Iconic sportsman, Hall of Fame player Didrickson passes away
He touched many lives as well.
Didrickson, a multi-sport athlete with professional potential whose career stretched six decades from the 1940s to the 1990s, inspired generations of Alaskans during one of the most decorated lives before he passed away today. He was 91.
Longtime friend Gil Truitt called Didrickson “the ultimate good guy,” a humble man who exhibited “the finest sportsmanship of anyone I know.”
“Herb is the most popular individual in Southeast. Everyone knows him,” Truitt told me. “He was popular and respected because he was Herb Didrickson. He had the personality and always treated others with great respect. His sincerity most likely had a lot to do with that. He was kind, generous and always willing to help other in any and every way possible.”
In 2012, Didrickson survived a bout of chemotherapy by battling with the same courage and fighting spirit that made him one of the greatest athletes in Alaska history.
The 5-foot-10 Didrickson wasn’t a big man, but his impact was huge as a player, coach, referee and mentor. He exceled at several sports, but his bread and butter was basketball.
“I felt like I could fly when I played,” he once said.
Didrickson was good enough to have six Hall of Fames induct him, including the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. He has a street and school gymnasium named after him in Sitka.
Dubbed the ‘Jim Thorpe’ of Alaska, Didrickson dominated the competition in basketball, baseball, track and field and cross country at Sheldon Jackson High School and Sheldon Jackson Junior College in the 1940s.
His reputation spread across the state as a premier player at the iconic Gold Medal basketball tournament in Juneau and other local, regional and national events. He was the first player inducted into the Gold Medal Hall of Fame in 1961.
Many believe Didrickson could have played professional baseball and he was recruited by the Seattle Rainiers.
However, he chose to remain in Sitka with his high school sweetheart, Pollyanna. The couple was married for 68 years and had three kids.
Away from sports, he worked at the Bureau of Indian Affairs for 30 years before retiring and becoming a teacher. He worked with students in Mt. Edgecumbe High School’s industrial department in addition to coaching the school’s freshmen and junior varsity basketball teams and assisting the varsity squad.
Truitt first met Didrickson when he was 6 years old and the two remained best friends throughout their lives. They played high school sports together, commercial fished together and coached together.
“We taught school together at Mt. Edgecumbe and the big part of our lives was coaching basketball. I was the varsity head coach and he was the assistant. Our philosophies in all the above sports was the same,” said Truitt, who picked Didrickson to be his best man at his wedding.
“I respected him because he showed the finest sportsmanship of any athlete I have ever seen. He never ridiculed the opponent nor did he criticize a teammate. He never complained about the officiating in any athlete contest.
“I greatly respected him for the reasons above, but most importantly because he was Herb Didrickson, and a good man. I will miss him.”