Wilton's aloha ball


POSTED: Sunday, April 26, 2009

The surfboard will soon come down from the office ceiling and find its way to the break off Diamond Head ... finally. Mike Wilton has put off one of his favorite pastimes for far too long.

Now that he has retired as the Hawaii men's volleyball coach, Wilton has time to surf and bike and spend time with the four of his nine grandchildren who live on Oahu. But only for a few months.




Mike Wilton


        Age: 64

Career win-loss record (30 seasons): 637-317, .668


UH win-loss record (17 seasons): 316-167, .654


Hawaii, year by year





UH career highlights


National coach of the year: 1995, 2002


All-Americans: 14


NCAA final fours: 1995, 1996, 2002


NCAA championship: 2002 (vacated for use of an ineligible player)


National players of the year: Yuval Katz (1996), Costas Theocharidis (2001, '03)




“;It's tough to leave Hawaii. We're embarking on an adventure, but this is home. I'm sure we'll be back.”;


Source: UH sports information


Several days before Wilton announced that this would be his final season with the Warriors, an unsolicited offer to assist with the Brigham Young women's team was made ... and accepted. The deciding factors were being closer to his three children and five grandchildren living on the mainland, and—of course—the chance to still be part of volleyball.

“;It's tough to leave Hawaii,”; Wilton said. “;We're embarking on an adventure. But this is home. I'm sure we'll be back.”;

The “;we”; is he and his wife of nearly 37 years, Kuulei Leialoha Wilton. The pair met outside a gym when he was playing for Church College of Hawaii (now Brigham Young-Hawaii) and she—playing for the Hawaii women's club team—was selling sweetbread to raise money to travel to the annual Haili Tournament in her hometown of Hilo.

“;There was something really special about him,”; Kuulei Wilton said. “;After Haili, we rode back on the same flight together. There was just this chemistry.

“;He knew the sport, loved the sport, and it was one of the things we've shared all this time.”;

That connection with volleyball continued to the next generation of Wiltons. Jenny captained the Rainbow Wahine's 31-1 team in 1995; son Aaron was an All-American on UH's final four teams of 1995-96; Mike Jr. played at BYU; Melissa at Utah. Only youngest daughter Eva didn't compete at the collegiate level.

The sport brought him to Hawaii in 1969 after serving in the Marine Corps, and he played and then coached at Church College. It took him and his young family to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he coached the men's team for two seasons, the women's team for 12. (His women's team ended Hawaii's 55-match Klum Gym winning streak in 1989).

It brought him Tino Reyes, first as a player at Cal Poly, then alongside Wilton on the bench at Cal Poly. They've been together at Hawaii since Wilton was hired prior to the 1993 season and Wilton hopes Reyes will be his successor.

“;Tino is the right guy for the job,”; Wilton said. “;He's his own guy with his own ideas. If he had been a yes man, I wouldn't have kept him around.”;

“;I've coached with him close to half my life,”; the 52-year-old Reyes said. “;I think he stabilized the program and was exactly what they needed at the time he was hired. The program's grown for sure during his time and, if you look at his overall time here, it was a top program.”;

Unfortunately for Wilton, it might be the last few seasons that defined his tenure in the minds of fans rather than the ride of the mid-1990s. Two consecutive years without postseason play has dimmed the memories of the two consecutive final-four appearances of 1995-96 and the rock-concert-like atmosphere in the Stan Sheriff Center.

And then there is the 2002 title Hawaii vacated after the NCAA deemed the Warriors used an ineligible player (Costas Theocharidis).

“;I'll never understand their logic on that one,”; said Wilton, who has not worn the championship ring since the day of the NCAA's decision.

Still, the successes outweigh the disappointments.

“;I'm not sad at all,”; he said. “;I feel I did the job I was hired to do, fulfilled the vision Mr. (Stan) Sheriff (the late UH athletic director) had when he hired me.

“;I'm quite confident that the Wilton family gave its all for the sport of volleyball here, either as coaches, players or cheering for both teams to win.”;

The plan had been to retire, to enjoy being “;Papa”; to his grandchildren and spend Saturdays at Little League games, as Wilton did yesterday. There would be more time to devote to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he is a high priest and president of the branch near the UH campus.

Then came the call from BYU, where he was the men's assistant in 1991 while earning his master's degree.

“;This is an exciting thing,”; he said. “;I get to be in a gym, work with young people. It's what I do.”;