His Speed Was the Stuff of Legend

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Hollywood native Babe Nomura played football through high school and internment camp, and went on to star for San Jose State, above. (Photos courtesy of the Nomura and Morey families)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor

Tamotsu “Babe” Nomura, the fleet-footed running back who starred at Los Angeles City College and then San Jose State, died Nov. 13 from complications following surgery. He was 87.

A talented, multi-sport athlete at an early age, Nomura first made his mark on the Hollywood High School football team. After the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast during World War II, he continued to play while interned at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.

Nomura continued to be involved in various sports in camp, playing baseball and basketball, and, along with former Olivers standout Ets Yoshiyama, coaching the Lil’ Yokums girls’ team to the camp championship in 1943.

It was also at Heart Mountain where he was first smitten with a pretty young girl named Kimiko. The two reconnected in San Jose after the war and began their 62-year marriage in 1949.

Following the war, Nomura continued his education at Los Angeles City College, where he earned “triple-threat” All-Conference honors as the team’s halfback.

Nomura, pictured above at his family’s annual tournament, was an avid golfer.

After transferring to San Jose State on an athletic scholarship, the speedy Nomura was one the Spartans’ main offensive weapons, garnering an honorable mention on the AP All-Coast Eleven and helping lead San Jose to a 20-0 win over Utah State in the Raisin Bowl.

His impressive 1946 season earned him a tryout with New York Giants, but given the often hostile social climate toward Japanese Americans postwar, he decided to hang up his spikes. As it turned out, his close friend, Wally Yonamine, went on to become the first Asian American to play pro football when he joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1947.
Nomura’s career highlights include tossing three touchdown passes in a game against Pasadena Junior College and completing 47 of 64 passes in the 1945 season.

One of his favorite stories to tell was how the LACC team inserted their mascot into a game for a trick play. That player was Billy Barty,  the diminutive actor who went on to become an international star. On a quarterback reverse, Nomura received a handoff and tossed a perfect lob to a waiting Barty in the end zone.

Nomura’s daughter, Janet Morey told the Rafu Tuesday that her father was a true sports fanatic, participating in a wide array of sports, including decathlon, and that he often spoke of his fond memories of teammates.

A Los Angeles City College team photo from 1945 shows Nomura with teammate Billy Barty (33), who went on to become a famous Hollywood actor.

“He would talk mostly about the camaraderie and friendships he developed with other guys through the years, and that’s what he liked best about it,” Morey said.

His playing days behind him, Nomura took a job with the Pacific California Fish Company in downtown Los Angeles, where he was the operations manager until his retirement at age 65.

In retirement, Nomura was an avid golfer whose great joy was spending time with his family, who, not surprisingly, staged an annual golf tournament, which is now in its 18th year.

A viewing will be held at 1 p.m Sunday at Green Hills in Rancho Palos Verdes. Funeral services will take place at Centenary Church in Little Tokyo on Nov. 21.

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2 Comments

  1. I have today learned of Babes passing and was deeply saddened to hear of it and would like to express my sympathy to Kim and family. Even though we have not been in touch in recent years, I have always considered him to be a good friend. Dick Numamoto

  2. Mr. Nomura coached me when I was a little boy, Hollywood Dodgers. Folks always referred to him with respect, a great, great athlete was the word.

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