Insight, News, and Opinion by Nick Abramo
  • September 23, 2021
Maui Mourns The Loss Of Sportswriter, Broadcaster, Coach Fred Guzman

Editor’s note: Some sad news hit the Valley Island recently with the May 26 passing at age 72 of Fred Guzman, who was a sports journalist, radio broadcaster and much, much more. Guzman had a big influence on the career of former Maui News sportswriter Rodney S. Yap, who wrote the following tribute to Guzman and posted it on Facebook. With Yap’s permission, BedrockSportsHawaii is reposting his in-depth look at who Fred Guzman was here.

Several months ago I paid my final respects to a friend and former colleague — Fred Guzman.

To me, he was more than a brilliant soccer coach, award-winning sports reporter, dedicated family man, loyal friend, passionate storyteller, and master of ceremonies. He was family, a voice of reason and authority on all subjects.

I am publishing this post today because Fred’s family celebrated his life Saturday, Aug. 7, at Kepaniwai Park in Iao Valley. Here is my personal tribute to Fred and a snap-shot reflection of how he influenced my life.

Fred Guzman, left, with Barry Helle broadcasting from the Maui Invitational.
My memories of Wilfredo have consumed me since his passing. I’ve recounted letters I received from him during high school, pictures from college when I ran track at San Jose City, and ticket stubs from Bay Area games I attended because of him.

In addition, I’ve been able to replay a couple of Maui Interscholastic League football simulcasts I did with him. Listening to those broadcasts gave me chicken skin and brought back memories of Fred’s distinct voice — easy on the ear and penetrating at the same time.

Talking to others mourning his passing, like coach Kane Palazzatto, whose life has been impacted by Fred in a similar fashion, has helped me soften the loss.

Thanks to Fred’s marriage to my cousin Cynthia, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him from his first trip to Maui — a family vacation in June of 1976. Fred would come to appreciate the beauty of Maui, and the island values his wife Cynthia practiced and was determined to teach their daughter Tanya. Cynthia was a very spiritual person with a deep affection for her birthplace, often infusing traditional Hawaiian food, music, and dance into their mainland lifestyle living in San Jose, Calif. It was there that Tanya learned the Hula from her mom and soccer from her dad.

After vacationing here, Fred learned what the fuss was all about. Conversations about returning to Maui became more and more real, eventually becoming reality in 1991.

Thank you, Cynthia.

Fred started as a sports reporter for the San Jose Mercury News when journalists honed their craft on typewriters. His primary beats included the San Jose Earthquakes, the Oakland Athletics, and the Golden State Warriors. He also covered the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders as his secondary beats. World Cup soccer, World Series, Super Bowls, NBA Finals, Final Fours, championship boxing, and the Olympic Games are highlighted at the top of his impressive resume.

Among Fred’s accomplishments that many are unfamiliar with is his distinguished title as president of the San Francisco Bay Area Soccer Association. He also did play-by-play for the 49ers’ Spanish-speaking radio station in the mid-to-late ’80s.

Being on the road for extended periods was the part Fred did not fancy about his job, especially with the addition of his two sons Cacique and Alii. His commitment to staying closer to home materialized when he left the Mercury News for the Morgan Hill Times. In his short time as executive editor, Fred help redesign the newspaper, which enjoyed a boost in circulation during his tenure, while earning several awards for its local news coverage.

Thank you, Fred.

From the 1980s, when Fred Guzman
wrote for the San Jose Mercury News.

It was because of Fred, I chose to pursue a career in journalism and began writing sports stories during my senior year in high school, followed by a 20-year career at the Maui News. He was also a big reason I decided to run track at San Jose City College (1979-81). Less than 10 minutes from the SJCC campus, was Santa Clara University and my St. Anthony High School classmate Richard Bissen. The two of us attended several Golden State Warrior home games during this time, thanks to Fred. Bissen, Maui’s long-time judge, attended Santa Clara where he earned his bachelor’s degree and was active in the school’s Hawaiian Club. Back then, the Warriors were not very good, but we never turned down tickets. We sat with the Warrior player’s wives and Fred often took us into the locker room after games, introducing us to the players and Coach Alvin Attles as family from Maui.

Nothing, however, can compare to the college football game Jerome Asuncion and I went to with Fred on Saturday, Nov. 20, 1982. That’s the day Cal hosted Stanford for their annual “Big Game” rivalry. It was Stanford quarterback John Elway’s last collegiate game. The jaw-dropping finish reached historical proportions when the Bears scored the winning touchdown with four seconds left, lateraling the ball five times before a Cal player mowed down a Cardinal trombone player en route to the end zone, amid a sea of Stanford band members who marched onto the field thinking the game was over.

I remember looking at my friend in disbelief, as we watched the drama unfold right in front of us, starting around the 45-yard line where our seats were. Fred’s Sunday game story appeared on the front page next to a picture of a Cal player celebrating the unsuspecting touchdown surrounded by members of the Stanford marching band. I made sure to keep my ticket stub because I knew no one would believe me otherwise. Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of The Play, considered by some to be the greatest play in college football history.

Thank you, Fred.

It was because of Fred, I assisted with color commentary at Maui Interscholastic League football and basketball games in the ’90s. That led to co-hosting Fred’s daily “SportsPhone” call-in talk show on KMVI-AM 550. Former sports colleague Rob Collias from the Maui News also shared co-hosting duties. It was during this live midday broadcast that we got to see Fred deliver a wide range of skills, from his textbook interviewing techniques to his colorful flashbacks and memorable experiences. It was also Fred’s chance to showcase the depth of his sports knowledge and analytical points of view. When recounting stories from the Bay Area or moments from a game he watched or coached, the passion from his voice spoke volumes — and local listeners responded.

