Melissa Moniz
Wednesday - April 04, 2007
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Ken Suenaga

Ken Suenaga
Head coach of Pearl City Aquatics and Pearl City High School swim coach
As Told To Melissa Moniz

With whom did you see the movie?

I saw it with my wife.

Overall what did you think of the movie?

I thought it was first class. I know Jim Ellis from my association with United States Swimming. So I go to conventions often. He was one of the coaches and he didn’t say anything about his past, but when I heard he had a movie coming out I didn’t realize that he could do it.

What was the overall feel of the movie?

It’s a prejudice type of movie. The black man was prejudiced against.It made me think back to 1950 when I was in the service. I was on the Mainland and took a train from California going to Texas.And I encountered that kind of stuff where they have two bathrooms,one for blacks and one for whites.

And being local and Japanese, I didn’t know which side do I go in.That was the first thing I saw,so I can understand this predicament with the coaching and how they felt against him.

How long have you been coaching?

I’ve been coaching almost 40 years.

Did you witness firsthand this type of prejudice when you were coaching?

I started off in Palama,so we had the same predicament, but it’s different because we’re local. But some of the kids were prejudiced against, but not like he had it.The thing is, I got from the movie that he was really prejudiced against. Even going on the block and no one is there to swim with him.That made me think, wow, this is really bad.

What was your favorite scene in the movie?

I think the accomplishment at the end when they won first place.When the black boy won that race, I was like, wow this is really great. It kind of touched me,being that I go up there, and even from Hawaii you feel like you are a small person.Even until today I feel that way, but I do fight for Hawaii swimming, so I know how the feeling is.

What was the message of the movie?

From the coaching standpoint, it’s like me

being drafted to Pearl City High School and I’ve been coaching ever since,since 1972.When I was asked to be the swim coach then it was a real privilege,and I think I’m the oldest coach in swimming for high school. My feeling is that my club when I started early on was similar to what I saw I the movie. I tried to get kids off the streets.At the time when I started the club in Pearl City, we had a lot of problems of break-ins and all that stuff. I started it on that basis,that we’re going take some kids off the street and so they won’t get into trouble.

About how many kids are you coaching?

Right now,I have about 40 to 50 kids.And I travel with them.

Would you say coaching keeps you young?

For me as a coach, I think challenge is important in life.I’m going to turn 76 this year and being in that program all these years, guys always ask me when I’m going to retire. And I always say that I’m never going to retire as long as they need me because I want to do whatever I can for the kids. I love the sport; in fact, I watch all the games and travel to watch the games. It’s important to me, anyway.

In a four star rating, with four being the highest, what would you rate it?

Three and 1/2 stars.It was a great movie for people to look at and the pride of the kids, and I advise all my swimmers to go see the movie. I really enjoyed it.

What’s your favorite movie snack?

Probably popcorn.

What’s your favorite movie of all time?

Forrest Gump.

Do you go to the movies often?

I don’t go that often because I don’t have the time. But I go like four or five times a year.

What’s new?

Well,my thing is that I wish the newspapers would cover swimming as much as they do other sports. That’s my feeling, and you know I’m pretty sure sales would go up if they would promote more of other sports.The thing is that recognition is not given so a lot of times the kids fade out after they go to high school. I think the kids would prevail more if there was more coverage.And I’m fortunate that I’m coaching at that new swimming pool because I started off with a small little pool. I’m so fortunate because we have the best pool in the state of Hawaii right now.

Next week: a new movie, a new celebrity

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