UH Football’s Debt To Pearl Harbor

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 21, 2008
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Happy 100th anniversary to the Pearl Harbor Shipyard. What a long, dedicated history of “Keeping them Fit to Fight.” I imagine when most people think about Pearl Harbor they think of the devastating attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and all the acts of bravery, heroism and courage. There’s little question it will always have a sacred place in the history of Hawaii.

There is something else that comes to mind when going back in history. In the early 1960s, the University of Hawaii athletic program was floundering. It had gone through all kinds of turmoil, including four athletic directors and about five coaches in less than five years. The facilities were falling apart and there was very little semblance of a scholarship program, local support or media compassion.

Then, like overnight, a new era of optimism arrived in the form of a middle-aged coach from Eastern Washington. Dave Holmes was a solid coach with strong ties to the new athletic director Paul Durham. Still, there was something sorely lacking in the foundation. The football team had nowhere to prepare correctly for its first All-Collegiate schedule. Up until 1968, the UH Rainbows had played only eight games and several of them were semi-pro teams from Hawaii. The program had no clout to speak of. For example, the Honolulu Stadium made the team play on Wednesday nights because, at that time, it averaged about 6,000 fans per game. The weekends were reserved for high school football. This is a classic example of impotence since the University of Hawaii owned the stadium and it was controlled by its board of regents and alumni association.

New coach Holmes was looking all over for a field and some kind of facility that would be willing to house the UH football team for its crucial twice-a-day preseason practices. There was no place to be found and then, like magic, there appeared a solution on the horizon from, of all places, Pearl Harbor. A former Navy man and longtime sportscaster in Hawaii Chuck Leahy, who also happened to be director of athletics at Pearl Harbor, offered the facilities at Bloch Arena to Holmes, including dining facilities right next door, at a very reasonable price. More importantly, it set the standard for football teams in the future. What a concept - being able to sleep, eat, train and practice all in one place.

For the first time, in 1968, the UH football team was going to have a real preseason practice. The results were amazing. The team responded by playing well all year and finishing with a strong winning season. The Pearl Harbor Naval Base had resurrected the UH athletic program. Make no mistake, back in those tough times no one else offered to help the struggling UH football program.

But Leahy didn’t stop there. He went on to help Red Rocha develop the UH Basketball program and start something every successful basketball program has, a classic. Today, the Rainbow Classic is the longest-running basketball classic in the NCAA.

For his unselfish efforts, Leahy was inducted into the state of Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame. He, like so many other members of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base and Shipyard, has been an integral part of Hawaii’s fabric for a very long time. Even today, officials at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base help out UH’s athletic program by allowing additional parking on its property and Ford Island. At one time the football program had no place to practice and no preseason training table, and now it has parking problems because of sold-out football games on Friday and Saturday nights - and, in both cases, it was rescued by the generosity of officials at Pearl Harbor.

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