The term "friendly rival" comes to mind when I think of Bill Thompson. For several years, he was coaching cross-country and track and field at Alameda High, while I was doing the same at Encinal High. Rivals, yet good friends. And, though at Encinal we could field strong teams, especially in cross country, Thompson's young runners were not just good; they were better.
Better? How's this? In one of those years (perhaps 1971), our varsity placed second out of 11 teams in the league cross-country meet held on De Anza High School's course. Alameda High's varsity runners not only took first, they shut us out! Their first five crossed the finish line before our best runner came in. An extraordinary accomplishment -- to be as good as we were, finishing ahead of so many other teams, yet shut out by Thompson's winning Alameda High squad!
As I talked with Bill afterward he noted that if our city had only one high school (as some citizens were favoring), we would have taken the top 12 places in the meet.
My column is paying this special tribute to Bill Thompson because he passed away in Redding last month where his daughter, Casey Parodi, and her husband, Ron, live. Earlier, after retiring, Thompson had gone back to Arizona, where he had been a star athlete as a sprinter in high school (he set a state high school record of 9.8 in the 100 yard dash), and a football running back for Arizona State University. His last years, however, were spent struggling against a lingering illness that eventually took his life as mentioned above.
Former runner Tom Weir emailed me that, upon learning of his illness, several members of his former championship teams journeyed to Arizona to hold a reunion with their former coach. Weir said, "He had a couple of long tables set up in his sun room which were blanketed by trophies and plaques his teams had won. True to form, he let those awards speak for themselves."
Weir also mentioned the diversity on Thompson's first championship team: Tommy Hui was born in China, Lester Mina was a first-generation Filipino and Pat Ortez's family came from Mexico. The following year's swift group included Angel Martinez, who was born in Cuba, and Joe Taxiera, whose parents were Portuguese and Japanese.
Incidentally, Tom Weir became a sportswriter for USA Today. And Angel Martinez later rose high up in the Reebok organization and became the president and chief executive officer of Rockport.
Lester Mina reports that a memorial for Bill Thompson will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 7 at Leydecker Park, 3225 Mccartney Road (Bay Farm Island) in Alameda.
Contact Joe King at firstname.lastname@example.org.