Alegre’s smile was far-reaching
THERE are certain people in life who will always stay with you. They know this now.
They've known it for years now.
Jeris White knows it. He is young when he remembers. It is yesterday, when he remembers.
It is 1969, just he and Mr. Alegre at the long jump pit, practicing after school.
"It was him helping me set all those records," White would say, looking back.
"I can always remember how patient he was with me," White would say. "As high strung as I was, I don't know how he put up with me."
He did, of course. Mr. Alegre always did. And White set Radford records, state records. He would go on to become the University of Hawaii's first first-team football All-American by The Sporting News. He would play in the NFL.
But some of the greatest memories are of those afternoons, just the two of them, together, trying to improve.
"His voice was so calming," White said.
They all have a story like that.
Mr. Alegre was a legendary coach who was hired by a legendary coach. Terry Lawrence was the captain on Radford's first basketball team, in 1958-59. A few years later he came back, staying overnight at the home of his coach, John Velasco. Mr. Velasco was so proud of the new basketball coach he'd just hired it was like he couldn't wait to show him off.
As they talked into the night about the new coach, Lawrence couldn't help but notice Mr. Velasco was getting tears in his eyes.
"I'd only seen him do that one other time," Lawrence said, "when he was talking about Vince Lombardi."
Jimmy Alegre died Oct. 16 after a long fight with cancer. He was 68. The services were Tuesday, and estimates are that perhaps 600 showed.
He coached at Radford for decades. His basketball teams won more than 600 games, four state championships (1969, '71, '77 and '89), nine Oahu Interscholastic Association titles. But that's not why he's with them still.
"Oh, those days were so influential in our lives, and we didn't even know it," Dick Koenig would say.
What they all remember is an afternoon at the long jump pit. An arm around a shoulder. A voice. That smile.
ROY OCAMPO WAS the last man on the bench, in 1968-69. And he couldn't fathom why, in the middle of a game in the middle of the season, plays kept getting called for him.
It hit him only later that he had been the only player on the team yet to score a point. It hadn't even occurred to Ocampo, who felt lucky to be on the team. But Mr. Alegre wanted him to feel that joy.
Later, the state tournament on the Big Island. This would be the first one, Radford's inaugural state crown. Only 12-man rosters were allowed, at state. Ocampo was No. 15.
Mr. Alegre brought everyone, even if the final three had to watch in street clothes.
When the Rams won it all, only 12 state champion medals came with the achievement. Mr. Alegre ordered three more.
Ocampo's family moved to California before they could arrive. There, he played basketball again, once against Jamaal Wilkes. But during his senior season he had one magical night, the kind of game every player imagines in his wildest dreams. Still oblivious to scoring, he gave out 20 assists, a school record into the 1990s. A year after being the last man on the bench, he played Radford defense and fouled out four guards.
Why not? It never dawned on him that he couldn't do it. He'd been a full-fledged member of a state championship team.
Years later he saw Mr. Alegre and they shared old times. The lost medal came up. Mr. Alegre presented him with one from a later championship.
He keeps it still.
IN 1962 RADFORD went to the state tournament, also in Hilo. It was like something out of "Hoosiers," the small underdog team making it big.
"You would have thought we just arrived at Disneyland," Dick Koenig would say.
But Mr. Alegre was so calm, so understated. Be humble and go out ready to play.
In the game Radford would face the giants, Punahou. In the final seconds the Rams had a chance to win, Koenig at the line. It was his birthday. It was a dream come true, a situation he'd already lived a thousand times.
He "never forgot that instant feeling of letting a lot of people down," he said.
Mr. Alegre took him aside, whispered in his ear: Being humble works in the best of times and the worst of times, too. Koenig never forgot it. That's the part he remembers most. That's the moment that sticks with him.
That is the image he keeps of the coach who has stayed with him all these years.
Humble. Jimmy Alegre was just over 5 feet tall, and yet he long-jumped more than 20. He was a jumper in college, in fact.
"I never knew he had been in the long jump until I had read (Paul Honda's Oct. 19) article," White said. "Here it is, 2005, and I just found that out."
CURT SEEBALDT REMEMBERS that first state championship team. He was the point guard. He was a military kid.
"I learned quickly that basketball was a bit more physical in Hawaii," he said. "I can still see Coach with that big grin on his face when I'd get plowed over by a 6-2 football player from Aiea that didn't like my high-top Converse All-Stars."
But it was coming together. They could all feel it. Mr. Alegre's grand plan was working. Before leaving for the state tournament he had Seebaldt in his office, they were reading the Star-Bulletin. Jim Easterwood's article -- well, this is the way Seebaldt remembers it, anyway -- had called Radford "country bumpkins," with little chance against teams like Punahou and Kamehameha.
"After I read the article, I looked up expecting to see Coach's reaction," Seebaldt said. "The room was empty. He had already left the office. Coach knew."
Seebaldt and his wife came back to sit courtside when Radford won the state championship in 1989. Mr. Alegre had done it again.
The last time he saw his coach was when Radford renamed its gym in Alegre's honor in 2002. He sat at the banquet with his old teammate, Rick Heller. Rick was very ill, not doing well.
"He wanted to be there for Coach," Seebaldt said. "Some things never change. All of us wanted to be there for Coach."
THEY WERE AGAIN this week, by the hundreds. The pastor came out of retirement for the service, and everyone told stories, of those moments, of that smile.
There are certain people in your life who will always stay with you.
"Never underestimate the power of a smile," Mark Jussel said. "It breaks into those hard to reach places. It is so powerful it can melt hearts and break ice. I will always remember that Gentleman Jim taught us nice guys don't have to finish last. You can hustle and muscle and still be smiling and enjoying it the whole time."
"His compassion for people carried over into every aspect of school and life," Bruce Wolbrette said.
"He was always that special person that didn't have to yell or anything," Eugene Tokuhama said.
"If you met the guy he would have an impact on you," White said.
"He commanded your attention if you were around him, in such a positive way," Koenig said.
A few years ago Ocampo sat down to write a letter to his coach, thanking him for the impact he had, especially on the last player on his bench. This week, he dusted it off. This week, he told the stories all over again.
They all did. The stories of the smiles and the asides, and the life lessons they didn't know they were getting until it was too late. The moments and the practices and the trips.
Those afternoons, after school.
"I will miss my coach and my friend," Seebaldt said.
There are certain people in your life that just stick with you. They know this now. But then, they've been lucky enough to have known it for a long, long time.