UH Warriors In The Truest Sense

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - April 26, 2006
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In my sometimes jointless reminiscences, I have shared with readers the motto of the 4th Allied POW Wing in North Vietnam: “Unity Over Self” - the subordination of one’s own preferences or comfort for the integrity of the organization. In short, when necessary, to hurt for one another.

From interviews with our combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, it becomes clear that the strongest single motive driving them to fight hard and win is not found in patriotism or securing freedom for our hosts -although they are certainly present - but to take care of one another, and to ensure each other’s safety and survival.

The concept of loyalty to the group or team, though common among true warriors, is not unique to the battlefield, and last week’s annual University of Hawaii men’s volleyball banquet was a testament to the fact.

The Rainbow Warriors of volleyball are near the end of a dynamite season with a 23-4 win-loss record, 19-3 in the Mountain Pacific league as MidWeek goes to press. The celebration was tempered because the playoffs were yet to come, and by the time you read this the Warriors will have beaten their MPSF quarterfinal opponent (UCLA or UCSB) and be on their way to the MPSF playoffs at UC-Irvine, from which they will go to the NCAA finals at Penn State in early May to become the 2006 NCAA champions!

If you wonder how that military group loyalty I cited earlier is developed, look no further than this volleyball team, ultimate NCAA champs or not. This has been evident all season long to every one of the 200 or so boosters in that banquet audience. In previous years the scoreboard at Stan Sheriff Center, which keeps a running total of “kills” and “blocks,” (offense and defense) would reveal one or two players - the “stars” - with disproportionate numbers of kills, for example, maybe 17 for or so for one player with the next highest at 6 or 7. Not this team! There are no stars, yet they are all stars.

Frequently the kills would be spread almost evenly across the board for the top five offensive players: 9, 7, 11, 10 and 8, for example. With so many offensive options, the opponents’ blockers were unable to anticipate where the set for the kill will go, thereby complicating the defensive strategy - certainly a major reason for the Warriors’ winning record.

The program featured the usual hilarious, personalized humor of Jim Leahy, Hawaii’s preeminent play-by-play sports announcer from K5. His broadcast partner Chris McLachlin was the emcee. David McClain, the university’s new (no longer “interim”) president, was warmly welcomed; his praise of the team just as warm.

Gov. Linda Lingle, with her usual humor and dignity, reminded the players how beautifully they had represented the state with their sportsmanship and aloha - win or lose - and how proud the entire state is of this team.

Then, as is frequently the case on such occasions - in spite of a full schedule and a long day - she generously stayed on through the program to meet players, parents and fans and pose for photographs.

The highlight of the evening was honoring the five seniors who have played their last match at Stan Sheriff Center. First, the “Rookie Skit” focused upon the idiosynchracies of each senior, revealing personal quirks that could only be known by hours on the court or lockerroom together.

Coach Mike Wilton introduced the five, sharing personal insights about each. Matt Bender (whose mom told me, thanks to Coach Wilton, he had “come to the team as a good boy and was leaving as a better man”), Matt Carere (the rookies characterized him as always moving, fidgeting), Jose Delgado (whose first words were to thank God for his success), Hawaii’s own Maulia La Barre (Jim Leahy described the slender 6-foot-7-inch player as “6 o’clock!”), and libero Alfie Reft (off to try out for the U.S. National team after the championships).

To a man, each senior teared up when talking about his team-mates, his “ohana,” their closeness, their camaraderie, their support and love for one another, and how much he would miss them. Each young man’s comments reminded me of what I have known since my own youth: the value of cooperation, loyalty, sacrifice, humility and sports-manship taught by team sports, from Little League on up.

Without a doubt, the 2006 University of Hawaii men’s Warrior volleyball seniors have learned the meaning of “Unity Over Self.”

May it serve them well, however they may need it.

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