Philippine sports personalities who passed away in 2017 (Part 2 of 2)

December 31, 2017

by: Noel Zarate


Picking up from where we left off the last time, I request prayers for two PBA family members who are also battling their own health difficulties heading into 2018.

First up, PBA Deputy Commissioner Rickie Santos suffered a stroke in the heat of the controversy surrounding Chito Narvasa “scandal” and spent a majority of the holiday season in ICU. It was only recently that Santos, a former newspaper man who began working with the league in the Jun Bernardino administration, had been moved to a private room as his vital signs have shown improvement. However, he is a long ways off from recovery.

Another prayer goes out to former San Miguel and Welcoat (Rain or Shine) guard Joey Mente, who had been diagnosed with two tumors—one in his head and one in his chest—a few weeks back. We first got the news when his former Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) teammate (and Blackwater Elite team consultant) Vince Hizon began posting about it on social media with the hashtag #PrayersForJoeyMente.

Mente, who at 5’9” captivated the league by winning the 2001 PBA Slam Dunk championship, had began reconnecting with the game as one of the coaches of the Lyceum Pirates in the NCAA after trying to make a living as a professional poker player. It was on the felt that he and I became close friends and I even took the liberty of writing about him in 2016.

These two gentlemen are fighting for their lives, but have the support of the basketball community as well as their friends and family in their time of struggle.

The next set of names that appear herein are the souls that may benefit from our prayers in their onward journey to be reunited with our Creator.

First up are three former Philippine basketball Olympians who spanned six editions of the games as the most senior Ramoncito Campos, Jr. (1925-May 29, 2017) had seen action in three Olympiads; 1948 (London), 1952 (Helsinki) and 1956 (Melbourne). He was 92. He crossed paths with Loreto “Boni” Carbonell (1933-September 23, 2017) in the Melbourne games and together with the likes of skipper Tony Genato, Charlie Badion and “The Big Diference” Caloy Loyzaga helped the Philippines to a seventh place finish. Carbonell went on to become a coach in the PBA for Beer Hausen and Great Taste in the PBA during the 1980s. He died o cardiac arrest at the age of 84.

The third Olympian was Elias Tolentino (1942-November 19, 2017) who actually still got to play in the PBA for Toyota and Seven-Up during the league’s formative years. Tolentino was part of the failed Philippine qualifying team for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics but eventually got to represent the country in the 1968 games alongside captain Big Boy Reynoso, Jimmy Mariano and eventual PBA MVP Robert Jaworski under Caloy Loyzaga. He succumbed to a lingering illness at the age of 75.

Another former national team campaigner in Norby Rivera (1952-November 6, 2017) passed on after losing his battle against cancer. Rivera was a member of the 1972 RP Youth team that featured future PBA superstars such as MVPs Atoy Co, Philip Cezar, and our-time winner Ramon Fernandez. He also was among the PBA pioneers when he played or Royal Tru Orange in 1975-1981 and ended his playing career with Toyota in 1982.

But not all the names on this list were able to live a full life.

Budding pugilist Jeffrey Claro was busy training for an encounter slated or November that would have been his sixth professional bout when he suddenly collapsed after a light sparring session in Mandaluyong City and never regained consciousness and died at the age of twenty on October 22nd, just four days after his birthday. Claro, who had had some history of requiring medical attention and having undergone several CT Scans to determine if he was fit enough to continue as a prize-fighter, was actually cleared to train but allegedly under dubious circumstances as some of his medical records had been tampered with. This led to an investigation by the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) and the eventual blacklisting of several establishments with regard to conducting tests on Filipino boxers. The cause of death was Brain Hemmorage.

The sportswriting insudtry also lost one their own as the Grand Dame of Philippine Sportswriting kicked the bucket in 2017 as Beth Celis gave in to a lingering illness that kept her out of the limelight in the months leading up to her death. Celis, 73, was among the first women who made a name or herself in the male dominated scribes community and her column “In Huddle” wherein she gave out clues to the identities of those involved in controversies without naming them directly were among the most widely read by serious sports aficionados in the country. I actually had the opportunity to travel with “Tita Beth” for an international sporting event during the 2010 FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Doha, Qatar and got to know her as a witty, funny and nurturing mother-figure.

A father-figure in Philippine volleyball suddenly let us as well in 2017 when former Far Eastern University coach Kid Santos died of Cardiac Arrest in the early morning hours of November 8th. The first inkling of something amiss was a post on Facebook by his former player and Foton Tornadoes assistant coach Edjet Mabbayad asking for prayers as Coach Kid—who was a big part of the Tamaraws program that yielded over fifty championships over the past four decades—was being revived. When the bad news came out a few hours later, the entire volleyball community began sending messages of sadness on the passing of one of the most iconic figures in the sport. He was 67.

AAK founder Pocholo Veguillas, 74 (November 24) and former Asian sprint sensation Mona Sulaiman, 75 (December 21) rounded out those sports difference-makers who went ahead in 2017.

Here’s to hoping that 2018 is going to be kinder to the icons of Philippine sports and let’s also say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Almighty for giving us yet another year to make an impact in all that we do.

From all of us here at and ESPN5, Happy New Year!


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A short wishlist for sports in 2018

The long and arduous journey of the Ateneo Blue Eagles

Our favorite sports moments

First time as underdogs, the San Beda Red Lions lean on championship experience

Why Gilas’ gold medal at the SEA Games matters

The Gilas experience

Carlo Biado finally breaks through

The Barangay Ginebra Kings retain their crown

When basketball almost stopped

Girl power: The top female athletes of 2017

Philippine sports personalities who passed away in 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

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