For so many around the country, 2020 has been a hard year.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted us in myriad ways. Games and vacations and all manner of other events were canceled. Our way of life was drastically altered. Millions lost their lives.
2020 will be remembered as the year America lost Kobe Bryant. Other prominent sports figures who passed away this year include former NBA commissioner David Stern, Yankees great Don Larsen, longtime Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, New York Mets Hall of Famer Tom “Terrific” Seaver, soccer legend Diego Maradona, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, Cardinals ace Bob Gibson, and Chicago Bears luminary Gale Sayers, among others.
Closer to home, Central Texas bid farewell to many who impacted our lives in significant ways. In this year where we’ve lost so much, the Tribune-Herald has chosen to honor “those we lost” with our 2020 Sportspersons of the Year award. (Of note: these men and women didn’t all necessarily die of COVID, but they nevertheless are reflective of a year where adversity seemed to arrive daily.)
Every December since 2010, the Trib has honored an administrator, coach, athlete or team as the Sportsperson of the Year. The honor is determined by a newsroom committee and the qualifications state that the award should be given to someone who made a significant impact on Central Texas sports over the course of the calendar year, while simultaneously portraying a spirit of sportsmanship and a noble character. Past winners include the likes of Robert Griffin III, Brittney Griner and the Lake Air Little League Softball World Series championship team, among others.
The group we honor in 2020 didn’t just impact the local sports scene this year, but over a lifetime. And their reach stretched far beyond the prism of fun and games. These talented people demonstrated a love and a joy and a spirit of generosity that will live on for decades.
Let’s remember them again.
A former Tribune-Herald reporter of great renown, Reba died in January at age 95. She helped husband Dave launch Texas Football magazine from her kitchen table in 1960, and that publication grew in scope and popularity so much so that it became christened “The Bible” of football in the state.
“Texas Football began as a family enterprise, and Reba was a big part of making it a success, including providing her kitchen table as office space for Dave to work during the days before he had a separate office for the magazine on Washington Avenue,” the Houston Chronicle’s David Barron, a longtime Texas Football contributor, told the Trib in January.
A pioneering journalist for women, Reba spent 10 years as a news reporter and features writer for the Trib and also served as the Central Texas correspondent for United Press International.
She traveled with Dave to many big games and events, including Earl Campbell’s Heisman Trophy ceremony in 1977. The University of Texas showed a video at this year’s Baylor-Texas game of a much-younger Willie Nelson playing an impromptu concert in the living room of former UT coach Darrell Royal. Sitting on a sofa in the room were Dave and Reba.
In 2015, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame honored both Dave and Reba with the Lamar Hunt Lifetime Achievement Award.
The coach with a heart of gold died of a heart attack in January at age 58. Chapman served as head soccer coach at University High School for 26 years, and led the Trojans to an undefeated record and Class 4A state championship in 2013. He was a six-time Super Centex Coach of the Year, as well as the Super Centex Coach of the Decade for 2010-19.
Beyond his on-field success, Chapman built his team into a model of community service. His generosity knew no bounds. He worked with Toys for Tots, the Make-a-Wish-Come-True organization and founded University’s popular “Soccer Buddies” program, among helping with other groups. Former Waco ISD athletic director Johnny Tusa called Chapman “probably the most unselfish person I have ever met.”
Chapman becomes the first two-time winner of the Trib’s Sportsperson of the Year award, as he previously won alongside his soccer team in 2013.
One of Baylor’s all-time greatest athletes, Shofner died in March at age 85.
You’d be hard-pressed to find many more gifted athletes than Shofner, who played football (both running back and defensive back), basketball, baseball, and ran track as a sprinter for the Bears. Shofner won MVP honors at the 1957 Sugar Bowl as Baylor scored a historic upset by beating No. 2-ranked Tennessee.
After college, he embarked on a highly successful NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants. He was selected as a first-team All-Pro receiver five times and was picked as a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1960s. He never really slowed down after retiring from football either, as he and his wife Carol, who died in 2015, raced thoroughbred horses for many years.
