Originally Published: June 21, 2009 12:06 a.m.
In the early 1950s, shortly after his first semester playing football at Arizona State Teachers College in Flagstaff, Manny Leyva Jr. learned yet another hard lesson about sacrifice.
Leyva Jr., who grew up poor in Prescott, was drafted into the Army Airborne and shipped off to the Korean War on Nov. 30, 1952, cutting short what might have been a promising stint on the gridiron.
As a child, while his parents eked out a living in Prescott's barrio, he desperately pursued success the only way he knew how - on the athletic field.
A 1952 graduate of Prescott High School, Leyva Jr. lettered three years for the Badgers' varsity football, basketball and track programs.
"Growing up in this town, if you weren't playing sports, you were considered a different person," Leyva Jr. said. "But if you were, everybody patted you on the back."
A product of the challenging times of the 1940s and early '50s, Leyva Jr. remains a proud Hispanic American to this day.
For his many contributions to athletics in this state during the 1950s and '60s, Leyva Jr., now 76 years old, gained induction into the Arizona Hispanic Sports Hall of Fame's fourth annual class May 30 in Phoenix.
At the awards ceremony inside the Jimmy Speros Community Center, he received a red-polish finished wood fold-over plaque with a clock embedded in it, which he now displays in his Prescott Valley home.
Leyva Jr. went into the Hall with the late Ralph Moran, famed former football coach at Wickenburg High School and father of onetime Bradshaw Mountain football coach Steve Moran, among several others.
The Arizona Hispanic Sports Hall of Fame has a 14-member committee that recommends athletes for enshrinement based on their achievements both on the field and as role models and community leaders.
Tommy Nuñez, a Hall of Fame committee member, says on his website, www.tommynunezfoundation.com, that the individuals honored are those that helped open the doors of opportunity in athletics for Hispanics in addition to passing on cultural and traditional activities to subsequent generations.
Leyva Jr. knows Nuñez, who once was a high school referee in Arizona and went on to officiate in the National Basketball Association for 30 years.
"I got a letter from Tommy in April saying I would be inducted," Leyva Jr. said. "It was quite a thrill."
For 14 years, Leyva Jr. was an Arizona Interscholastic Association basketball official and played second base on slow- and fast-pitch softball teams in city leagues. He also served as a director at the old Boys Club in Prescott, umpired Little League baseball games and coached in Babe Ruth.
Leyva Jr. started playing fast-pitch in 1949 at age 15 and took part in city leagues until 1980. He attended tournaments across Arizona, Nevada and California.
Afterwards, he transitioned into slow-pitch and the Senior Softball League for more than a decade until he underwent heart bypass surgery this past year. Leyva Jr. credits his wife, Tillie, also 76, for restoring him back to good health.
"I had to retire, more or less, from Senior Softball," said Leyva Jr., who wears a defibrillator on his chest. "I loved to umpire games because I have a lot of friends there and I enjoy being around the guys."
Back in the day, one of his proudest moments as a prep star was playing offensive and defensive end in the Arizona North and South All-Star football game in Flagstaff.
He later received a scholarship to Arizona State Teachers College, now Northern Arizona University, in 1952 and played a season of football for the Lumberjacks before heading off to serve three years in the military. He returned to the teachers college in 1955 to compete in football for one more year under the G.I. Bill.
"I quit football because I had to go to work and help my folks out," Leyva Jr. said. "We didn't have any money."
In Sept. 1969, PHS honored Leyva Jr. and several other notable athletes from his generation for their contributions to the school. Thirteen years later, he was inducted into Prescott High's Athletics Hall of Fame.
Leyva Jr. has three children, including Carlos, 47, Jeff, 45, and Carmella, 40 - all of whom live nearby. They will celebrate Father's Day together this afternoon.
Carlos, who resides in Chino Valley, said he's thankful that the Arizona Hispanic Sports Hall of Fame inducted his dad. He has three sons, Chris, 28, Garrett, 21, and Jordan, 19, all of whom graduated from Prescott High, as well as an adopted son, Tyler Tubbs.
"There were some pretty good Hispanic athletes around during his time, and my dad was one of them," said Carlos, who played middle linebacker at Prescott High in the late 1970s.
Jeff, who also lives in Chino Valley, said he's simply proud of his father's accomplishments.
"He's worked hard at a lot of things he's done sports-wise and trying to be a leader in the community," Jeff said. "My father means a lot to me."
Jeff, who competed in varsity football and wrestling at Prescott High School from 1979-82, said his dad did whatever he could to support his athletic endeavors as well as those of other children in the community. He went on to become a Junior Olympic Zone champion in freestyle wrestling and an honorable mention regional pick as a defensive tackle during his senior year at PHS.
Jeff has a son, Joseph, who is an incoming junior at Chino Valley High School and lettered in wrestling and football this past season.
"He was an excellent athlete," Jeff said of his dad. "He was a really great softball player, and that was motivation for me to try harder and do better to try to emulate him."