DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Vail, Hubert, Albert, Herbert and Gilbert Minn gathered at Hubert's home in Manoa recently. The family has found success in a variety of sports.
Minns are always where the action is
The family has been involved in sports for three generations
They've been principals, referees, soldiers, legislators, coaches and teachers.
The Minn family is widely known in Hawaii for its athletic prowess in a variety of sports -- but what really makes them stand out is dedication, from the oldest generation to the youngest, to sportsmanship and excellence beyond the ring, field or pool.
Their family history in Hawaii begins at the turn of the 20th century, when seven sons were born to a pair of Korean immigrants.
And all seven brothers of that generation -- Robert, Henry, Philip, Wilbert, Gilbert, Albert and Herbert -- played sports in their heydays: football with the Father Bray youth league, and at Iolani, Leilehua and McKinley high schools, amateur boxing, competitive swimming, and more.
Albert, Herbert, his son Hubert, and grandson Vail sat down and shared how the Minns have passed their success from one generation to the next.
Herbert Minn still remembers the good old days of boxing. His study is a wall-to-wall tribute of days long past -- a world map riddled with pins of places where he's boxed, coached boxers or refereed; albums and albums of former teammates and pupils; photos from his coaching experience in his post-World War II Army days around the Pacific.
Now, he groans as his focus turns to the modern-day emphasis of power and brute strength in the sport once hailed as both mental and physical.
"I see fights today, (and) I don't even look at it," Herbert says. "When I see two guys just throwing haymakers to each other, I turn it off. What the hell is that? It's good for the boxing fan that don't know anything; he's yelling and he's going crazy. That's what the TV people watch -- action fighters. But if you're a fancy man, they don't want you, because you're not going to draw the fans."
He sighs and gets to his feet.
At 83, he won't hesitate to display the proper footwork or jab countering techniques to demonstrate a point. And now he does exactly that, ducking his head below an imaginary hook and delivering a counter to his invented foe.
Coaching fancy men was the McKinley graduate's specialty, a style mirrored by his own in his early 20s as an amateur boxer. Lots of patience and observation.
Herbert, a University of Hawaii Sports Circle of Honor inductee for his coaching efforts in the 1950s, guided two UH fighters, Seiji Naya and Roy Kuboyama, to individual NCAA boxing titles using a cerebral approach to the sport -- the first athletic titles of any kind for UH. He went on to referee or judge in 44 international world title fights with the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council. He's also currently a commissioner on the Hawaii State Boxing Commission.
In other words, he knows what he's talking about when it comes to his sport.
"With me, the ultimate thing is, I don't care if the fans boo you, blah blah blah, as long as they raise my boy's hand," said the adamant Herbert. "That's all. That's all that counts."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Vail, Hubert, Albert, Gilbert and Herbert Minn have achieved athletic success in many different sports through the years.
People assumed Albert Minn knew something about swimming.
As it turned out, he didn't. At least, not in the traditional sense. But he was a Hawaii boy in Oregon, and if people were going to assume that he was the best suited to guide their local team in a swimming championship, who was Al to say no?
He was a football player, first and foremost, in his days at Iolani and McKinley -- he attended both because of World War II. When he earned a full ride to Willamette University to play football, the last thing on his mind was swimming.
But in the summer of 1947, the 25-year-old helped run the American Red Cross' National Aquatic School in Lake-of-the-Woods, and shortly thereafter found himself at the helm of the team.
"They thought, 'Oh, a guy from Hawaii must know something about swimming, right?' So I took it on."
Apparently, he did something right.
"We won the championship," he said. "That was the first time I got thrown in a pool. I thought to myself, 'Gee, from that day on every time I started coaching swimming, I was successful.'"
Albert, 81, who also has coached football, basketball, track & field, and baseball, never had the same results as he did at swimming. He coached the UH women's swim team for more than 13 years in the '70's and '80's, and in 1986 he guided the Rainbow Wahine to the Pacific Coast Athletic Association title.
He's also had success at Hawaii Loa College in Kaneohe (which later became part of Hawaii Pacific University) and assisted with the USA national swim team from 1979 to 1981.
"Somebody up there told me you better stay in swimming, and I've been coaching since then," says Albert, a Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame inductee. "What I like about (it) is I got great satisfaction out of it. You take a kid who can't swim well, or can't do well as far as the performance in swimming is concerned, but he comes and he works every day, and you watch him and you help him. He learns things like industriousness, and integrity."
