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Once we all wanted to be Pio A

Author: Augie Bareno
Created: 14 May, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
5 min read

    Most of us, when we were growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, knew somebody in our neighborhood who was usually, the toughest, the best fighter, the strongest, and the natural leader of neighborhood guys.

    We all grudgingly admired him, and felt certain, one day, he would be very important in whatever he did in life.

    This is a story about a kid in the Logan Heights-Shelltown area, his name was Pio A, his family had recently moved to San Diego from Tijuana.

    Its 1960, our neighborhood Shelltown, is usually identified by the commercial buildings on National Avenue from about 43rd to 35th. The landmarks at the time included the Fares Market, Spanglers Drugstore, Bailey’s Hardware, Woody’s Liquor Store, Salmons Malt shop, 1020 club and the infamous 38th Club. Most importantly, the neighborhood existed in the physical and spiritual shadow of St Jude Church, which was developed in the early 1940s by Father Decristina and the families from the neighborhood. The church was and still is the heart and soul of the community.

    Pio A and I became good friends. We were 12 years old and were members of the William J Oakes Boys Club, which was adjacent to Memorial Junior High and the Memorial Gym. We would walk to and from the Boys Club at night, risking getting jumped or having to fight to get home. While the Boys Club was for everybody, club members were usually identified by specific streets, or subareas like Balboa, Stockton, Emerson, Burbank and the neighbor for the neighborhood house area. We were Southcrest, so we were always in some kind of of conflict. Our conflict level was reduced significantly by a few key fights that Pio started and won with some of the tougher guys.

    It was through Pio that I first learned about clubs, him and I through the late Richard (Chapo) Lopez were members of a club called “Los Vampiros,” which met at the Neighborhood House. We would have to walk to and from the Neighborhood House at night which was on the 1800 block of National Ave, to 38th and National, where we lived. I always remember trying to, act cool because I was with Pio, but inside I was afraid something might happen and I really wanted to run home.

    When you’re 12 and 13 you’re just starting to assert your coolness and the last thing you want is your parents around, and even less to have them involved with your friends. Not Pio, he wanted us to hang around his house and have all his family knowing what we were doing.

    Like all kids from a working class, we gravitated towards the nearest public facility, which was Southcrest Park. We became what you call, park rats, since we never seemed to go home. Being a park rats, we were naturally very competitive in any sport known to man and a few not discussed in polite society. Our favorite sport for the summer was the Annual 14 and under baseball league sponsored by the City of San Diego and the American Legion. The coach at Southcrest Park, because the teams had a history of winning, he would recruit good coaches, to take the team for the summer. The players would be recruited by the park rats or by guys who had played on the Southcrest team before.

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    Our coaches were Bob Gengler, who later would be the varsity coach at St Augustine and the assistant Coach Uvaldo(The Lunch) Martinez Jr, who became, councilman, City of San Diego. We always looked forward to this league because we would get to travel to exotic places like East San Diego, North Park, Alice Birney, Adams, Rolando and Pacific Beach Rec center and the district finals were usually held at the Navy Field. This was 1961 and this time Pio was intent on showing all the other areas, just how bad (as in good) Southcrest could be.

    Pio recruits the best players in the neighborhood, guys with differences, yet for the purpose of this team everybody is willing to cooperate, because Pio asks them to.

    Suffice it to say, we won the city championship and were hosted at a banquet downtown at the Masonic Hall, thanks to the bus a few of us made it to the event. I still remember the guys on the team, many who went on to play at higher levels, guys like Alfonso Salvatierra, big Cliff Garret, The Dixon brothers and many more. Most of us from the area attended Emerson Elementary or St Judes. Those of us who attended Emerson, were supported in all our sports endeavors by one of the best teacher, Ed Fletcher, who had played at San Diego High, San Diego State and the Marine Corp and knew how to handle all the park rats. He later became Assistant Superintendent, San Diego Unified School District.

    With all his natural leadership ability and tremendous athletic skill, Pio was a sure thing, all the way around. Perhaps, because of his courage and willingness to go to the edge in life, Pio was unafraid of new experiences, he sought them out and consumed them. Some of us can try new experiences, and learn from them. There are others who get overcome by them and eventually get defeated.

    For Pio A, life took some tragic turns, and ultimately his death came in a way not befitting such a great competitor and a holder of so much promise. His family provided a warm and supportive environment and yet the dreams went unfulfilled.

    How many of us have known Pios in our lifetime and wonder what if it could have just been different?.

            So to all who have not realized their dreams in life, remember, somebody probably still can recall you in your finest moments. I remember Pio every time I see the 1961 American Legion trophy and realize how much, I learned from his life.

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