Court of Honor for Ramon Rivera
LOWELL -- With their faces soaking in sweat, the children took turns taking shots at the hoop and sprinting up and down the North Common basketball court Tuesday night.
As the minutes of the game wound down, the sidelines bounced with encouragement from the dozens of parents and family urging the young basketball players on.
It was another night of exhilaration during The Acre Youth Organization’s JC (Jose Caban) League. But something was missing.
Ramon “Chung” Rivera, a regular face at the games, and a big reason the organization exists, was not on the sidelines. Last week, the 52-year-old father-of-three died in a crash, leaving a community devastated and wondering why.
“This was his pride and joy, basketball,” said Hector Gonzalez, Rivera’s cousin. “Not seeing him here, to me, it’s an empty hole.”
Rivera was inducted into the Lowell High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006, after dazzling on the courts in the mid-’80s. For two decades, Rivera was Lowell High basketball’s all-time leading scorer. He’s considered by many as the school’s all-time greatest player.
It didn’t stop there for Rivera. From the sideline Tuesday night, Keith Rudy, past president of the Acre Youth Organization, said Rivera pitched the idea of starting a basketball portion of the organization in 2006. Up to that point the organization only offered baseball.
Rivera, who was a volunteer coach in the league, was known to mentor up-and-coming players throughout the community, becoming a stable presence in the area.
George Freeman considered Rivera a mentor to his now 12-year-old son during his playing days.
“Shock. Disbelief. Why him?” Freeman recalls feeling and thinking when he learned about Rivera’s death. “He’s a regular staple on the court. Every kid knew him, every parent knew him. But it’s a loss that’s felt in variable aspects, not just basketball.”
After Tuesday night’s game, Jose Caban, president of the Acre Youth Organization, had family and friends gather at center court. There they shared a moment of silence in Rivera’s honor.
“We love you Chung,” a few people called out when the moment ended.
Members of the Roberto Clemente League of Lowell were also on hand Tuesday night, gathering signatures for a petition calling on the City Council to name either the courts at North Common, or the court on Moody Street in The Acre, after Rivera.
Rivera was killed in a crash at the intersection of Gorham and Manchester streets in Lowell at about 7 a.m. on July 25. A preliminary investigation indicated Rivera’s 2006 Mitsubishi Endeavor was struck from behind by a 2012 Honda Accord traveling “at a high rate of speed,” according to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office.
The unidentified driver of the Honda remained on scene following the impact.
Elizabeth Vlock, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, stated in a Tuesday email that no charges have been filed to date. The case remains “open and ongoing,” she added.
A gofundme page has been set up to assist Rivera’s family at: https://www.gofundme.com/for-cynthia-athanasatos-amp-family . Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis.