SAN ANTONIO — Fittingly, the memorial Sunday for John Hunt was held in a gym.
It couldn't have been any other way for a man synonymous with high school basketball among scores of players, coaches and game officials in the San Antonio area.
About 450 people gathered at Antonian High School's Recko Gym for a tribute to Hunt, who died Jan. 15 after a short illness. He was 79.
Courtney Hunt Moore, Hunt's daughter, was among 10 people who spoke at a memorial that was laced with equal parts of poignancy and humor.
"We are today at this place because to my dad, a gym is a sanctuary, as much as a church, or a home or the great outdoors," Moore said. "This is a place where he saw people come to work and play and learn together, to find comfort and security, and to try to rise to the best versions of themselves.
"On courts everywhere, he saw hopes realized, lives changed and miracles created by the game of basketball. So, it is most fitting that we gather in a sacred place to honor him and his legacy on and off the court."
John Hunt was born in San Antonio, but graduated from Devine High School in 1959. He played basketball at Angelo State for one season before he continued his collegiate career at Southwest Texas, where he made the team as a walk-on.
Hunt began his coaching career at Burbank High School, and also was head coach at Churchill and South San Antonio before going to work for a pharmaceutical company in the late 1970s.
Peter Grant, who graduated from Churchill in 1973 and played for Hunt, flew down from Medford, Ore., to attend the memorial.
"Coach was very important in my life," said Grant, who is a physician. "Obviously, when you're in high school playing basketball, formative years, a lot is changing. You look for examples in your life. I had great parents, but I had a second father in Coach Hunt.
"I learned many lessons that were just not on the basketball court. He taught me basketball. He taught me about integrity, doing the right thing when nobody's looking. He taught me about perseverance. He taught me that if you worked hard, that it pays off. And the goals that you set will come."
Art Guzman and Pedro Morales later shared warm memories of playing basketball for Hunt at Burbank.
"John was a father figure to us," Morales said. "He stepped up to the plate and was like a parent. He opened up our eyes. He was special."
Guzman and Morales, both 1970 Burbank graduates, never forgot the impact Hunt had on their lives.
"I had to be here today," Guzman said.
Even after quit coaching, Hunt never left the game he loved. He became a referee after he left coaching and later was in charge of assigning officials to games throughout the area. Hunt remained in the role of assignment director until stepping down a couple of years ago.
His family and friends – including former coaches, players and game officials – remembered Hunt for his love of basketball and his influence on the young lives he touched.
"He was a big promoter of San Antonio basketball, and he was very inclusive," said Art Gonzales, a former San Antonio ISD coach and assistant athletic director. "He was a great friend who would give you the shirt off his back."
Wayne Dickey, who spoke at the memorial, was quick to agree with Gonzales.
"He was a big promoter of kids," Dickey said. "That, to me, was the biggest thing. John wanted to help any kid, anywhere, any color, any race, any religion, whatever. He just did a fantastic job.
"Granted, the position he was in (as an official and administrator), sometimes he'd tick some people off. But when you're in that position, you're doing to do that. But you can turn around and look at this today, and see all the people who are here to pay their respects."
Hunt's enduring legacy besides his influence on his players will be the integral role he played in making AAU basketball a viable entity in San Antonio. His work came to fruition in 1989 when a team made up of players from the Alamo City, including Shaquille O'Neal, won the AAU Junior Olympics.
"John put that 1989 team together," said Lou Torres, who coached the squad. "What people don't realize is that we got that team together when they were sophomores. We put them in BCI (Basketball Congress International) tournaments, and we knew we were going to get our butts kicked. But they stayed together and then as seniors, they won the whole thing.
"He was so happy when that happened. John Hunt was Mr. Basketball and he was a great human being. He really cared about kids and he would everything within his power to promote the game of basketball."
Former MacArthur coach Lee Stubbs called Hunt "a dreamer" and praised him for his vision.
"We started that summer league years ago and it was kind of small," Stubbs said. "And John was like, 'Let's add this. Let's do that.' We started taking a team of kids out to Phoenix. Then John was like, 'Lee, let's get two teams.' We got two teams up. We raised enough money to get them.
"Two or three days later, he called me and said, 'Hey, let's take another team. We've got enough kids in San Antonio.' John was a dreamer. With officials, he always wanted to make the officials the best chapter in Texas. I always enjoyed his optimism."
Antonian coach Rudy Bernal lauded Hunt for promoting AAU basketball.
"He was really involved in getting kids involved in playing in the summer," Bernal said. "He was really instrumental in getting the summer league going."