Sports Watch

Bill Kwon

By Bill Kwon

Saturday, March 20, 1999

Gonzaga has proud
mom in Hawaii

IT's not quite like the script of "Bells of St. Mary's," even if Bing Crosby also plays a starring role in this story. But Gonzaga's remarkable Cinderella Tale in the NCAA Tournament has delighted more than a few people, even in Hawaii, especially at the Round Top home of Blanche Spitzer.

"Naturally, I'm thrilled that they're doing so well," she said. Of course, she watched Gonzaga's exciting 73-72 victory over Florida. And if she wasn't a basketball fan before, she is now.

The reason's simple. Her son, the Rev. Robert J. Spitzer, Punahou Class of 1970, is president of the 111-year-old Jesuit university in Spokane, Wash., with an enrollment of 4,500 students that has sent the basketball world spinning with its amazing success story so far.

"He called from Phoenix after the game. He was completely blown away," said the proud mom. "I don't know if he played any sports at Punahou, but he always loved watching sports, especially football."

So far it has been an amazing first year as university president at Gonzaga for Spitzer, "who's a local boy, that's for sure," says his mother.

The Hawaii-born Catholic priest was named Gonzaga's president last July 1. The school didn't have to look far to pick one of its own, as Spitzer graduated from Gonzaga in 1974. He went on to earn a master's degree from St. Louis University and a doctor of philosophy degree from American Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Spitzer is the widow of the late Arthur H. Spitzer, who was a consulate for The Netherlands in Honolulu. All five of their children -- Robert being the second oldest -- graduated from Punahou. John, Louise and Lynne live on the mainland, while Allan is a vice president with Ceridian Employers Services here.

All five of her children will be home for a big reunion in June, according to Spitzer, who will be glued to the television set to watch Gonzaga in today's West Regional final against favored Connecticut.

Win or lose, it has been a great run for the Zags and the Spitzer family.

IT won't be the last we'll see of Gonzaga. The Bulldogs will be playing in the 1999 Rainbow Classic along with Oregon, Villanova, Colorado, Ohio University, Wake Forest, Bradley and host Hawaii.

Rainbow basketball fans will never forget UH's 78-70 victory over Gonzaga in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament last year at the Stan Sheriff Center. They, along with Riley Wallace, knew that the Zags were for real even then, despite getting snubbed by the NCAA that season.

While the rest of the nation might be finally finding out about Gonzaga -- and you've got to love a religious school with a player named Casey Calvary -- folks here know all about the school in Eastern Washington named for St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a 16th century Jesuit who's the patron saint of youth.

Not because of John Stockton, Gonzaga's most famous basketball player. Or crooner Bing Crosby, it's most famous alumnus. But because of Lenn Sakata, who played two seasons at second base for the Bulldogs. Any sports trivia buff knows Sakata was the last player to start to shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles before Cal Ripken began his record consecutive-game streak.

Sakata led Gonzaga to the Big Sky Conference title his junior year, hitting .379 with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs. He gave up his senior year and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

He wound up playing 11 years in the American League, six with the Orioles, including their 1983 World Series championship team.

Sakata's the Original Zag, as far as I'm concerned.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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