Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: Life and death of Herman Ho-Ching is a tough tale
Former Oregon football player died on Sunday.
It was hot so Herman Ho-Ching and his family went swimming on Sunday.
The former University of Oregon running back climbed onto a concrete water-intake facility located on the bank of the Clackamas River and jumped into the water below.
Then, climbed up and did it again.
Ho-Ching died on Sunday. He was 44. Those familiar with that part of the river tell me it’s fairly deep in that spot. They’d be surprised if he hit anything. Also, Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputies reported the water temperature was “cool” and the current “mild” but none of that will bring a loving father and husband back.
A spokesperson for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s department said Ho-Ching jumped several times from a spot on the concrete structure. When he didn’t surface after the final jump and nobody could locate him, someone dialed 911.
Marine rescue rushed to the scene.
Fire agencies responded.
“We don’t know how long he was in the water,” a sheriff’s deputy told me, “but he was pulled out and life-saving measures were performed.”
I feel sad for Ho-Ching’s wife, children, grandchildren and friends. He was far too young and full of life. His wife, Imelda, posted on social media after the accident: “My heart is broken into so many pieces that it may never be able to fit back together.”
I reached out to former UO coach Mike Bellotti who remembered recruiting Ho-Ching and coaching him. You’ll hear about that in a bit. I also communicated with former teammates, including Ducks’ quarterback Akili Smith.
Smith used words such as “speed” and “power” and “humble” to describe the guy he huddled up with during the 1998 and 1999 seasons.
Smith added: “These rivers have taken a few Ducks — not good.”
Among them, Spencer Webb, who slipped and fell to his death while climbing the rocks near Triangle Lake last summer. Years before that, a UO freshman named Todd Doxey drowned in the McKenzie River while inner-tubing with teammates. And I’ll never forget Jesse Nash, the former Ducks basketball player who drowned in the Willamette River on Mother’s Day 1987.
I stayed in touch with Nash’s mother, Vernoise, for years after the accident. At her son’s memorial service then-Oregon coach Don Monson handed her a VHS tape. It was of a game in which Jesse scored 21 points. His mother watched that game over and over for decades, studying her son’s every movement.
“I just realized,” she told me once, “I can't even tell you who Oregon is playing.”
Ho-Ching was a star running back in high school. Raul Lara, one of his coaches at Long Beach Poly High, told me he gets asked the same question all the time.
“Who was the best football player you ever coached at Poly?”
Lara said: “I tell people I can’t answer that. There were too many great ones and they’re all unique. But one thing I always tell people, ‘Herman Ho-Ching was the toughest player I ever coached.’ He was so gifted athletically but his toughness is what separated him.”
Long Beach Poly is a public high school. In the 1997 CIF Southern State championship game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the program ran into what everyone thought was an immovable private-school force — Mater Dei High.
The Mater Dei defense gave up only 9.6 points per game that season and entered the championship game riding a 27-game win streak. The run included a 42-13 beat down of Poly in the previous season’s semifinal.
“For a bunch of years,” Lara said, “we couldn’t get past them.”
In that 1997 title game, Ho-Ching scored three touchdowns, gained 167 total yards from scrimmage, and recovered the Mater Dei onside-kick attempt that sealed a 28-25 victory. It was a breakthrough moment for a school that went on to win seven state titles in a remarkable 12-year run.
“Herm was the catalyst,” Lara said, “it was one of the best individual games ever played.”
The Los Angeles Times quoted Ho-Ching after the win. He said: “We’ve been waiting a long time to get here and we did it by beating Mater Dei. They were the best. Now we’re the best. You better believe it.”
Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti remembers traveling from Eugene to recruit Ho-Ching around that time.
“He lived in an apartment building that was more like a compound,” Bellotti said. “He and his family lived on one level and he had some other family living on another level. It was a tough place with a different vibe and a different feel.”
The UO coach pitched the idea of getting away to a quiet college campus located in the Pacific Northwest. Ho-Ching accepted the scholarship. And Bellotti remembers the running back dominating a road game against UTEP his freshman season.
“Herm flat-out won that game for us,” the coach said. “He was a tough, gifted football player.”
Bellotti also remembers trouble following from Southern California. Someone made a death threat against Ho-Ching during that first football season, the coach said. The FBI got involved.
“Deep down,” Bellotti said, “there was a lot going on Herm didn’t talk about, some of it out of his control.”
Ho-Ching played a couple of football seasons at Oregon. He scored seven touchdowns. His old teammates tell me they kept track of him over the years on social media and thought he was doing well.
His children grew up.
Grandchildren came next.
It was hot on Sunday. The water was cool. Temperatures in the region broke 100 degrees and an excessive heat warning was issued. First responders wonder if Ho-Ching’s drowning might have been caused by shock.
He was swimming in a popular spot, surrounded by others. Everything appeared fine, until it wasn’t. The sheriff’s department offered that the public should be mindful of where they’re recreating when in the river and keep an eye on each other.
Those who saw Herman Ho-Ching play football tell me he was no fun to tackle. He was a powerful runner with good speed. He diced up defenses on the field and was grounded in the locker room. I wish I’d have seen him play. Everyone who did tells me he was something to see.
I’m kicking myself for not reaching out to Ho-Ching in the last decade to catch up on his life and write about him. There are 90-plus football players around every Division I football program. They all have stories.
“They’re like your own children,” Bellotti said, “you don’t want to outlive any of them.”
Thanks to those who support this independent publication with a subscription. If you’re not already a paid subscriber consider one here or buy a gift subscription for a friend or family member: