in his footsteps somehow. Many of us wanted to coach, some of us wanted to teach but most of us wanted a career where we could make a difference like Coach did. Larson taught us the theory of coaching basketball and handball/racquetball. He shot his free throws underhanded and we could earn a free grade if we could out-shoot him. No one ever did. In handball/racquetball, Coach would spot us 20 points and he would still win. McKale Center used to have racquetball courts on the outside facing where the pool is now and I always felt they built that part of McKale just for him as a gift.”

Michael McCraren

Michael McCraren (left) with Sarah LaVetter-McCraren and their son Brees (Andy Morales/

Michael McCraren, a deputy commissioner/vice president of the Tucson Youth Football and Spirit Federation, passed away Oct. 5 in an automobile accident returning from Colorado, where he saw his son Brees, a former TYFSF and Salpointe standout lineman, play for Fort Lewis College. Sarah LaVetter-McCraren, Michael’s wife and Brees’ mom, was hospitalized in critical condition. The TYFSF city championship games at Tucson High School are now known as the Mike McCraren City Championships in his honor. “Mike McCraen was a very strong personality in youth sports with all that he gave to kids and the finance he and his wife provided to kids and families that needed assistance,” TYFSF president Julius Holt said.

Tylene Kieffer Miller

Tylene Kieffer Miller (Andy Morales/

St. David volleyball coach Tylene Kieffer Miller passed away Nov. 12 at her home in Saint David at the age of 59. Ty is survived by her loving husband, Marlin Miller; her three siblings, Darla Taylor ColvinMonty Kieffer, and Cindy Turner Gillespie and many nieces and nephews. Miller led the Tigers to four state championships (2013, 2016, 2019 and 2020) along with two runner-up finishes (2010 and 2018), making the Pima native one of the most successful volleyball coaches in Southern Arizona history.

Chris Schultz

Chris Schultz

Former Arizona lineman Chris Schultz, who went on to play for the Dallas Cowboys and became a Canadian Football League star, passed away March 4 from a heart attack. He was 61. Schultz became a television celebrity in his native Canada as a CFL analyst. He came to Arizona in 1978 from Aldershot High School in Burlington, Ontario, to join Tony Mason’s program although Mason or his staff did not recruit him in person. After redshirting as a freshman, he became a starter as a defensive tackle in 1979. He played on defense until moving to offensive tackle as a fifth-year senior in 1982 because of a rash of injuries. He was 6-foot-8 and 277 pounds when the Cowboys drafted him in the seventh round in 1983.

Leonard Thompson

Leonard Thompson during his Oklahoma State career (Oklahoma State photo)

Former Pueblo football standout Leonard Thompson passed away on Aug. 17 at the age of 69. An honorable mention all-city running back with the Warriors in 1970, Thompson went on to play for Arizona Western where he helped the program win a national championship before transferring to play for Oklahoma State in 1973 and 1974. Thompson threw a 40-yard touchdown pass in the final moments of the 1974 Fiesta Bowl to help the Cowboys beat BYU 16-6. Thompson was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1975 and he went on to play 12 seasons with 277 career carries for 4,682 yards in 175 games. Thompson is considered by the NFL to be the best player to ever get drafted in the 194 spot, surrounded by Shannon Sharpe (192), Antonio Brown (195) and Terrell Davis (196).

NEXT: A look at all the local high school athletes who made commitments to a college in 2021

CLICK HERE to access the Year That Was 2021 series

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top