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Guzman remembered for impact on Maui’s soccer, sports scene

Former coach, broadcaster died on May 26 at age 72

Fred Guzman, a longtime radio executive, broadcaster, soccer coach and administrator on Maui after moving here in 1991, died on May 26. He was 72. Photo courtesy of Guzman family

Tanya Ponce remembers her 18th birthday like it was yesterday.

The NBA game between the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls was just another day at the office for her father Fred Guzman, but it became a lifetime memory for his oldest daughter.

“My dad was the beat writer for the Warriors and he took me when the Warriors were hosting Michael Jordan on January 16, 1990, my 18th birthday,” Ponce said Thursday. “Michael Jordan, he gave no interviews … he didn’t give anything, no, he doesn’t give autographs, nothing.

“Michael was usually the first one out (of the locker room) because he doesn’t want to talk to anybody. Somehow my dad said something because (Jordan) walked out and he said, ‘Whose birthday is it?’ I was like, ‘Me.’ … This was Michael Jordan, it was 1990, so this was it. He autographed my program and everybody else was, like, ‘Please, sir. Please Michael, please, please.’ My brother said, ‘Me, too?’ Michael said, ‘Is it your birthday little man?’ He said, ‘Nope.’ Michael said, ‘Welp,’ and he kept walking.”

It is just one of many memories Ponce will cherish of her father.

Fred Guzman led the Baldwin High School boys soccer team to the first state championship match for an MIL boys team in 1992. Photo courtesy of Guzman family

Guzman, a longtime radio executive, broadcaster, soccer coach and administrator on Maui after moving here in 1991, died on May 26. He was 72.

Guzman seemingly lived several lifetimes — he was a beat writer and later a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News where he worked for 16 years covering the Warriors, 49ers, Raiders, San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s. Later in his career, he became vice president for the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer.

Ponce remembers being with her father when he was covering the likes of Jordan, Pele, Rick Barry, Billy Martin and Joe Montana, among others.

“When we moved here, nobody knew that about us,” Ponce said. “Nobody knew my dad.”

The headline on his column from the memorable 1982 Stanford-Cal football game that ended with the Cardinal band on the field read: “Stuff this in yer trombone.”

Fred Guzman calls a game on the radio during the 2002 Maui Invitational men’s college basketball tournament at Lahaina Civic Center. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

When he arrived on Maui, he quickly became a large part of the community, primarily through soccer, the game he loved.

“My brothers and I, we’re happy to have shared our dad with all of his soccer players, who he considered his other kids throughout the years,” Ponce said. “All of us at one time or another coached with him or were brought in to coach with him. We understood why he said and did when we were his players. So, we were able to go full circle with that relationship with our father.”

Ponce said the outpouring of condolences from the Valley Isle community has been astounding. She and her brothers, Cacique and Ali’i Guzman, have heard from folks around the globe.

“The support we’ve gotten, from people all over Maui and Hawaii and all over the world, have reached out to my brothers and I — and it does mean a lot, it just gives us a sense of pride to see how many people’s lives he touched and he affected just by coaching,” Ponce said.

Fred Guzman founded Maui United Soccer Club — now known as Albion Soccer Club Hawaii — in 1992 and coached, among many others, former NFL player Kaluka Maiava while helping develop the sport on the Valley Isle. Former Seattle Sounders standout Zach Scott, a graduate of Maui High, has credited Guzman with helping him along his journey to college soccer at Gonzaga and beyond.

In this framed photo from 1976, Guzman (left), then a reporter with the San Jose Mercury News, is pictured with Pele while the soccer great was playing for the New York Cosmos. Photo courtesy of Guzman family

“The soccer world has lost an amazing man; Fred was a true pioneer and trailblazer of the sport here in Hawaii. Fred’s love, passion and legacy will live on forever,” Brent Nunes, Director of Coaching for Albion, wrote in an email to The Maui News. “Many of us would never be where we are today without his guidance and mentorship. … Fred, your legacy will live on forever.”

Guzman led Baldwin High School to the first state championship match for a Maui Interscholastic League boys team in 1992.

