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Star-Bulletin Features


Friday, April 12, 2002


Sakamoto’s
‘ditch kids’ to get
story told in movie

Film sequences will be set
on Maui and Oahu


By Tim Ryan
tryan@starbulletin.com

A film chronicling the triumphant story of Hawaii swimming coach Soichi Sakamoto and his famed Olympians from Team Maui is gaining momentum with the recent addition of award-winning executive producer George Sunga.

Under the Ohana Productions banner, Sunga joins forces with writer-producers Shelley Bingham and Bill Brown to develop and produce the tentatively titled independent feature film "Maui Ditch Kids."

Sunga is scouting the islands this week, with film sequences set on Maui and Oahu.

"The story of Coach Sakamoto and his team of athletes who trained in the HC&S flumes and went all the way to the Olympics needs to be shared with the rest of the world," said Sunga, who's been a producer for the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and "Three's Company." Sunga has also produced numerous TV pilots and series for Paramount Pictures Television and Walt Disney Television.

Soichi Sakamoto was a junior high school science teacher in 1936 in Puunene, Maui. His students were the sons and daughters of sugar cane field laborers employed by HC&S. Sakamoto, who could not swim himself, trained the children how to swim by utilizing the plantation's irrigation trenches, and transformed these children into world-class competitive athletes.

Sakamoto and his ditch kids were denied the opportunity to compete in the Olympics in 1940 with the outbreak of World War II. Eight years later, Sakamoto protégé Bill Smith ascended the award stand in Helsinki, Finland, to receive the gold medal for his triumph in the 400-meter freestyle.

In the years to follow, 11 of Sakamoto's swimmers would go on to represent the United States in Olympic competition, with six winning medals, three of them gold. His teams were national champions 11 times.

Writer-producer Bill Brown is a USC School of Cinema-Television graduate, an award-winning filmmaker and a member of the All-America Swim Team and All America Water Polo Team.

"This is a story with heart, love and confidence showcasing the best things about ourselves and our fellow man," he said.

"People are going to want to see this great story," said Hiroshi Yamauchi, a member of the Swimming and Diving Legacy Project team.


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