A former Baylor baseball letterman, Patterson died in April after suffering a heart attack. He was 46.
He played for the Bears in the 1995 and ’96 seasons, hitting .293 with 20 RBIs as a senior. His son Ryan will be a freshman outfielder for Baylor in 2021. Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez called Ron “an amazing man, father, coach and friend.”
Ron coached varsity baseball at Plano’s Prestonwood Christian Academy as well as in the Dallas Tigers select ball organization.
Malone, who led Marlin High School to some of its greatest football successes, died in April at age 73, following years of declining health.
Known as the “Big Dog” in Marlin, Malone won a lot more dogfights than he lost, amassing a 130-58 record and taking the Bulldogs to the Class 3A Division II state final in 2003. He also helped many a Marlin player make it through school and graduate, mentoring and molding his players beyond the football field.
“I don’t know anybody who related to the kids in Marlin like he did,” said Chuck Vincent, who was Malone’s defensive coordinator for nine years at Marlin. “They allowed him to coach them hard, and he loved them hard. And they loved him right back. He just had a special way of dealing with those kids.”
Bankston, the head baseball coach at Axtell, died in May in a single-vehicle car accident. He was 31.
Bankston was in his first year as Axtell’s baseball coach, and directed the Longhorns to a 4-5 record and a 2-0 mark in district when the season ended due to COVID-19. Despite being in Axtell a short time, the passionate Bankston had quickly connected with his players and was well loved, Axtell ISD athletic director Rusty Reynolds said at the time.
“He was as fiery as any coach I’ve been around, and he definitely had a good impact,” Reynolds said. “That’s what we’ll miss the most.”
After his death, Axtell created the Cameron Bankston Memorial Scholarship to honor a senior baseball player who exhibited the “same energy and excitement that Coach Bankston lived and coached with every day.”
A 2010 inductee to Baylor’s Athletic Hall of Fame, Cox died in May at age 78.
He served as an equipment manager, athletic trainer and administrator at Baylor from 1973-92. He started out as the first full-time athletic trainer in school history. Baylor estimated that he worked with more than 7,800 athletes and mentored more than 260 student trainers over the years.
He also had a stint as an assistant athletic director from 1984-92, helping oversee renovations at Floyd Casey Stadium.
“There’s no way to know how many lives he touched and the little impromptu meetings you have with the players, the impact that has on a player’s life long term,” said former Baylor trainer Mike Sims in an interview on “The John Morris Show” on ESPN Central Texas.
One of Central Texas’ most beloved broadcasters, Henry died in August at age 80.
He spent more than four decades in television and radio, including stints as an announcer for Waco ISD TV and a longtime run as a sports talk show host on ESPN Central Texas radio. He also coached youth league teams for many years, and served as the shot clock operator at Baylor games for several decades.
Henry had an everyman quality that connected with listeners, who enjoyed repeating his catchphrases “Winner, winner, chicken dinner” and “nanner pudding” back to him.
“Find me one person that did not like Butch Henry, that met Butch Henry and had a five-minute conversation and did not say, ‘Hey, what a great guy,’” said Tom Barfield, Henry’s longtime announcing partner on both high school game broadcasts and in the booth with the “You Make the Call” program. “And he really, really was. He genuinely was a very special person.”
Vickrey, a former star athlete for Baylor’s track and field program, died in September after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 86.
Vickrey won back-to-back Southwest Conference championships in the long jump, and in 1956 he ran a leg on BU’s 440-yard relay team that clocked 40.2 seconds at the Kansas Relays, matching the world record at the time. Baylor inducted Vickrey to its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.
He also spent many years as a devoted Baptist pastor. In addition to serving as interim pastor for a number of congregrations, he was the senior pastor at Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas from 1981 to 2008.
“When someone drew up plans for what big brothers should be like, Ray must have been their perfect model,” said Ray’s brother Bob, a longtime Tribune-Herald contributor. “He was a kind, gentle and thoughtful brother, who always looked after my best interests. He guided me, but never told me what I should do.”
