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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rising power brokers boost Hawaii's future

By Ferd Lewis

It was hardly University of Hawai'i athletic director Jim Donovan's blind luck of the draw that brought Bert T. Kobayashi Jr. and Peter S. Ho together to help drive the five-member advisory committee that eventually hired men's basketball coach Gib Arnold.

Intuition, perhaps? Astute planning, maybe. But however it was arrived at and UH has said policy requires it to convene a committee of community and campus representatives to participate in the process this pairing of generational bookends in a high profile search underlines the transition of sports power brokers taking place.

The 70-year-old Kobayashi, senior partner at the downtown Kobayashi, Sugita & Goda law firm, embodies the older guard that has helped keep UH a viable major college program. The 44-year-old Ho, Bank of Hawai'i president, and the 40-somethings he symbolizes, are the emerging future.

The 41-year-old Arnold is the youngest of the four men's basketball coaches UH has hired since it joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1979. Participation by his generation in ticket buying, fundraising and support will be key, especially in tight economic times when contributions will have to help fill the gap between what the team requires and what the financially strapped athletic program can provide.

So, it was revealing there were a handful of 40-something professionals on hand at Arnold's introductory press conference and more in that age bracket rallied to his cause behind the scenes.

Like Arnold, a Punahou School graduate, most were from private school backgrounds and attended Mainland universities. Precisely the group UH has struggled to connect with over the years as season ticket holders and donors.

Whether Arnold will help expand that constituency remains to be seen but appearing before the advisory committee and afterward he talked about reaching out into the community on several fronts to raise the profile of a program that has struggled to fill more than a third of the 10,300 seats at the Stan Sheriff Center in recent years.

One of those seats has been regularly occupied by the no-nonsense Kobayashi, an influential booster and a former Roosevelt High football player whose credits include painstakingly guiding the four-year restructuring of UH booster programs. That resulted in 'Ahahui Koa Anuenue, the umbrella booster organization, hiking contributions from $800,000 annually to nearly $3 million.

It was telling that when Greg McMackin went to negotiate with UH to replace June Jones, that he was advised to go to Kobayashi for representation. UH said the firm is not representing Arnold.

Kobayashi is one of the remaining figures from the rapidly thinning ranks of long-time boosters of a generation that has included Walter Dods, James Burns and Tony Guerrero.

Like Wally Fujiyama, Mackay Yanagisawa, Harold Kometani and others before them, they have helped underwrite or arrange funding for a wide variety of sports projects both at UH and beyond.

Burns, a former judge and son of the late Gov. John A. Burns, who was responsible for taking UH to the major college level, headed Koa Anuenue for more than 20 years and was a prominent Saint Louis School booster during his alma mater's golden years of football.

Between them, Dods and Guerrero, First Hawaiian Bank fixtures who operated with hammer strength but little fanfare, took the lead on Jones' contract, assistant coaches' bonuses and funding a number of Hawai'i High School Athletic Association and other sports events.

Quietly, but unmistakably, Ho is rising from the other side of Bishop Street to become a force. Son of businessman and philanthropist Stuart Ho, a prominent UH booster in the 1970s, and grandson of the late financier Chinn Ho, Peter Ho was instrumental in helping get the hugely successful Save Our Sports fundraising drive off the ground.

A former Punahou School football player and sprinter, he was one of the first to shepherd support to the vision of classmate Keith Amemiya who, at the time, headed the HHSAA. The fund drive has, so far, raised more than $1.4 million to help offset state budget cuts on public schools.

Ho is not alone among prominent second-generation boosters. Kobayashi's 44-year-old son, Chris, who is also a partner in the firm, is a classmate of Ho and Amemiya and a rising figure. A Koa Anuenue director, he has represented a growing portfolio of sports clients, including Vince Manuwai and Akebono.

Likewise, just as developer Bert A. Kobayashi has been a fixture in UH athletics and fundraising, his 39-year-old son, Bert "BJ" Kobayashi, president of the Kobayashi Group, is also a Koa Anuenue director. They are not related to Bert T. and Chris Kobayashi.

Along with bringing UH a new men's basketball coach, the just-completed hiring process also provided a glimpse at the changing face of power brokers in the state.

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