Coaching teammates Eldredge, McLachlin retire from Punahou
THEY WERE basketball teammates before anything else, one a smooth forward, the other a savvy point guard. In 1964, their Punahou hoops team went to the state championship game against Hilo on Maui, breaking in the then-new War Memorial gym.
"He played behind Charlie Wedemeyer, one of the best athletes to ever come out of Hawaii," Chris McLachlin, the forward, said of Pal Eldredge, the guard. "There's certainly no shame in that."
But their best sports were baseball and volleyball, and those are the games that made Eldredge and McLachlin sports icons in Hawaii. University of Hawaii telecasts wouldn't be the same without their color commentary. It's good news that while both are retiring from Punahou as teachers, they plan on keeping the night jobs they've held for decades.
But what you are most widely known for isn't always your biggest contribution to society. It's certainly true for these two.
I got to know them as coaches when my main job was covering high school sports for the Star-Bulletin and later the other Honolulu daily. Eldredge battled year-after-year in the insanely tough Interscholastic League of Honolulu before delivering a baseball state championship in 1989, McLachlin did the same in basketball with three crowns and 11 in volleyball.
They were different, but the same. One a native Hawaiian with a passion for music as big as his appetite for anything baseball related. The other a California transplant who came to Hawaii briefly as a small boy, but couldn't wait to return; he did for his senior year at Punahou, and then again as soon as he graduated from Stanford.
It was from them I learned you don't have to have the best players to win, as long as you have the best team.
Most of their baseball and basketball teams were not built around superstars. Pal had no Sid Fernandez, Chris no Derrick Low. Their victories were testament to teamwork, to getting kids at a school that prides itself on individual expression to buy into the premise of sacrificing for the guy next to you.
As McLachlin admits stealing from Dean Smith, "It's amazing what you can achieve when no one cares who gets the credit." He drilled it into his 1990 state champions.
But, then again, that is another Punahou ideal ... sacrifice for the greater good. It's a concept school president Jim Scott and principal Kevin Conway continue to foster, and which Punahou's most famous alumnus seems to have latched onto (and no, we're not talking about Michelle Wie's donations to unfortunates, as generous as they are).
In 1979, McLachlin coached a basketball state championship team that did feature some of the very best players in the state (Daryl Gabriel and Dan Hale) and perhaps the islands' top all-around high school athlete (John Kamana). There was also a forward on that team who was stuck behind Kamana; Barack "Barry" Obama would've started for most other teams in the state.
Obama wasn't happy about it, but he managed to be a leader despite his status as a reserve.
"He was able to project that, and he wasn't afraid to point things out," McLachlin said. "And he did it in a way that people would listen."
Eldredge also coached Obama, in freshman football. And he was his fifth-grade math and science teacher, one Obama remembers as "a big, no-nonsense Hawaiian." (Of course, we know Eldredge is capable of whimsy, like his tradition of upside-down homeroom pictures in the Punahou yearbook.)
The measure of any teacher or coach is what the kids they are entrusted with go on to achieve.
"I hope my impact was not just sports," Eldredge says.
He certainly doesn't have to worry about that if Obama is elected president.
"That would be surreal," McLachlin says of the possibility. "He certainly stands for a lot of good things."
Chris McLachlin and Pal Eldredge sent players to the Olympics and the Major Leagues. They might get one to the White House , too.
Whether that happens or not, the basketball teammates from 43 years ago can rest assured in the knowledge they helped point thousands of young people in the right direction.
is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter who covers University of Hawaii football and other topics. His column appears periodically.
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org