HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
PAUL HONDA / PHONDA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Current players were on hand when the football field was rededicated in former coach Toshi Nakasone's honor.
Waialua community comes together to honor Nakasone
In the midst of Waialua's 50-year anniversary of football champions on Saturday, former coach Toshiyuki "Toshi" Nakasone was caught by a trick play.
The Bulldog community celebrated the success of its Rural Oahu Interscholastic Association on a wet Saturday afternoon in the high school's cafeteria, keeping a big secret from their former coach and vice-principal.
While they enjoyed a celebratory luau, it was only at the end of the event that Nakasone learned the football field was rededicated in his name.
"It's a total surprise," he said later. "I had no idea."
From 1952-55, Waialua overcame a host of foes to win four league titles in a row. All of the opponents -- Waipahu, Kahuku, Leilehua, Benjamin Parker (now Castle) and Wailei (boys school) -- were bigger and stronger.
Waialua won championships despite no on-campus facilities and no previous tradition of consistent success. Nakasone, who began teaching and coaching at Waialua in 1949, had an eye for talent that extended to his realm as a P.E. teacher. Not unlike current intermediate programs in the private-school Interscholastic League of Honolulu today, Nakasone got an early look at his future players from the time they were in intermediate school.
"He groomed this group from seventh grade," said Tom Shizuru, a co-captain of the '55 team. "We were playing on the first team as freshmen."
Brothers and former players Walter and James Yamada helped organize Saturday's luau and ceremony, which included a proclamation from Mayor Mufi Hannemann to make it Tosh Nakasone Day.
"We had good coaches and a good attitude," recalled Walter, who graduated in '54. "It was such a small community. Everyone was close-knitted. You don't see that any more."
Nakasone's penchant for smart personnel moves had Yamada on the move.
"I originally turned out as a halfback," said Yamada, who was moved to left guard. "He was able to put the right people at the right positions. He was very disciplined, very fair and very creative."
It's fair to say that Waialua had some of the top players of the time. Quarterback Richard Kobara and running back Gerald Welch were exceptional, Yamada noted.
Nakasone's keen eye for talent was just one factor in the equation. Nakasone, who coached for 10 years, was a four-time ROIA coach of the year. His track and field teams were league champions five times. He also coached basketball and baseball, making him a coaching wunderkind.
"I tried to put them where they belong," he said. "But the good attitudes, they did what was good for the team. In the years I coached, we never had major problems. If there was a minor problem, the captains would talk to them.
"Or we'd make them run laps while everyone would watch," Nakasone said.
Despite the hectic, year-round schedule, he took a deep breath and stepped down in 1959. Closing that door, other opportunities opened. After a stint as Waialua's vice principal, he became principal at Molokai and Lanai before landing at Aiea. He remained there until 1979.
Of course, those duties didn't keep Nakasone off the field, so to speak. He was also ROIA president, and when the townside public schools joined in 1970, he became the first president of the OIA.
Coaching and teaching, however, never got out of Nakasone's blood.
"The first year (away from coaching) was the most difficult. Every morning, you get up, and oh, no classes to teach," he recalled.
One of his children, Ken, was a true sidekick.
"He went with me everywhere," Nakasone said.
However, it was his wife, Grace, who implored Nakasone to bring his focus closer to home.
"She said, 'You coach everybody else's sons, but your son is learning to play baseball. You have no time to coach him,'" Ken said. "I was 8 and I never used to see him at home."
The values Nakasone taught and lived for Waialua's student-athletes were instilled in his own children. However, his former players never forgot what their coach imparted.
"There was plenty of leadership," Shizuru recalled. "Lots of camaraderie. We were very close."
The era of football was classic, of course. No face masks. No breaks, either.
"We had only 20 guys who could play," Shizuru said. "We used to lose 20 pounds a game. In those days, they don't let you drink water."
Shizuru, who later became a restaurateur in Honolulu, wouldn't trade his experience for anything.
"I'm very grateful, very glad. It was a special era for me," said Shizuru, whose father, Mike, was an assistant coach.
It was a special time for Nakasone, as well. On Saturday, moments before learning that Waialua was naming its football field after him, he thanked many for those memorable years. Donald "Popoke" Keao, who passed away recently, was the first to make a difference for Nakasone.
"He was the one who made me feel comfortable," he said of the player who made a quick transition to assistant coach. "Popoke" was the guy who drove the players in a truck from campus to the plantation field for practice, and then back to school, several times each day.
In 1954, during Waialua's title run, Nakasone helped negotiate a deal that allowed the school to access sugar land and turn it into the field that remains today. By '55, the Bulldogs were playing under lights for the first time.
Fifty seasons later, those lights now shine on Toshi Nakasone Field.