John Fer Award for Courage
Previously known as the Pat Tillman Award, this award was created as a way of recognizing the bravery and service of exceptional athletes.
PAT TILLMAN – After the 9/11 tragedy, Pat Tillman shocked the sports world when he announced that he would be foregoing a $3 million a year contract to play pro football for the Arizona Cardinals so that he could defend our nation by joining the US Army Rangers. Tillman was joined in enlisting by his younger brother, Kevin, a pro baseball player in the Cleveland Indians organization. The two of them were shipped to Afghanistan and, tragically, only Kevin returned. The sports world’s shock was replaced with profound sadness when it was learned that Pat had been killed in action.
JOE ANZACK – Our nation held its breath when Joe Anzack and two other soldiers had gone missing in action while serving in Iraq. Tragically, the news was bad when Anzack was found executed in the Euphrates River. Beloved by teammates, friends and classmates at South High in Torrance, CA, Anzack epitomized everything great about playing football and was awarded All-League honors, South’s defensive player of the year, and maybe most telling, the Coach’s Award. This is what Coach Josh Waybright had to say about Anzack. “It was never about Joe. It was always about loyalty to the team.”
JOE BLEYMAIER is the recipient of this year’s Pat Tillman Award. Joe Bleymaier was an All-CIF halfback at Mary Star High School and was a member of their miraculous 1960 team that made it to the CIF Finals in the last season the school had boys. The team was later memorialized in the book, “Thin Ice on the Gridiron.” Bleymaier earned a starting role on the Air Force Freshman team, but a knee injury ended his football career. After graduating from the Air Force, Bleymaier joined the war in Vietnam where he served as a Forward Air Controller and flew on 310 missions, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.
JOHN FER – John Fer, a long distance track star at San Pedro High, USC and the Air Force Academy, was a U.S. pilot in Vietnam when his plane was shot down and he was captured by enemy forces. Fer spent the next 6 years as a Vietnamese prisoner of war before being released in March of 1973. Among others, Fer bunked in a prison cell with Senator John McCain of Arizona. Although Fer ran track at USC, it is at the Air Force Academy where he blossomed. He ran in three NCAA Finals and still holds the Air Force record for the two-mile run. Fer mentions that he is honored to receive the Tillman Award because of the sacrifice that he and other men in the military have made.
PRESIDENT GERALD FORD – President Gerald Ford is best known as the only president that assumed office without being elected. In his first speech to the nation Ford said, “I am acutely aware that you have not selected me as president with your ballots, so I ask that you confirm me as president with your prayers.” Ford entered Congress in 1949 after serving in World War II as a Lieutenant in the Navy, earning nine engagement stars for operations on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. Ford attended the University of Michigan where from 1932-1934 he played center and linebacker on the football team, including two national championships in 1932 and 1933. In 1934, Ford was selected to the East all-stars in the annual College Football Shrine Game and also played on a college all-star team that competed against the Chicago Bears in an exhibition game.
DAN GUERRERO – The current Director of Athletics for UCLA (2002), Dan Guerrero is also the current president of the Division I Athletic Directors Association. He also played baseball for UCLA in the early 1970s. In Guerrero’s eight years as athletic director, UCLA teams have won 20 NCAA team titles (the highest total in the nation in that span) in 11 different sports, finished second 16 times and have had an additional 28 Top Five finishes (64 total). UCLA stands as the No. 1 University in the nation for NCAA team championships (106) won, a number that continues to grow under his direction. A staggering 152 teams (of 184 possible) have qualified for NCAA post-season competition and the football team has appeared in seven bowl games.
EDDY MASCITTO – Vietnam War vet, Eddy Mascitto was a center on the 1957 All-Marine League football team while attending San Pedro High, where he was also the student body president. Mascitto played college football at Navy and included two Heisman Trophy winners as teammates, Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach. Mascitto was awarded numerous medals in his 20 year Naval carrier, including various honors for submarine operations in the Vietnam War.
LOUIE ZAMPERINI – Louie Zamperini, a track star at Torrance High and USC, won the U.S. 1936 Olympic 5000 meter trials and qualified to represent the U.S. at the Berlin Olympics, where he finished eighth. After graduating from USC, Zamperini was drafted to serve in World War II. On May 27, 1943 while on a search and rescue mission Zamperini’s B-24 crashed at sea. He spent the next forty-seven days with two fellow crew members in a raft floating in the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese subsequently picked him up and Zamperini spent nearly two-and-one-half years as a POW. In spite of the unspeakably cruel treatment at the hand of his captors, Zamperini’s courage, strength of character, and self-discipline gave him the tools to survive until American forces liberated him.