Joe Davidson

High school notes: Optimist games founder Duarte dies

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 7C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013 - 6:37 am

Joe Duarte, a founder and longtime chairman of Optimist All-Star games as well as a friend and mentor to Sacramento-area high school coaches, died early Tuesday morning.

Duarte was diagnosed with acute leukemia earlier this month. He was 84.

Known to be proud and protective of his Optimist All-Star showcases that pitted high school seniors from the northern part of the Sacramento area against those from the south in myriad sports, Duarte told The Bee last year he took great joy from being around young athletes.

"Kids and teams are such a big part of my life. You don't age as long as you're surrounded by young people."

The message reverberated to coaches who knew Duarte.

"Joe Duarte gave so much of his time to everybody, and he's one of the most iconic people in this town," said longtime Grant football coach Mike Alberghini, who knew Duarte for 40 years. "No one has ever done more to support All-Star games, young people or to help teams as Joe Duarte.

"He was very meaningful in my life. He really helped me when I got started coaching. A few of us went to see him the other day, and he was in such good spirits. I'm real thankful for that last memory."

Duarte owned and operated the South Sacramento Sports Shop on Franklin Boulevard, outfitting regional teams and athletes in athletic gear and apparel. If a team couldn't afford equipment, Duarte made sure it got it anyway.

Duarte was paramount in the success of the Optimist All-Star football (56 years), baseball (42) and basketball (36) games. Quick to admit he didn't know a thing about the Internet or cellphones, nor was he necessarily willing to adapt, Duarte mailed ballots to schools for all-star selections. And he shared his disappointment if schools and coaches didn't promote their athletes.

At Optimist events, Duarte handed out programs, shook hands and beamed at the competition. In Optimist board meetings, Duarte could be engaging with jokes, or he could silence a room with a scowl.

Duarte also had a soft spot for umpires, in large part because his father with the same name umpired area baseball games for six decades.

Joe Duarte Sr. had a William Land Park baseball field named after him 30 summers ago. He died in 1994 at 84. Duarte Sr. once ejected his son from a Babe Ruth game at Land Park in the 1940s.

"He thought I missed a pitch and came running in from center field," Duarte Sr. said of his son. "I said, 'Keep on running, Junior. You're done!' "

Recalled Duarte last year: "If I have anything near the good reputation as my dad, then I know that I've lived a great life."

Duarte is survived by his wife, Phyllis, and three children. Services are pending.

Hornets commits – Sacramento State has received verbal scholarship commitments from three area athletes, who will be seniors this fall: Oak Ridge girls basketball guard Ali Bettencourt, Burbank defensive end Printess Johnson and Valley Christian infielder-pitcher Jeremiah Moore.

Fasani move – Randy Fasani, the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect while at Del Oro in the mid-1990s who went on to play at Stanford, has been named head football coach at Ripon Christian, a rising Sac-Joaquin Section program.

Fasani is an agricultural sales representative for Sierra Gold Nurseries following law enforcement stints in Visalia and Roseville.

He was the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach last season at Ripon Christian, which went 9-3.

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