Fogleman, who spent nearly 20 years as a statistician for Baylor football, men’s and women’s basketball, died in September at age 57 after a bout with cancer.
Fogleman grew up in Mexia and quickly became a big sports fan. He later met his wife Lori at a football game at Stephen F. Austin University. He spent many years working for the state of Texas, first at Mexia State School and later at Adult Protective Services. He donated his time to the likes of Meals on Wheels, the Treasured Tails program, and the ABC Clinic.
“If you knew my father, he was the epitome of compassionate,” his daughter Emilie wrote on Facebook. “He loved others fiercely, especially those often forgotten or overlooked by society. He was the hands and feet of Christ every day of his life.”
The Tribune-Herald’s public safety reporter for five years, Hoppa died suddenly in September, due to complications from diabetes. She was 34.
Hoppa covered the cops beat with relentless energy and passion. She was a unifying spirit in the newsroom.
“Kristin really stood out for her cheerful attitude and willingness to cover any kind of story,” Trib managing editor JB Smith said. “You could tell she loved her job. She loved to chase stories. We almost couldn’t get her to stop working and go home.”
In terms of her connection to sports, Hoppa devoted many hours to aiding members of the Trib sports staff with stories whenever the crime and sports beats intersected. She also was a passionate fan of her favorite teams — the Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Chiefs and especially the University of Kansas Jayhawks. In fact, this writer has never met anyone who was a bigger fan of anything than Kristin, blue lipstick and all, was of the Jayhawks.
Schroeder, dubbed “Mr. Baylor,” died in October at age 96. He led Baylor’s baseball team to a 196-165-1 record from 1961-73, including a Southwest Conference championship in 1966. He also spent several decades leading Baylor’s “B” Association for former athletes.
Dutch’s memory recall was the stuff of legend. He seemed to know everyone in town by name. And he was always willing to pitch in a helping hand if needed.
“He would make sacrifices for people,” said Walter Abercrombie, Baylor’s current “B” Association director. “There are a thousand stories where Dutch made sacrifices for people to help people, everything from finding them places to live to taking them dinner to taking them a blanket at nighttime when they’re cold. Dutch was a father figure to many, many people here at Baylor.”
Schroeder is a member of the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame and the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame.
Smith, the all-time high school football rushing leader in Central Texas, died in a fishing accident in November. He was 22.
Smith rushed for 7,625 yards for Cameron Yoe from 2012-15, including a single season-record 3,010 as a senior. He was Super Centex Offensive Player of the Year in 2015, and earlier this year was selected to the Trib’s All-Decade Team.
Following his death, Cameron rallied together to hold a memorial football game to honor Smith and raise money for his memorial expenses, as well as those of Desmond Williams, another Cameron athlete who died alongside Smith in the fishing accident.
Johnson, the gold medalist in the decathlon at the 1960 Olympics, died earlier this month at his home in Los Angeles. He was 86.
He was born in Hillsboro and spent the first 11 years of his life there before moving to California with his family, which includes pro football great Jim Johnson.
Rafer developed into one of the best athletes on the planet, setting world records in the decathlon three different times. He was the flag bearer for the United States at the 1960 Olympic Games, and later was given the honor of lighting the torch to signal the opening of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Johnson was inducted to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, and belongs to several other Halls of Fame, including the National Track and Field and the U.S. Olympic.
He also famously helped apprehend Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin who killed Robert Kennedy in 1968.
Waz, who played safety at Baylor from 2014-17, died earlier this month at age 25.
Waz totaled 146 tackles in his career with the Beas, including 105 solo stops, six pass breakups and a fumble recovery in 43 games. He signed with the Bears after a standout high school career at Pflugerville Hendrickson that led to an array of Division I offers.
“No words will be able to explain the loss of a teammate, friend, family, brother in Christ,” former Baylor quarterback Seth Russell tweeted after Waz’s death. “Chance always had a positive attitude toward life.”
Baylor football tweeted that Waz would be “forever a member of the Baylor Family.”