Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, October 31, 2001


St. Louis' Cal Lee, the winningest high school football
coach in Hawaii history, is focused on his team's next game.

All that matters to
Lee is 1 more win

By Jason Kaneshiro

For at least a week, Cal Lee is putting his future on hold.

No questions about the St. Louis football coach's plans for next season. No reflections on the most successful coaching career in Hawaii football history. No speculation over who his successor as head coach may be.

All that matters is Friday's contest between the Crusaders and Kamehameha with the ILH championship and a state tournament berth at stake.

"You never know in this type of ballgame where one play or bad bounce could do you in," Lee said as his team prepared for practice this week. "But you hope you've prepared as well as you can going into this game and you hope you don't make mistakes."

The Crusaders take on the Warriors at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Aloha Stadium. A St. Louis win gives Lee his 18th ILH title. A loss could end his coaching career at the Kaimuki campus.

Lee said during the summer that this would be his final season as the Crusaders head coach. And while the school's administration has not shut the door should he change his mind, Lee said his intention remains to leave the program once the season is over.

But despite the obvious distraction, Lee has used his emphasis on preparation and daily improvement to shield his players and coaches from the hype regarding his future and that of the program.

"We're just worried about week to week," St. Louis offensive coordinator Vince Passas said. "I don't think he gives us room to even think about that kind of stuff. It's just that we have a game this week and we just have to get ready for it and see how we can get better."

But if Friday's game is indeed his last at St. Louis, Lee will leave behind a record of unprecedented success.

The numbers alone speak volumes -- 233 wins, 17 ILH titles, 15 Prep Bowl or state tournament championships, more than two dozen former players on current NCAA Division I rosters and several former players in the NFL.

"The whole league's going to miss Cal," Kamehameha coach Kanani Souza said. "He's ... set the standards for 20 years now for football in the ILH. And whenever you lose someone who's done all of that it's going to be a loss.

"I'll miss him and I'll miss the excitement of playing a Cal Lee-coached team, because they're always very well coached, they play very hard and they play with class."

But Lee's legacy at St. Louis extends beyond mere statistics.

"He's been more than a coach," Passas said. "He's been a real good friend, someone you can really count on."

Lee's top assistants are among his closest confidants. Defensive coordinator Delbert Tengan joined the staff 14 years ago and shared an office with Lee for 11 years. Passas played for Lee in his first stint at St. Louis in 1972, coached with him at Kaiser in the late '70s and joined him again at St. Louis in 1982.

Both say their relationship with Lee extends beyond their roles as head coach and assistants. In fact, Passas credits Lee for helping him cope with the death of his daughter in 1996.

"He's really kept me going, he's helped me heal," Passas said. "Because of losing someone like that in my life, I came pretty close to not moving on in life. But he was there to pick me up and dust me off, and say, 'Come on, follow me. We'll just move on everyday.'

"I owe everything to him, because I possibly wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for him."

Their bond allows Lee to give his assistants a level of autonomy in coaching their units. But everyone understands who has the final say in all decisions.

"He puts his two cents in, and sometimes even three or four cents," Passas said. "But with all the experience he has and the knowledge he has you just have to be like a sponge and try to absorb it all."

Even those who line up against him value the challenge of testing their wits against the recognized leader of the local coaching fraternity.

"What Cal has done for me is he's made me a better coach," Iolani coach Wendell Look said. "He's made me prepare myself whenever we have to play them, because they're so well coached.

"You always want to go up against the best, and Cal is the best."

Pac-Five coach Don Botelho, who closes his 28th year with the Wolfpack against Damien on Friday, is the only ILH coach with a longer tenure than Lee. Botelho first faced Lee as Damien's head coach in 1972, and has watched Lee's attention to detail help St. Louis grow into the state's dominant program.

"You prepare for him just like you prepare for anyone else, except you know that they're not going to make the kind of mistakes some other teams make," Botelho said. "You prepare, you hope and you say a few prayers."

These days Lee is occupying himself with making sure his players are prepared for a Kamehameha team that played them to a 24-24 tie earlier this season.

But once the football season is over, open season begins on speculation regarding Lee's next move. A return to St. Louis isn't completely out of the question and talk about him taking a job on the University of Hawaii coaching staff has been circulating since the summer.

So exactly where will Cal Lee end up?

"The only person who knows for sure," St. Louis assistant athletic director Georges Gilbert said, "is sitting in his office."

Records at St. Louis

>> Most wins by a Hawaii high school football coach: 233

>> First Hawaii state championship: 2000

>> Prep Bowl championships: 14 (1983, 1986-98)

>> Interscholastic League of Honolulu championships: 17 (last 15 consecutive)

>> Longest winning streak in Hawaii high school football: 55, 1985-90


>> 2000: National Federation of State High School Associations coach of the year

>> 1995: The Sporting News coach of the year

Through the years

Year W L T Pct. Finish

1972 2 7 1 .200 Fourth ILH

1982 2 8 1 .182 Sixth ILH

1983 14 0 0 1.000 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1984 10 3 0 .769 ILH champion

1985 9 2 2 .692 ILH runner-up

1986 13 0 0 1.000 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1987 13 0 0 1.000 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1988 13 0 0 1.000 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1989 13 0 0 1.000 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1990 10 2 0 .833 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1991 12 1 0 .923 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1992 13 0 0 1.000 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1993 11 3 0 .786 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1994 13 0 0 1.000 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1995 12 1 0 .923 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1996 13 0 0 1.000 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1997 13 1 0 .929 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1998 13 1 0 .929 ILH/Prep Bowl champion

1999 15 1 0 .938 ILH/State champion

2000 14 1 0 .933 ILH champion, state runner-up

2001 7 0 1 1.000 TBD

Total 235 31 5 .866

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