Athletic director retires after 27 years at Mililani
By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer
It isn't the championships though there were plenty of those that John Kauinana remembers most from 27 years as athletic director at Mililani High School. They are listed on banners in the school gym but he doesn't know the number.
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"Mililani will keep running," insists John Kauinana, but somehow it won't be the same without the man behind the wheel of the successful athletic program.
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Kauinana, the only athletic director in Mililani High history, retired Monday. Glenn Nitta, the only head baseball coach in the Central O'ahu school's history, was named interim athletic director.
Tanuvasa went from Mililani to football stardom at University of Hawai'i and starting in the defensive line on two Super Bowl championship teams with the Denver Broncos, where he still plays.
"His mother never wanted him to play; she worried about him getting hurt," Kauinana says. "We had to hide his injuries from her. If he sprained a finger, we would tape it for practice, and tell him afterward, 'Take it off, go home and act like there is nothing wrong.'
"He had such tremendous athletic skills and did everything so fluid, it looked like it was easy for him."
At the other end of the talent spectrum but nonetheless memorable was a boy who turned out for football in his junior year though he had never played the game. Kauinana was also head football coach at Mililani for 12 years.
"He wanted to play fullback but didn't have any concept of how to cut, so we told him just to run in a straight line. If he got a good hole, he would run 20 yards downfield, and straight into the safety."
Athletes such as Price, later a swimming All-American at UCLA; Erin Hoe, who won an unprecedented four straight state girls singles tennis championships and now is on scholarship at Washington; Linda Jackson, an all-star in five sports and now a pilot, and soccer scoring machine Diana Ota are vivid in Kauinana's memory banks.
But so is Robert Woods. "He was a safety or cornerback, real skinny. He would hang onto the legs of runners until help came," Kauinana said. "One morning we came to school and there were a dozen car tires stacked up on the flag pole. Someone had hoisted them to the top of the pole and dropped them around it.
"We used a chain saw to cut them off. I'm sure it was Robert; he was very sharp, and mischievous."
Woods went on to Stanford and became a main figure in the development of medical prostheses, Kauinana says.
Academics a priority
When he came to Mililani in 1974, Kauinana says, he found the students were "pretty smart. You could teach what you wanted, they would pick it up, in any of the sports."
Mililani has had weekly grade checks from the start, well before they were standard at all public schools, Kauinana says.
"You've got to pass everything to play; no Fs, even for a week. When the state went to the 2.0 requirement, we had no problems 65 percent of our athletes are 3.0 (B) or better."
Regular monitoring of grades was hardest on ninth graders, but "it made them better kids," Kauinana says.
"Every year three or four kids who play major sports get A or A-plus averages, taking advanced courses," he said. One was Kyle Fukuchi, state boys soccer Player of the Year and Mililani valedictorian in 1999, a student-athlete at Washington today.
Kauinana and his coaches literally built Mililani's program. Volunteers and coaches built the baseball and softball fields, much of the 1,800-square foot weight room and training room, the dining lanai at the gym and the stadium concession building.
The Trojans didn't have a campus gym until the late 1980s and still don't have a swimming pool. But Mililani did get a rubberized track in 1999 that is the best lighted track on O'ahu and the O'ahu Interscholastic Association bought a computerized timing system so Mililani could be a host for big meets, including the state championship in 2000.
Ed Kamisugi, whose son was that straight-line fullback, "has been the backbone for me," the main man in all those volunteer projects, Kauinana says. Dan Kuni was a big factor in building a picturesque baseball field.
Kauinana, a graduate of Kaimuki High in 1964 (football all-star his senior year) and Boise State in '69, taught at Leilehua and Nanakuli before pioneering the Mililani athletic program with 400 freshmen and sophomores in 1974-75
There were 16 coaches on the staff then; including volunteers, there are 78 now and the enrollment is 2,044 fourth highest in the state.
He met his wife Sharon, formerly student activities coordinator, at Mililani and their son, Jason, graduated there in 1991.
At 55 and facing arthroscopic surgery Aug. 13 on an arthritic right knee that is devoid of cartilage, Kauinana says he "didn't think I could do good enough to keep the program going, that's part of why I got out."
But "there are a lot of great kids here who are motivated and bright. Mililani will keep running," he says.