Honoring the Athletes We've Lost
- Donna Benson - Basketball and Softball
“It definitely has been a fun-filled life! Because of a brain injury, Wendy getting me involved with basketball, meeting so many people with MS because of my brain injury, and cancer getting me involved with Team Survivor.”
Born July 17, 1941 in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Donna joined the Navy in 1959 and was sent to her first Duty Station – San Diego, with its Dairy Farm in Mission Valley, buffalo in Hazard Center, tiny airport on Pacific Highway, and a ferry with free popcorn going across to Coronado. She started working for the Federal Civil Service, playing basketball and softball, and running 5K and 10K races. She joined the Naval Reserve in August 1970 and retired in 2001 from Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center (NMCRC) San Diego. She assisted and then coached the NTC Women’s Softball Team until the base closed.
Between 1999 and 2001, she underwent surgeries for a benign brain tumor and colon cancer. Meeting another woman at Sharp Healthcare’s Community Re-Entry Program is what got her started playing Senior Women’s Basketball at the YMCA on Sunday afternoons. Since Wendy O’Donnell would never be able to play basketball – a game she dearly loved – she made Donna promise to play for her, even though Donna had to deal with some serious balance problems at first. Donna played in senior women’s basketball games and went to Senior Nationals in St. Louis, Stanford, Houston, Minneapolis, and Birmingham. Then, because of having cancer, Donna met a beautiful, awesome, and inspirational group of women survivors with San Diego Team Survivor Sea Dragons – a dragon boat crew, who love paddling around Fiesta Island, our beautiful Mission Bay.
Donna passed away on May 16, 2020 just before ship bells chimed 0800. Team Survivor Dragon Boat crew-mate, Kelly, was by her side. She visualized Donna through a fast bike ride down the coast, then had Donna board the boat and take some bow jumps before sunrise. Kelly also promoted Donna to a Four-Star Admiral before her last breath.
(Thank you to Kirsten Cummings for the Memorial Dedication.)
- Michael LaRoche - Basketball
Michael William LaRoche, passed away in July, 2020. Michael played in the San Diego senior games for 15 years. Michael won championships in every age group starting from the 50’s and ending in the 60’s. Michael played with California Gold and Oakland’s Finest and was an unbelievable scorer and shooter. Michael won several national tournaments and numerous World tournaments playing in Prague, Sydney, Edmonton and in the United States.
Michael attended Cal Poly SLO where he led the team in scoring averaging over 22 points per game for his career. Michael played professionally briefly for the Los Angeles Stars before he began his successful career as one of the highly regarded Workers Compensation attorneys in Northern California. Michael will be remembered for his aggressive competitiveness and enormous love for his family and friends. Michael and Roy McNeely were teammates and Oakland’s Finest will sorely miss them when the ball starts to bounce again.
(Thank you to Robert Scotlan for the Memorial Dedication.)
- Roy McNeely - Basketball
Roy was a basketball enthusiast. Roy traveled from Detroit, Michigan and Pflugerville, Texas to play basketball wherever a game was being played. Roy played for many years in the San Diego senior games and won numerous tournaments playing with Oakland’s Finest. Roy loved San Diego basketball.
Roy passed away in February, 2020. Roy attended Eastern Michigan University where he led the team in scoring and rebounding. Roy also won many national and world championships all over the world. Roy was such a popular player and friend that people always thought he was running for office because so many individuals would surround him just to say hello and shake his hand. Roy will be missed dearly. He was a great friend and teammate.
(Thank you to Robert Scotlan for the Memorial Dedication.)
- Chester Banaag - Pickeball
Chester was exactly the kind of person and role model that the San Diego Senior Games aims to attract into our community. Chester’s contributions to the community went far beyond his involvement in sport. He was a leader in his church at the San Diego Filipino American Seventh Day Adventist Church and was instrumental to the construction of their current location. He spent three weeks of each summer taking the young men and women (ages 10 to 15) on their Pathfinder mission helping develop into the people they have become today.
Chester was an avid pickleball player, a USAPA Ambassador promoting the sport of pickleball to all the communities, and, finally, he was the leader in bringing pickleball courts to the city of Chula Vista at Mackenzie Creek Park. He and his doubles partner, Jim Mayall, were medalist in the 2019 50+ division. Chester died from COVID-19 induced Pneumonia on January 1, 2021. It was a great loss to our community!
(Thank you to Jim Mayall for the dedication.)
- Fran Styles - Track and Field, Archery, Basketball
Fran’s success at the San Diego Senior Games and National Senior Games was no small feat! She is clearly one of the leading all time medal winners, often winning as many as 7 medals for each the local and national senior games – for each year! Her sports were archery, track and field and basketball but she would try any sport.
Her indomitable will, gigantic heart and humbleness have been inspiring for all who knew her. In addition, as a player in the San Diego Senior Women’s Basketball Association, literally millions of people around the world now know of her due to a short video by ESPN that went viral and had more than 25 million views!
She taught and coached at Francis Parker School, creating a girl’s athletics program from scratch. She developed the track & field, cross country, and soccer teams, as well as expanded the Middle School program significantly by developing the P.E. curricula that included a dance program so that all kids could benefit from. All the time she was at Parker, and for years beyond as well, she was also teaching, training and mentoring Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and teaching Sunday School, and served as a Deacon at her church. She had a burning desire to convey knowledge and skills to others, both children and adults, as well as to help them improve themselves.
(Thank you to Styles Family for the Memorial Dedication.)