Ernie Wright: San Diego Legend Passes Away

On 26 Nov., 2019

The work a retired professional athlete did for his community before he passed away.

Ernie Wright: San Diego Legend Passes Away

Golf, it would seem, is a straightforward game of precise hand-eye coordination, foresight, and luck. But nestled securely between tee and pin, Ernie Wright Sr. discovered innumerable lessons of responsibility, confidence, courtesy, patience, humility, and respect.

Perhaps the greatest legacy left by Wright before he passed away in late March of this year was that of seized opportunity. Blessed with a 6-foot-5, 270-pound frame, Wright spun an athletic gift into an Ohio State Education. When the door opened to play professional football in the AFL as an original San Diego Charger offensive tackle, he used the stage to hone his leadership skills. And when his playing days were over Wright answered the call once again, using his athletic celebrity and business sense to touch the lives of over 11,000 children through his Pro Kids Golf Academy.

Wright has always been drawn toward careers that allowed him to help people at a very individual level. After his 13-year playing career came to an end, including stays in Los Angeles (1960), San Diego (1961-67, 1972), and Cleveland (1968-1971), he began E.H. Wright and Associates, a professional sports talent agency. In 1987 Wright founded the Pacific Furlough Facility, a community-based facility that assists offenders with reintegration into society. In 1993, he started Correctional Alternatives Inc., which allows offenders to maintain their jobs and support their family while serving time in custody.

Every non-profit organization Wright started brought him one step closer to his dream; a community-based program that blended golf and life-skills to aid inner-city youth. In 1994, with little more than that dream, Wright’s vision realized when he founded The Pro Kids Golf Academy and Learning Center in the City Heights neighborhood.

Pro Kids operates Colina Park Golf Course, a 14-acre, 18-hole, par-3 course in the heart of a community with an educational crisis on its hands. Schools in City Heights routinely score well below others on standardized testing in the San Diego region. City Heights students lead San Diego in school dropout rate, teen violent crime rate, teen pregnancy rate, and overall crime rate. Over 85 percent of City Heights’ children qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program and the median income falls below what the government considers “very low income.”

Wright believed that he could help ease the pain of his by providing a safe, healthy, and positive environment where kids could play free golf, take part in classes, learn life-skills, and earn scholarships. He made no secret of his agenda; to hook kids with golf while teaching and empowering. To date, 50 Pro Kids members have earned college scholarships totaling an astounding $421,490. 

Wright served as Pro Kids’ Chairman of the Board even as he battled a very aggressive form of cancer that had spread to his bladder and lungs. He appeared before a crowd of 1,100 in February to accept the first Ernest H. Wright Sr. Humanitarian Award from the San Diego Hall of Champions and an adoring, indebted public. Too ill to stand but too humble to disappoint a sea of faces whom he’s shared a lifetime of tears, laughter, and learning, Wright answered opportunity’s beckon one last time. 

“I apologize for sitting here because I’m not feeling well,” Wright said as emcee Dick Enberg handed him a microphone. “But nothing would have kept me from being here tonight. I am moved to have this honor given in my name in perpetuity.”

The award will be given to a San Diego sports figure each year, along with $2,500 towards that individual’s charity of choice, who best exemplifies the true selfless character and spirit that Ernie Wright exemplified throughout his extraordinary life.

I believe the honor is ours, Mr. Wright.