Thursday, March 11, 2010

The passing of Ben Legere - SF CYO loses an original

Several weeks ago, I attended a SF CYO 7th grade boys basketball championship game in which my old grammar school was playing. When I showed up to the gym, I was happy to see that I knew the two officials working the game. One of them was longtime (50+ years) CYO referee and Hall of Famer Ben Legere.

I usually officiate with Ben a few times a season during the boys basketball season. However, due to work, my high school season and other things, I hadn't worked many CYO boys games and thus didn't work with Ben at all this season.

During halftime, I went downstairs to the court to say hi to Ben and the other official. Ben was happy to see me and we chatted a bit. Ben had always been a little quirky and had seem bitter and withdrawn the last few years I had seen him. On this day though, Ben seemed much more relaxed and happy than I remembered him from a couple of years ago.

It was during that day that I found out a local TV station had interviewed Ben and produced a short story on Ben which aired later that evening. The story can be seen here:

Unfortunately, these two particular memories will be my last ones for Ben Legere. After umpiring a baseball game in San Bruno on Wednesday, Ben collapsed while taking the bus home and passed away. He was 77 years old.

My first experience with Ben was back in 1987 when I played my first ever CYO basketball in 8th grade (my school did not have sports teams until that year). He officiated our first ever game in which we lost 35-28. I don't recall if he officiated any of our other games during my 8th grade year.

After I moved on to high school, I returned to coach at my school and saw Ben around but didn't interact with him a lot. It wasn't until 1993 when I began officiating in CYO that I started to interact with him more.

Like I said before, Ben could be quirky as an official but he had good knowledge and was always willing to share his views. You only had to listen to him. I know many officials found Ben frustrating at time to deal with and I could see why.

On the other hand, Ben had dedicated his life to CYO and youth athletics. He was unmarried and lived a solitary life. Even though he could be difficult to deal with at times, I overlooked that because I felt like he sometimes just wanted people to talk to. As my friends will tell you, I am a very patient listener and gave my time when I could.

As I look back, I am thankful that Ben was always giving me advice on my officiating and he was instrumental in helping me mature. Tomorrow night will be my first week of officiating CYO girls basketball as I missed the previous week. I think it will be an emotional night because it will be the first time in my 17 years of officiating that Ben Legere is not with us.

CYO has lost one of it's originals but heaven has gained one heck of a person. Rest in Peace Ben. You've been a part of many people's lives for years and your influence will be felt for many years to come.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for acknowledging Benny, an absolute icon. Ben officiated my CYO and Epiphany Basketball League (EBL) games when I played for SVDP dating back to 1968-69 when I was in 4th grade. His "one and one" and backcourt call gyrations are legendary to this day among all of us who had the privilege to experience his involvement in our youth sports careers. The memories of Ben calling a game are everlasting. I went back to coach at SVDP when I was in high school and would run across Ben from time to time, and he never seemed to change. Quirky? Yes, but that's what made him Benny. Many years later, as a CYO coach for St. Anselm School in Marin County, I returned to coach my teams at SVDP, Mission Dolores and Epiphany (including the new Epiphany Gym, thank you Roger Bross) and was lucky enough to have Ben ref some of those games. Although it had been eons since I had seen Ben, the first time I saw him when walking into one of those gyms, now as a grow man, he said "Hello, Dennis, how are you?" Amazing! During those later games where I was a coach I would bark at Ben in jest, pretending (sometimes) to question his calls, and he would proceed with his legendary gyrations. It was all great fun.

    What wonderful memories! Including those where Mike Dunne at SVDP would invite Ben to the post game parties on Friday nights after CYO games, often at my mother's house. I have to say, it was funny to see Ben sitting in my living room.

    Last night I coached my last practice at St. Anselm School after 13 years of involvement with that program, having coached three of my children and many other wonderful kids there. I was both sad and gratified as I turned out the lights and locked the doors for the last time. Somehow, it seems appropriate that Ben Legere passed just a day prior to that. The end of two wonderful eras, both of which leave me feeling sad but also very gratified to have experienced them.

    Rest In Peace, Benny.

    Dennis Strazulo