Greg Hansen: Larry Toledo was team player to the end

2012-08-14T00:00:00Z 2012-08-14T13:20:59Z Greg Hansen: Larry Toledo was team player to the endGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 14, 2012 12:00 am  • 

On the day the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2012, Larry Toledo called, as he often did, with a few (sensible) suggestions.

"We finally got (former Pueblo High football coach and state championship running back) Curly Santa Cruz in the Hall of Fame," he said. "Now my list is down to a handful; I'm going to be an old man before they all get in."

A handful?

Without a pause, Toledo mentioned Leonard Thompson, Michael Lopez, Pepe Barron, Ben Carbajal, George Arias, Gil Heredia, Chino Quiroz, Cleo Robinson, Olivia Carrillo, Armando Murrieta and Susie Garcia.

Is that all?

"Check your email," he said.

My in-box included a list of 27 Tucson athletes Larry Toledo deemed worthy of selection to the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame. All of them included a bio and career highlights. It must have taken him days to put it all together.

"I might have to live to be 100 to see all of them get in," he said, laughing.

You probably know where I'm going with this: Larry Toledo won't live to see his personal list of Hall of Famers join him in the Hall of Fame (charter Class of 1991). He died Saturday in a one-car rollover near Three Points. He was 71. He accomplished so much for the Tucson sports community that he seemed to live the life of someone 171.

Larry Toledo is the Father of Pima College athletics. He was its first athletic director and stayed on the job until 1997. How'd he do? He hired Hall of Fame coaches Rich Alday, Norm Patton, Dwight Rees, Roger Werbylo and Randall Moore.

He was the state championship quarterback on Pueblo's 9-1 team of 1958, the first-team All-State quarterback and, later, so adept at that position at Cal Western University (now Point Loma Nazarene) that he was offered tryouts with both the San Diego Chargers and Toronto Argonauts.

On Monday, I looked through the archives and saw a photograph of No. 11, Larry Toledo, as he prepared to play Catalina in the city championship game, Thanksgiving eve, 1958.

It referred to him as "an aerial artist."

More than 4,000 squeezed into the old stadium at Catalina, and in the first quarter Toledo threw a 40-yard touchdown pass that gave Pueblo momentum in its 27-13 victory.

A year ago, to my good fortune, I sat next to Toledo at the Leukemia Society of Tucson benefit banquet. I knew him as Pima's AD and not much else. Someone stopped at our table and said he remembered Toledo, a point guard, shooting down four-time 1950s state basketball state champion Phoenix Union in an epic game more than 50 years earlier.

The visitor said that, as a kid, he was "in awe" of Toledo and those powerful Pueblo teams.

"Oh, he's exaggerating," Toledo said. "I was just another guy on the team in high school."

I discovered his modesty that night, but I had long known he had been a team player. As with his list of potential Hall of Famers, he always had someone on his to-do list.

"Larry hired me as Pima's basketball coach, but he didn't just hire me and stand back," said Michael Lopez, who now works at PCC's downtown office in student activities. "He was a mentor. A visionary. He was always pushing to elevate me. If you wanted a supporter, someone who would trust in you, it was Larry.

"He was a fantastic boss but an even better human being."

After paying his dues as a high school coach and math/ teacher at Phoenix Brophy Prep, Toledo returned to Tucson and in 1970 and was hired as PCC's first coordinator of intramural programs. He was asked to study the possibility of an overall athletic program.

By 1972, Toledo's study estimated that it would cost $680,373 to launch an athletic program. A year later, with approval from the student body and the PCC board, Toledo received that approval. He became the full-scale athletic director. By 1976, with Toledo at the controls, Pima was granted approval for a $1.6 million athletic complex.

Two years ago, Toledo received the highest honor of his career. He was inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame. That's the same one, NACDA, that previously inducted UA legends Pop McKale, Cedric Dempsey and Dick Clausen.

The plaque hangs at the office of current PCC athletic director Edgar Soto.

"He was good to people," Soto says. "He cared about the student-athlete. His door was always open. He made it easy on me as a young baseball coach."

When Pueblo was a football powerhouse, winning state titles in 1958 and 1961, Larry Toledo was at the heart of it.

"He was a quiet leader," says retired educator Bob Acuna, a star halfback on those Pueblo teams. "He was a guy you could trust. I always thought, standing in the huddle with Larry, that something good was going to happen."

Did it ever.

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