The new year was just three days old when Carl Cicchetti invited guests to his Pasadena home to discuss a county rule prohibiting children under 8 years old from participating in county-sponsored competitive sports.
Among those gathered that Friday evening was Thomas "Butch" Downey, football director for the Buccaneers Athletic Club. Downey was perched on a bar stool in Cicchetti's kitchen, denouncing the rule and supporting his organization's position that its youngsters were being victimized by an "arbitrary decision."
But, more than anything, Downey wanted some answers. The 23-year Air Force veteran believed he and his constituents deserved an explanation from the folks at the Department of Recreation and Parks who implemented the rule.
"I think we deserve a blanket statement from whoever these people are, saying, 'Hey guys, this is why (then-county Director of Recreation and Parks) Joe McCann is making this decision,' " Downey said on that rainy Jan. 3 evening. "Just give us a brief surmise as to why these 7-year-olds can't wrestle. Just tell us why."
He never found out.
Just over a week later, on Jan. 11, Downey,a 53-year-old communications security specialist, died of complications from leukemia, leaving behind his wife, Nancy, and sons Charles, 21, Carl, 19, and Mark, 16.
On Sunday, Downey will be remembered by the Buccaneers, a Pasadena-based organization he belonged to for more than 12 years, serving as director of the wrestling and football programs.
The inaugural Tom Downey Memorial Wrestling Tournament isslated for 9 a.m. at Northeast High School and is expected to attract more than 300 novice wrestlers from all over the state. No experienced wrestlers will be permitted to compete to insure parity.
"Its a tournament to make the new kids feel good about themselves, becausethat's what Tom was all about," said Cicchetti, director of the Bucswrestling program. "Tom always fought for thekids on the 'B' team. He always had something good to say to the kids and never let them getdown on themselves."
Bummy Potter, president of the Buccaneers and a longtime friend of the deceased, announced that the organization will present a trophy at season's end in Downey's honor. The Tom Downey Sportsmanship Award will be bestowed annually to the wrestler in the organization that best exemplified the character that Downey unassumingly portrayed.
"Tom was the best director we've ever had, and we've had some excellent people," said Potter. "The best thing I've heard about Tom came from my daughter (Crystal, 11), who, when she heard he died, said, 'I guess heaven needed a director.' Tom just loved directing."
The job of director can be a thankless one. But as Potter will attest, Downey went about it with the same enthusiasm and zeal year after year.
While many of the children who went through the program benefited from Downey's long hours, Potter said only a handful were aware of his efforts.
"His contact with the kids wasn't that direct, so most of whathe did for them, they didn't even notice,"said Potter. "What he did for the kids was make sure the program ransmoothly so they could enjoy it.
"He was always sitting in the background," Cicchetti added. "The only time you heard from him was when the kids were being slighted. He made sure the kids had the best sothey could be their best. He was never looking for a pat on the backor recognition."
Sunday, Tom Downey finally will get his due.