“We were saddened to hear of the passing of coach Fred Guzman,” Baldwin athletic director Wade Hondo wrote in a statement to The Maui News. “Coach Guzman, a former boys head soccer coach, was a longtime supporter and pioneer of youth soccer on the island of Maui. He was a devoted fan who was often at our MIL games, rain or shine. We send our heartfelt sympathies to his family.”

Guzman started a long career in broadcasting at Pacific Media Group once he arrived on Maui in 1991.

“Fred had a gift,” PMG CEO Chuck Bergson said. “The way he communicated in person, over the air on the radio or on the field coaching. He was genuine and sincere, always looking to bring out the best in those around him.”

Guzman watches the Baldwin High School boys soccer team play in a match at War Memorial Stadium in 2019. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Bill Schindler was one of the young people Guzman helped in broadcasting. Guzman put Schindler on the air when the two paired together on Guzman’s sports talk show with PMG.

“Fred put me on air 14 years ago, which launched my career in sports broadcasting,” Schindler said in a text to The Maui News. “We spent eight years co-hosting a show together and throughout that time Fred became a mentor, confidant, and most importantly, a dear friend.”

Barry Helle, the play-by-play voice of the MIL, spent many nights broadcasting games with Guzman, from high school action to the Maui Invitational college basketball tournament — their relationship on air lasted more than 20 years.

“Fred was the sports guru, right? That was his moniker, but for him sports was a lot more than just being a fan watching games on TV or cheering for his favorite team,” Helle said. “He had his favorite teams, but for him sports was a lot more than that. Primarily, it was an opportunity. It was an opportunity for him in his own light to get to be a professional journalist. It provided his education and then gave him a professional career in journalism as a news reporter and sports reporter and guy on the radio.”

“But it was also an opportunity to guide other youth to improve their own lives. He saw it as an opportunity to get at-risk kids off the streets and out of trouble by preoccupying them with practice and games so that they had a chance to keep their lives on track.”

Ponce remembered the good her father did for the Spanish-speaking community on Maui.

“Maui is small, but there was always a few kids whose families were — even if they were from California, their moms still spoke Spanish or their dads or their grandmas or whoever,” Ponce said. “Word just got out that there’s this guy in town, he speaks Spanish, too. And he’s on the radio, he’s legit, he’s a legit guy. He’s not just some guy. ‘He’s one of us’ is how they thought of him.”

“He just created an atmosphere that they were comfortable with. … He created an environment that they felt this was their home. … He sought people out who were like him. He felt he was just like them.”

Kaniela Palazzotto followed Guzman as head coach for the Baldwin boys soccer team and also worked closely with him for Maui United after playing for the club.

“One of the best things I remember about Fred was how influential he was getting kids to play above their level and just instill belief in players,” Palazzotto said. “That was one of the things that I remember was players who probably weren’t as good and then they just played above their capabilities because he gets them believing and he gets them believing in each other.”

“That was probably my most influential thing because I thought as I learned from him and obviously played for him, I just remember a bunch of the ‘keep it simple, the game is easy, but the hardest thing to do is to play the game easy.’ Just simple things like that, to me that’s what made him special.”

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino coached with and against Guzman, and watched him develop soccer players on the Valley Isle. Guzman also served as a TV host for election-night coverage on AKAKU for several years.

“A big loss, especially for our soccer community,” Victorino said. “Fred had been a big part of all of our community, especially in the sporting world, but soccer was his love. And from the first time I met Fred back in the early ’90s when he first came in — we coached against and together, our sons against and together, he always had this real knack of bringing the community together, bringing the soccer world together, and really building so that our children had a future.”

Guzman, whose wife Cynthia died in 2010, is survived by his three children and hanai son Raul Tornel; seven grandchildren and one great grandchild; and many Godchildren, nieces and nephews, and cousins and his mother.

His memorial is being pushed to the end of July or early August to allow for his mother to travel from her home in Puerto Rico. His cremation ceremony is scheduled for June 14 at Ballard’s Family Mortuary in Kahului from 3 to 4 p.m.; the ceremony is open to anyone who would like to pay their final respects.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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