Hawaii’s Real Sporting Heroes

Bobby Curran
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Friday - May 13, 2005
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This is for the heroes of Hawaii sports; this is for the coaches. No fat contracts, no television shows or press conferences, and nary an interview on ESPN. No, this is for the thousands of men and women who give their time and energies to the most important work in sports, coaching our youths.

They coach every sport imaginable, from baseball to bowling, from soccer to sailing, gymnastics to golf. Collectively, they may have more of an influence on our kids than teachers and, in some cases, parents. For many youngsters, these will be the only adult role models to reach them on a regular basis.

With a newly arrived son and another almost two, I find myself looking forward to their chance to participate in sports, and I’m much more observant of the opportunities around us. Cruising our East Honolulu neighborhood with our oldest in the jogging stroller, I like to check out the practices and games. With so much in the recent news about out-of-control parents and spectators, including violence inflicted on officials, I’ve been pleased to note the tremendous generosity of spirit exemplified by the vast majority of youth coaches.

On a recent afternoon I happened upon a Pony League baseball practice at Kamiloiki Park. The players must have been 7 or 8 years old and that’s where the coaching is at the most basic level. I was struck by the great good cheer of the coaches, enthusiastic in their praise, gentle in criticism. As I watched, I realized that way more than baseball was being taught that day. Respect for others, the value of rules, the spirit of competition, the satisfaction in mastering new skills and the sheer joy of play were all lessons learned. And, yes, the right fielder had to be torn away from the powerful lure of counting dandelions, and the second baseman grew obsessed with the webbing of his glove, but for that hour and a half, those kids were engaged!

I watched one of the coaches (all of whom appeared to be dads of players) turn a homemade contraption of PVC pipe, wiffle balls, and clothesline into an ingenious hitting device, and later watched this same coach put on a spirited sliding demonstration, all the more impressive because he was much closer to 45 than 25.

These are scenes replayed at fields all over our state, and their equivalents on courts, rinks and lagoons in every community. There is no pay and little praise, but there are big rewards. They mostly come in the form of young smiling faces, flushed with the confidence of new achievements, suffused with self-worth. The next time you watch these youth coaches work, stop and tip your hat. They are helping to form the future of Hawaii.  You might think that the new drug testing policies in major league baseball would mean a perfect record in results, but you’d be way off base. Tests continue to expose violators, and the overwhelming majority of those have been Hispanic, leading some observers to speculate that the league office has not done a good job at communicating with Spanish-speaking players.

That may be so, but if you are making a monster salary to play ball, you’d have to be stupid to take any medications or supplement that you were unsure of. The now constant refrain that “I didn’t know what I was taking” has a hollow ring. It should be easy to get this across in any language: Take nothing without approval from a team trainer.

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