Fred was always a quick study, picking up the island nuances and respecting its traditions and Hawaiian practices, even if the Puerto Rican native disagreed.

The sport of soccer received a boost when Coach Fred arrived. He took a wait-and-see approach at first, settling for “manini steps” in the early going. As he learned the lay of the land, Fred’s go-to confidante was the late Alexa Kahui, then an executive secretary/accountant at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar. Kahui was a damage-control magician, among other things, and Fred trusted her religiously when he and Chuck Nunes started Maui United Soccer Club in 1991.

Members of the Guzman and Yap families,
including Fred (bottom center) and Rodney (both right).

Right away the club drew a large following and a short time later, after much discussion, the club began charging coaching fees. Parents were familiar with the practice on the mainland and Oahu and were resistant to the idea initially.Fred reserved the Pit Field, making it Maui United’s unofficial home, and commuters traveling Kaahumanu Avenue were used to seeing large groups of youth soccer players wearing the white, red, and black club colors.

The club, now operating under the Albion flag, remains committed to providing its player’s year-round coaching and training from licensed coaches. Coach Brent Nunes, who like Palazzatto is a descendant of Coach Fred, is always looking to raise the bar on and off the field. Nunes continues to make developing players a priority through the Olympic Development Program and exposing players to elite competition by traveling to tournaments across the country.

Thank you, Fred.

It was because of Fred, I swapped my MIL basketball beat for Rob Collias’ soccer beat. Not only did that allow me to watch Fred’s boys team’s play, I had the privilege of covering Baldwin’s phenomenal girl’s teams coached by Kawika Keator. Led by Nicole Garbin, the MIL’s all-time greatest female athlete, the Baldwin girls built a dynasty en route to their state championship three-peat at Aloha Stadium.

Fred Guzman, MIL coach of the year in 1991.

 

Fred had his share of talented players, including a couple of soccer players who were also football greats in Kawika Kahui and Kaluka Maiava. Both were voted first-team all-stars at their forward positions. Kahui, in fact, was a two-time first-team all-star. But it was the work Fred put in coaching undersized over-achievers like 5-foot, 2-inch Trevor Walter and MIL Player of the Year Clayton Sado that Coach Fred was perhaps most proud of.

In just his third MIL season (1993), Baldwin became the MIL’s first team to play for a state championship, losing to Kalaheo 1-0. In 2001, Guzman was named MIL Coach of the Year, building a 142-46-30 coaching record over a 10-year span. When you include his coaching stints in Morgan Hill and San Jose in California, Fred’s overall record over 16 years was an impressive 215-70-48, and he continued coaching in one capacity or another for at least another decade.

Before making the move to Maui, Fred was vice-president of operations with the San Jose Earthquakes of the North American Soccer League, and undoubtedly forgot more about soccer than any of us here on Maui would ever learn.

Like Maui United’s grit, Fred’s Baldwin teams were extremely physical at the defensive end and they were not afraid to challenge for the ball. The midfielders were skilled at trapping and passing, and sneaking into open space. The forwards were creative and unselfish, and some, like Andrew Ponce, were prolific scorers. Year after year, the common denominators in Fred’s teams were the relentless pace in which they played, and the tremendous effort his players gave him. Fred often said the intangible element in his Baldwin teams was the presence of principal Wally Fujii sitting on the bench.

Thank you, Fred.

It was because of Fred, I developed an affection for Motown music. In 1977, Fred introduced me to the likes of Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers, and Marvin Gaye, whose rendition of the national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game in Inglewood, Calif., upstaged the game itself as reporters led their game stories with reference to Gaye’s performance, which remains the best ever, in my opinion.

Fred had a passion for music, with more than 500 albums lined against the walls in his Morgan Hill living room. He played those albums daily on his sophisticated Radio Shack stereo system, which back then was the bomb.

Those albums were eventually shipped to Maui, but never made it out of storage. Fred discovered digital music and iTunes, downloading an estimated 10,000 songs to his library. Ask him anything about his music and he would go on, and on, and on. His favorite genre was Funk and he often played his favorites on throw-back Fridays on SportsPhone.

Thank you, Fred.

It was because of Fred, I realized my grandma, Mary, spoke Spanish. Whenever he came to the house he always greeted her in Spanish. The exchange brought a huge smile to her face and reminded me of their shared Puerto Rican heritage. And of course, the subject of pasteles or guandule rice would soon follow. Fred used his Spanish-speaking skills to connect with so many professional athletes, particularly the Latin American baseball players in the Major Leagues, many of whom gravitated to Fred in the locker room because he not only looked like them, he spoke their native tongue.

Thank you, Fred.

It was because of Fred that I learned it was cool to wear short socks with slide slippers. … I learned that the Kulolo at Takamiya Market on Saturdays is expensive, but a special treat worth buying. … I learned to turn the volume down while watching televised football games, to read and listen to music at the same time. … I learned that older guys can rep a braided ponytail and still look good. … I learned of his close relationship with friend and coach Cass Jackson of Monterey, Calif., and former DeAnza College head trainer Dave Obenour. … I learned that reading is the exercise he chose to stay fit and an Adidas sweatsuit was not just a uniform but a lifestyle.

Thank you, Fred, for 45 years of knowledge, inspiration, and unconditional friendship. I thank God for the relationship we had and the many memories permanently etched in my mind.

Oh, and one last thing, “If you can’t be a good sport, don’t play!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow us

Get the latest stories emailed to your inbox

BAMBOOSHOOT
Leadership coaching
Do you feel like an impostor being a leader?
Call Vince to book a free consultation.
808-391-7371.