Youth league has dedicated backer

Ernie Yazzolino, 80, helps keep kids off streets and in gym

The Boston Red Sox have their 'Yaz,' and so does Southeast Portland.

Ernie Yazzolino, 80, might not hit a curveball like the former Red Sox great, Carl Yastrzemski, but he certainly shows up every day.

'He definitely has a good work ethic,' says Portland Parks & Recreation administrator Rick Cantu, who oversees many of Yazzolino's volunteer efforts. 'He has a great attitude and works to make programs more enjoyable for people.'

One of Yazzolino's primary goals is to keep the parks bureau's Drug Free Youth Basketball League going.

The Drug Free League, started 12 years ago with considerable input from Yazzolino, has grown to more than 400 boys and girls teams of teenage players throughout Portland. Yazzolino serves as the gym supervisor for games on Saturdays during the winter at Sellwood Middle School.

'It's one of the greatest programs for kids the city offers,' says Yazzolino, who personally donated $10,000 to the program several years ago.

The Drug Free League has operated this year without a primary sponsor, which formerly was the Portland Trail Blazers. Cantu says the Blazers dropped their sponsorship because of public relations issues, but may reclaim the role in the future.

Yazzolino served in the Pacific theater during World War II. Before he retired, he worked for 27 years in the Portland area bread-baking plant for Safeway. He also has been an umpire for fast pitch softball, working at the world championships one year.

These days, he spends time as a volunteer at Mt. Scott Community Center and Sellwood Community Center, serves as field supervisor at Sckavone Field at Westmoreland Park and also bowls in a league twice a week.

Yazzolino will be honored as a Royal Rosarian Newsmaker of the Year on March 10.

Yazzolino says he worries that budget issues may bring the Drug Free League to an end.

'It does a lot of great things for the community, this league,' he says. 'So it would be shame if it weren't around next year.'

Contact Cliff Pfenning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..