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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 25, 2002

UH boxers first to break NCAA men's title barrier

Learn about Hawai'i sports history and those who figured prominently in it in this feature. We'll ask a question Wednesday and present the answer in an in-depth profile on Thursday.

Q. Before the University of Hawaii'i Warrior volleyball team won the school's first men's NCAA team title, other male atheletes won NCAA individual titles. Can you name them and their sport?

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

Long before the University of Hawai'i's Costas Theocharidis soared to swing at high outside sets, Roy Kuboyama crouched to swing at opponents' midsections.

Seiji Naya, left, won NCAA boxing titles for the University of Hawai'i in 1954 and 1955. Roy Kuboyama, right, was the first UH men's NCAA champion, winning at 112 pounds in 1952. Both were coached by Herbert Minn, center.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Five decades prior to fans in Manoa cheering Dejan Miladinovic's majestic blocks at the net, fellow students at the old Civic Auditorium roared as Seiji Naya deftly blocked punches with his gloves.

And yes, in years long preceding the Warriors volleyball team winning UH's first NCAA championship in a men's team sport, two otherwise mild-mannered male athletes put the school on the boxing map by winning individual national titles thousands of miles away.

They might not be as recognizable as the so-called "Men of War" or the highly acclaimed Rainbow Wahine, but Kuboyama and Naya — not the school's volleyball teams — should be remembered as Hawai'i's first NCAA champions.

"Only the old-timers would remember," said Herbert Minn, who coached both fighters at UH.

Those who can remember will recall that Kuboyama, a 112-pound sophomore from Lahaina, spent some 25 hours aboard airplanes to travel the roughly 5,000 miles to Madison, Wis. — site of the 1952 NCAA championships. On April 4, Kuboyama defeated Miami's Jules Stoltz in a unanimous decision to advance to the title bout.

After the semifinal, Kuboyama draped a carnation lei over Stoltz.

The next night, Kuboyama made history by winning Hawai'i's first national title, defeating Vic Kobe of Idaho State in a unanimous decision.

The United Press wire report read: "In winning, Kuboyama displayed the best rounded attack of the evening, punching telling blows to both the body and head."

Minn, 79, said Kuboyama packed a wallop despite his boyish looks.

"He could punch, he was something to watch," said Minn, who refereed 41 world title fights after his coaching days at UH. "He would give (Brian) Viloria a hard time."

Two-time champion

In 1954, Naya became Hawai'i's second NCAA champion after defeating Louisiana State's Robert Freeman by decision in the 125-pound final at State College, Pa. Naya, who went to high school in Japan but briefly attended Mid-Pacific Institute, successfully defended his championship in 1955 by defeating Freeman again in a unanimous decision at Pocatello, Idaho.

Freeman would later become Louisiana's lieutenant governor.

After winning his second NCAA crown, Naya was awarded the John S. LaRow Trophy, given to the tournament's outstanding boxer.

"When they gave me the trophy, I dropped it and it broke," recalled the 68-year-old Naya, now the state's director in the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. "I never thought a small kid from Hawai'i could win that."

Minn said Naya was efficient and deadly accurate.

"He was very fast, and very clever and cunning," Minn said. "When he threw his punch, 99 percent of the time, he would hit you. He didn't waste his punches."

Unlike the men's volleyball team's title victory in May, Kuboyama's and Naya's championship moments were not televised back home. There was no statewide celebration, and certainly no trolley ride through town.

But it still made big news, and the significance was not lost on either fighter.

"It felt good, very good," Naya said. "In those days Hawai'i was small and not nationally known in sports. The president of the university came to meet me at the airport."

And unlike now, boxing drew huge crowds in Honolulu for amateur fights, so Kuboyama and Naya were well known in the sports community.

"It was very competitive back then, and there was a lot of fan support," Minn said. "They used to pack the (5,000-seat) Civic."

Honored by UH

Kuboyama, Naya and Minn may not be household names to today's sports fans, but all three have been inducted into UH's prestigious Circle of Honor.

And all three went on to accomplish great things after their historic NCAA achievements.

Kuboyama transferred to Wisconsin in 1953 and fought for the Badgers in 1954, taking second place at 118 pounds. He went on to medical school and became a prominent pediatrician in Honolulu.

"Boxing was a turning point in my life," Kuboyama, 71, said. "After winning the title (in 1952), I was offered a pro contract. I had to make a decision: boxing or medicine. I chose medicine."

Staying active

Kuboyama is now retired but keeps busy trying to learn the stock market. Just last year, he earned an associates degree in culinary arts from Kapi'olani Community College.

"Gotta keep the mind and body exercising," he said.

Kuboyama's son, Clint, was a standout football player at Punahou School, Boston College and UH. He is now a stock analyst in New York.

Naya also weighed a pro boxing career against graduate school. Like Kuboyama, he chose the latter and eventually earned his Ph.D from Wisconsin.

Since then, Naya has taught economics at Wisconsin, was on the national bureau of economic research in New York, headed a research institute at East-West Center and has been the director of DBEDT for the past seven years.

He still keeps mementos from his boxing days on display at his downtown office.

"Boxing gave me things like vigor, discipline and perseverance," Naya said. "It gave me the philosophy that nothing comes easy; you have to work extra hard to be successful. We might have had talent, but we became champions mostly because of hard work."

Minn coached the Rainbows from 1947-1958, until the NCAA dropped boxing as a sport. He went on to become a noted referee and also served as a judge for the World Boxing Council.

At UH, Minn trained his fighters in a quonset hut and was paid "about two or three hundred bucks" per season. But he said the memories, which he keeps alive through a detailed scrapbook, are priceless.

"A lot of my other boxers did well in life, too — they were good students, and studying was their primary goal," Minn said. "I'm very proud of them. They all were just a small group of pioneers who struggled hard but came a long way."

Note: Terry Albritton is the third and most recent winner of an NCAA men's individual championship. He won the shot put title in 1976 with 67 feet, 6 1/2 inches. He declined to be interviewed, saying in an e-mail that he "enjoys being anonymous."