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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, September 17, 2004

Leilehua honors former coach

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Central O'ahu Writer

It was 1969, and Hugh Yoshida was agonizing over whether to accept an offer to become head football coach and athletic director at Leilehua High, one of the state's largest public schools, or continuing coaching at little Waialua High.

Former Leilehua High School coach and UH athletic director Hugh Yoshida enjoys a tour of the school's football stadium with some of his former players. The school will be naming the stadium after him.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

At the time, he recalled something his former Iolani School classmate, Willie Chang, told him.

"You're a good coach," Yoshida recalled Chang saying. "The only thing you don't do is win at Waialua."

Waialua had given the former Linfield College NAIA All-American linebacker his first head coaching job. Yoshida's undersized but disciplined teams earned the respect of Rural Oahu Interscholastic Association opponents with their scrappy play despite 1-7-1, 3-6 and 4-5 records from 1967 to 1969.

Yoshida decided to take Leilehua's offer, a decision that proved to be a springboard for both the Wahiawa school and for his career as a coach and athletic administrator.

The tradition, work ethic and pride Yoshida established in his 17 years at Leilehua is still embodied by the school, says Vice Principal Bob Davis, who played on the Mules' 1984 Prep Bowl championship team. During halftime ceremonies of today's game against Nanakuli, the school will honor its former coach by officially naming its campus stadium after him.

The 1984 championship team also will be recognized at halftime.

"It's a nice honor, very unexpected," said the 64-year-old Yoshida, a Mililani resident whose 119-25-5 coaching record at Leilehua included two league titles and seven division crowns in addition to a Prep Bowl victory. "We had a very nice run there, and met a lot of good people and good administrators.

"When I made that decision," Yoshida said of leaving Waialua, "it was a difficult one but it was the right thing to do."

Yoshida left Leilehua in 1987 to become the O'ahu Interscholastic Association's executive secretary, succeeding the late Bill Smithe. Four years later, he was named associate athletics director at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. He succeeded the late Stan Sheriff as UH athletics director in 1993 and served until his retirement in December 2002.

"Every step was meaningful," Yoshida said. "The common ground was always to do what's best for the student-athlete."

Leilehua Principal Norman Minehira began having "sidebar discussions" with his athletic director, Richard Townsend, last year about honoring Yoshida, whom Minehira says embodies what LHS stands for — leadership, humility and service.

"His greatest legacy is he's touched the lives of thousands of kids," Minehira said. "We honor history and tradition at this school."

Yoshida transformed Leilehua into an instant contender behind the passing of Alex Kaloi, receiving of Rick Wagner and all-around play of Paul Dombroski. The Mules became the darlings of Wahiawa, and seats for home games were hard to come by. A local radio crew arrived for a showdown game against Wai'anae in 1970 at the end of the first quarter because of traffic on California Avenue.

In his first seven years at Leilehua, Yoshida's teams never lost more than one game in a season.

"Coach Yoshida built the winning tradition of Leilehua football," Davis said. "We might not win every year but we will always be competitive."

Davis, an offensive guard, recalled that the 1984 championship team that defeated St. Louis, 10-0, in the Prep Bowl to finish with a 10-0-1 record had to work extra hard since there were only 32 players on the varsity roster.

Playing for Yoshida was all about having the right character, work ethic and pride, said Davis.

"We would run a play over, and over and over again in practice, five, six, seven times, until we got it right," Davis recalled. "The defense knew what we were going to do but coach told us if we execute it right, it doesn't matter if the defense knows what's coming."

The work ethic is what Davis tries to pass on to students today. "I tell them you might not have the right tools or right background but you can still accomplish what you want if you're willing to work hard at it."

In retirement, Yoshida spends most of his time helping his wife, Patti, baby-sit their three grandsons, ages 6, 2 and 4 months. They're expecting a granddaughter in November. There's still time for golf and a trip, says Yoshida.

Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.