Saturday, February 2, 2002
It's an honor that he didn't expect and one that wasn't expected so quickly. But the committee for the University of Hawaii Circle of Honor couldn't help but bend the rules for only the second time in its 20-year history.
Murakami enters Circle
By Cindy Luis
Retired Rainbow coach Les Murakami was feted yesterday at a luncheon at the Bank of Hawaii as the only inductee in the Class of 2001. The normal waiting period is five years after a person has retired or passed away. The committee waived the waiting period for the first time since Stan Sheriff was inducted a year after his death.
"It's great to see this happen before he passed away," said former Hawaii athletic director Paul Durham, who hired Murakami in 1971.
"He's one of the first coaches I had anything to do with in terms of hiring and it's probably as smart a move as I've made in my life because he did something that I don't think anyone else in the world could have done. And that was to get that (baseball) stadium built."
Rainbow Stadium was built in just nine months, an amazing accomplishment, according to current athletic director Hugh Yoshida. On Wednesday, the "House That Les Built" was renamed Murakami Stadium in honor of the Baseball Coaches' Hall of Famer who won 1,079 games in 30 seasons.
Murakami is still recuperating from a stroke that forced him to miss last season. Staying in character, his response yesterday was brief and humble.
"It's a great honor," he said. "I am very honored and humbled. No question that it was unexpected."
Murakami will be officially inducted during halftime of tonight's Hawaii basketball game at the Stan Sheriff Center. It's an appropriate setting because Rainbow coach Riley Wallace and Murakami have long supported each other's programs.
"He and Riley are such good friends," said Murakami's wife, Dot. "I didn't really know what the Circle of Honor was about until I checked out the Stan Sheriff Center (inner concourse) and saw all the distinguished people.
"Wow, it has been quite a week for him. The alumni game, the stadium being renamed ... but it's always been the same. Whatever he does, he doesn't expect anything in return."
Dot Murakami said her husband continues to make progress in his rehabilitation but is frustrated that he's "not there yet and he's always in such a hurry," she said. "He struggles but he doesn't give up, and that encourages the others at rehab. I give him a lot of credit for how positive he's stayed. We've also come to realize how many friends we have."
Murakami's plaque will be unveiled tonight on the inner concourse. Known as the "Father of Modern Rainbow Baseball," he is the 58th individual to be inducted.
"This is the highest recognition one can get at the university, actually the highest next to getting a building named after you," said Yoshida, athletic director since 1993. "You can tell the 'Les Murakami Story' in a number of ways. In the numbers of wins and NCAA appearances; in the honors such as the Hall of Fame and Sportsman of the Year; by the number of friends in the coaching fraternity who were there when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"He took a club sport to the collegiate level and, within seven years, the team was in the NCAA regional. I don't know of any other coach that has done that."
Ka Leo O Hawaii