Santa Maria High School lost two popular young coaches in 2015.

Meanwhile, the deaths of two former Santa Maria Golden Dukes basketball players late in the year left this city without some of its sports heritage.

The loss of those four men, and the legacy they left, is No. 9 on the list of Lee Central Coast Newspapers sports stories of the year.

Santa Maria High School girls basketball coach Eddie Gutierrez died of an abdominal aneurysm in March at age 48. Saints boys cross country coach David Tyler Sr. also died suddenly, in late November, at age 44. A cause of death had not been named at press time.

Former Golden Dukes William Madison Stanford, age 87, and Omer Meeker, age 88, both died during the last weekend in November. Stanford had been battling health issues for some time. Meeker died in Bakersfield during a brief stay in the hospital.

All four touched many in the Santa Maria community.

Besides being the girls basketball coach at Santa Maria High, "Eddie was security coordinator for five years," Santa Maria athletic director Brian Wallace wrote about Gutierrez in a message. "Eddie was the most-known person on campus, all the kids knew and liked him."

In Gutierrez's last game as a coach, in late February, his team nearly upset a much taller, heavily favored Arroyo Grande team in the first round of  the playoffs.

With Gutierrez exhorting his squad, the Saints closed with a 14-6 run, but the Eagles hung on for a 44-42 win.

The numbers in the Santa Maria boys cross country program swelled under David Tyler Sr.'s watch and his son, David Tyler Jr., qualified as an individual for the CIF Southern Section Preliminaries.

David Tyler Sr. constantly encouraged his runners. After the boys varsity race at the Los Padres League Finals was over, he pored over the results.

He saw that the Saints had finished sixth. "We'll take it," he said happily.

"I will miss his gregarious nature," Wallace said in a press release issued by the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District after Santa Maria High School lost a young coach for the second time in less than nine months.

Besides cross country, David Tyler Sr. also coached track at his alma mater. In the SMJUHSD release, Santa Maria principal Joe Domingues described Tyler as "a lifelong Saint."

The Golden Dukes were part of the National Industrial Basketball League when professional basketball started taking off in the 1950s.

"The Dukes were a phenomenon," former long-time Hancock College men's basketball coach Bob White, who holds the school record for wins by a men's basketball coach, told Times sports editor Elliott Stern. "Everyone would get all dressed up on Saturday nights and go over to the old Armory to see the Golden Dukes."

White's father, the late Joe White, played for the Dukes. Joe White was also a former Hancock coach and athletic director.

Stanford, at 6-foot-9, was the tallest player the Golden Dukes ever had.

William Madison Stanford was born in Mississippi. He went to college at Murray State in Kentucky, moved to Ohio and played for the Dayton Air Gems of the NIBL. Duke Webster recruited him to move west and play for the Golden Dukes 

"He was your typical southern gentleman," said Stanford's son, Randy. "He was loved by everyone who ever met him."

Randy Stanford has been a long-time assistant football coach at Valley Christian Academy, and is the school's head girls basketball and softball coach.

Bill Bertka is the Los Angeles Lakers' head scout. He is also a former Hancock basketball coach and Golden Dukes guard.

"Omer was a scorer," he told Stern. "He was one of the nation's top scorers. That was his game. He couldn't spell 'assist' but he could score."

Doug Sims, whose late father Quentin played for the Dukes, told Stern, "Meeker was the fun loving guy of that group. Omer played instruments, sang. He was a great jokester. But he was a bit of an enforcer on the court. A protector of those guys."  

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Sports Reporter