It’s been a bad year for local sports because of COVID-19 — no games, no Sportswalk, no Hall of Fame banquets — but it’s been a sad year for other reasons.
It started in March when in the span of ten days, we lost two popular sports figures to the deadly virus: Larry Robertson, 72, a key member of San Pedro High’s Pirate Boosters, and Joe Radisich, 86, longtime Mary Star High football coach.
Now, within just a few weeks of each other, we’ve lost two more major figures in the local sports scene. Tony Rodich was 73 when he died unexpectedly on Sept. 10; Bill Vincent was 92 when he died after a short battle with Alzheimer’s on Sept. 29.
A San Pedro High graduate of W’65, Rodich was “the man with a thousand stories,” which he told thousands of times. In the days before freshmen went to high school, Rodich was a rare three-year varsity letterman in football, playing both ways. He was an equally good baseball player. In addition, he lettered in track in the broad jump with a best of 22-8. After graduation, he took two years off before enrolling at Harbor College, where he again played baseball and football.
It’s hard to evaluate his athletic career because injuries cut short almost every season he played. He never put up gaudy numbers, but no one who saw him play at full speed would deny he was talented. For example — a story oft-told by himself — in the first league game of his junior year, he caught four passes for 65 yards and made 15 tackles; he was hurt in the next game and was out the rest of the season.
San Pedro High athletic historian Steve Schizzano, a contemporary, said Rodich “was a stud.” He was “probably the best athlete never to make all-league.” He stayed healthier at Harbor, bulking up to 215 pounds, and in his final season, 1968, was named the team’s top defensive end. That was the same position his older brother Jerry played on Harbor’s famed 9-0 team in 1964. Avoiding the injury bug that plagued his brother, Jerry had a Hall of Fame career at both San Pedro High and Harbor before going on to New Mexico State.
Being denied on-field glory mostly because of injuries didn’t deter Rodich from remaining in sports off the field. Well-liked by his peers and always eager to relive the past, he was involved in numerous team reunions over the years and helped revive the Sportswalk in 2004. He was the go-to guy for anyone looking to get in touch with a former teammate, be it San Pedro High, Mary Star, Fermin Lasuen, or Harbor College, and his circle of friends included much of the old Marine League.
He lived much of his adult life outside of San Pedro, mostly in Del Mar, La Quinta, and Palm Springs, opening several restaurants and working in real estate. But like so many others, his heart always remained in his hometown, and he moved back here just a few months before he died.
Because of COVID-19, memorial services are pending. He is survived by a daughter, Bichele; his brother; two sisters, Velma Skerston and Mary Richey; and numerous cousins, nephews, and nieces.
Vincent was a football coaching stalwart for five decades, but because his career was all spent in the South Bay, he probably wasn’t that well known in San Pedro. He was, however, a longtime fixture in his Eastview neighborhood, where the Vincents were original homeowners in the Rolling Hills Riviera tract before it became part of Rancho Palos Verdes; they lived in the same house across the street from Dodson Middle School for 61 years. It’s where they raised their six boys and — when not on family getaways at their Shaver Lake cabin — he could be found working in his yard or garage.
My parents lived across the street from the Vincents for 49 of those years, and they were quintessential good neighbors, always ready to help. After a stint in the Army during the Korean War, Vincent graduated from San Diego State. Doubtless, few of his neighbors knew he received the school’s first Byron H. Chase Memorial Trophy in 1952 as the team’s outstanding lineman.
Vincent was an assistant coach at Aviation High before returning to his alma mater, El Camino College, in 1962. He spent the next 14 years as defensive line coach and defensive coordinator during Ken Swearingen’s highly successful tenure; it was Vincent who got Fred Dryer, the future Rams great, to enroll at ECC.
When Swearingen retired in 1975, Vincent took over as head coach, and in six years compiled a 37-20 record and never had a losing season. Wanting to coach his sons who attended West High in Torrance, he joined Fred Peterson’s staff; it was Vincent’s defense that recorded eight shutouts on the unbeaten 1982 team that won the school’s only CIF championship. He later returned to El Camino, coaching with John Featherstone, before retiring in 1993.
Vincent is survived by his wife of 61 years, Eileen; sons Michael, William, Steven, Scott, and Matthew; a sister; 16 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. spt