The All Sports Association mourns the loss of Giro “Jerry” Brigante

The men in the blue blazers known for throwing a magnificent banquet each February lost one of their original members in the early morning hours of February 15, 2015, when Giro “Jerry” Brigante passed away at his home after a lengthy illness.

To say that Brigante was a respected member of the All Sports Association would be an understatement.

He was revered.

Giro “Jerry” Brigante (right) with quarterback Richard Todd of the New York Jets at the 1980 All Sports Banquet

Giro was a man whose volunteer service not only spanned, but more importantly merged, multiple generations during his 46 years of service as an All Sports member.

Case in point: Howard McGee was one of the founding fathers of the association when Jerry was a rookie in the club.  Now, McGee’s grandson Matt is an All Sports member.

Brigante moved to Fort Walton Beach in 1969 and got involved in youth athletics the only way he knew how, diving in head first.  A very successful local youth basketball coach decided to step aside after a successful run and was “holding interviews” to determine who would replace him.  Jerry interviewed with the coach,  got the nod, and over the next 11 years compiled a record of 126-9.

He then founded the booster club at a local junior high, served as president for them, built their baseball field and was soon named to the Board of the YMCA.

At  Choctawhatchee High School, he founded the basketball “Tip Off” Club and started fundraising, bringing into town the Harlem Globetrotters, Miami Dolphins and others big names to play and raise money for packed houses.  Brigante started a holiday basketball tournament that is still in existence (the longest running tournament in the area) and treated the out of town visitors from the north so well, that he was named an honorary “Kentucky Colonel” by the state of Kentucky.  And just 2 years ago, he was inducted into the Choctawhatchee High School Hall of Fame.

But the All Sports Association is where he left a benchmark that may never be eclipsed.

Brigante was the association’s Col. Al Byrne Award for community service recipient in 1980 and served as president in 1984.

Giro “Jerry” Brigante with his daughter Sam in a recent photo taken in Sam’s kitchen in Virginia Beach. Jerry loved to cook and his favorite room in the house was the kitchen (photo courtesy Sam Brigante Lambert).

After he “retired” from day-to-day service to the association, he was the visionary, leader and chairman of the All Sports Hall of Fame, one of the last “purposes” in the mission statement crafted by the founders in 1970 that was not fulfilled. The Hall of Fame became a reality in 2003 and Brigante was inducted in 2005, being only one of 4 gentlemen to have served as president, been honored with the Col. Al Byrne Award and enshrined into the Hall.

To this day, he is the Hall of Fame Committee’s Charman Emeritus.

But, he wasn’t done.  In 2006, although retired, he was named to the Board of Directors and founded the Corporate Fish Fry, a family event that has blossomed into something special.  Giro loved to cook.  He insisted that the Hall of Fame committee host the annual dinner, and he was in his element directing traffic as fried grouper, hush puppies and the sides would make their way from the buffet line onto the plates at the fairgrounds.

Jerry would be in constant motion, going table to table, making sure everyone was good.

Bridging multiple generations, Giro was a friend to all, a mentor to most and a father figure to the most lucky.

I fell into the last category, as I’ve known the man since I was a boy when he moved here from the Bronx back in 1969, I served as president as he brought the founders’ dream of the Hall of Fame to reality, and then I cried on his shoulders when my own father died 2 years ago.

I will miss my friend.  My mentor.  My father figure.

Godspeed, Giro.  We all will miss you greatly.