Pedro “Pete” Velasco, Jr.
April 6, 1937 – March 21, 2023
Two-time Olympic athlete Pedro “Pete” Velasco, Jr., passed away at his home in Pāhoa, Hawaiʻi, on March 21, 2023, at the age of 85.
Originally from Papakōlea, Oʻahu, Velasco graduated from Kamehameha Schools Kapālama. He first appeared on the U.S. volleyball scene at the U.S. Volleyball Championships in Seattle in 1956 as a freshman at the University of Denver.
Velasco returned to Hawaiʻi the following year, eventually joining the Outrigger Canoe Club’s volleyball team. He led Outrigger to All-American Team honors in 1962, beginning a 10-year run. He was named the National Tournament’s MVP in 1965. Velasco joined the U.S. National team competing in the Pan American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1963, and in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1967, where the U.S. took the gold medal.
Volleyball was recognized for the first time at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, and Velasco led the very first U.S. Olympic Volleyball team as its captain. Velasco also competed for the U.S. at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.
Standing just 5-foot-10, Velasco was the shortest player on the team but he more than made up for it with an astonishing vertical jump of more than two feet that got him waist-high over the net. Velasco was also exceptionally quick. He was a setter but could have played any position and was able to spike with both his left and right hands.
After the 1968 Olympics, Velasco, who was already married with a young family, returned to school, attending Church College (now BYU-Lāʻie) in Hawaiʻi. He played two seasons there earning collegiate All-American status both years and in 1970 was named Outstanding College Athlete of America. That same year he was also honored as an “All-Time Great Player” by the U.S. Volleyball Association.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Velasco attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he completed a master’s degree.
After retiring from national competition in 1972, Velasco returned to Hawaiʻi and accepted a job at Hilo High School teaching at-risk students. However, he remained active in volleyball, serving as AAU Junior Olympic Volleyball Development Chairman in 1979, as an assistant volleyball and basketball coach at Hilo High, and as co-founder of the Lōkahi Volleyball Club with Hilo High Volleyball Coach Eddie Kalima which became a fixture at Hilo’s popular annual Haili Invitational Volleyball Tournament.
Velasco was named to the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1980, inducted into the US Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1997, and was the first volleyball player elected to the Hawaiʻi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 1999.
Known for his determination and his belief that each individual controls the achievement of their own goals, Velasco was passionate about using every opportunity that was presented for self-improvement.
There is a story about Velasco when he worked in the baggage department at one of the airlines. He would often ask his coworkers to take breaks so he could load/unload all the bags from the plane singlehandedly – this to augment his rigorous physical training for volleyball. Velasco preached life through sports and believed that with enough hard work and dedication, you can accomplish anything.
Aside from being an outstanding athlete, coach, teacher and Olympian, Velasco is remembered as a loving family man.
Memorial services for Pete Velasco were held in Hilo on April 22, 2023. Velasco is survived by his wife of 65 years, Adelaide; his daughters Prenda Moe (Lee), Prendi Guerreiro (Joseph), and Pattie Chur (Darren); his sons Pedro, III (Paulette), Powell (Joey), Phillip (Bridgette) and Philton; 17 grandchildren; 28 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.