Small wonder Al became principal at Jarrett Intermediate, Roosevelt and Kailua high schools with a rep for turning a hard-nosed school into a respectable one.
Hubert Minn hears the roars from the crowd in the Boardwalk Hall Arena in Atlantic City. It's July 22, Arturo Gatti against Carlos Baldomir for the WBC welterweight title in the 12,000-seat arena, and the packed house of rabid fans are cheering on their hometown golden boy, Gatti.
And it was Minn's unenviable job to make sure the bout was called fair and square.
"Eleven thousand, nine hundred sixty were for him," said Hubert, 59. "I called the fight the way I saw it. I was trying to make sure I called the fight the way it is and not involved with politics."
As it turned out, the Argentinean Baldomir stopped Gatti in the ninth round, much to the displeasure of the crowd.
That kind of dedication to his job is what's allowed Hubert, Herbert's son, to be successful following in his father's footsteps as a professional referee. He started judging amateur bouts locally in the early '90s, and by 1997 he became a referee with the Hawaii State Boxing Commission.
At Herbert's urging, he applied to the WBC and was granted his first international fight a few years ago.
"I can say I'm very fortunate, everything I've learned -- a lot -- (is) from my father, who I respect quite a bit," Hubert said. "Like he says, 'You gotta have guts. You gotta have guts 'cause people are going to wine and dine you, they're going to talk to you this way, and it's hard to meet a guy who's really nice to you but you have to call the fight whatever it is."
He learned that firsthand early in his WBC career doing a fight in Korea. Hubert encountered all sorts of people offering false promises of friendship and generosity in the days leading up to the fight -- ones he says he was able to resist.
Hubert, a teacher at heart and by profession with degrees from Cal State Northridge and UH, integrated his talent in the WBC by becoming the Chairman of Ring Officials and puts on World Safety Seminars for boxing officials around the world.
Despite the fact that his father would take him ringside for bouts since he was a small child, Hubert never desired to become a boxer himself -- for the most part.
"The only boxing I did was...," he pauses and chuckles. "I got into a lot of trouble in school. I used to get into a lot of fights. But being an educator now, I look back and laugh."
All it took was a little family support to jump-start Vail Minn's wrestling career.
He was three years removed from his 1997 Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship days at Iolani, and finding things a little harder wrestling at the University of Southern Colorado. Vail had a losing record and struggled with bouts of homesickness.
"It was a terrible feeling, sad to say I was like the only Asian kid up here wrestling in the Midwest," Vail says. "Like I'd be in there and guys would be looking at me (like) 'where'd this kid come from,' you know? It's cold up there, you get different food, it's pretty tough."
But then, his dad, Hubert, showed up for D-II nationals. And suddenly, he didn't feel so alone.
"I got pumped up and beat the No. 3-ranked kid for (the 157-lb. division)," Vail said. "I beat a bunch of guys that I hadn't beaten all season. Right from there when he showed up, I guess my morale got better. I started wrestling better."
But just as he seemed to have found his footing, his school cut wrestling, leaving Vail and his teammates stranded. That is, until they reformed as a club team and competed in the Collegiate Club nationals, for schools that had dropped the sport. Vail built off the success of his sophomore year and won the 157-pound national title in Easton, Pa.
His grandfather could appreciate the manner in which he won the title match.
"He was ahead in points and had a good lead, and I guess he must have learned something from me because he didn't go in too much," Herbert says. "He made sure that the guy (was) not going to take him down, and the clock is moving. And he won, he won by one point. He gave the guy a couple of points. But the guy couldn't beat him because, when the time ran out, that's it. That's what I like, just get your hand raised."
Now Vail, 27, has turned his talents to coaching wrestling as an assistant at Iolani, following in the instructor footsteps of his family -- as well as constantly working to improve his own wrestling style.
"The Minn family has always been about hard work, be humble, and for me they told me 'never stop learning,' " Vail says. "Never coach your mind off. Never think that your style is the best. Always try and keep learning, because that's how you get better."
When asked what about their family has allowed them to be so successful, the Minns pause.
At length, Hubert says: "I think I'm like my uncle (Albert) and most of the Minns, where discipline is extremely important for us, and a lot of people want to be champions, but they don't know how. And I tell people, 'the only way I know how to make you a champion is through hard, hard, hard, hard work. Because that's going to make the difference. If people are willing to sacrifice, you see there's a good human being that comes out of sports. And that's what I think we're all about too. Try to be a human being, not only be champions."