Clown was no joke


POSTED: Monday, June 29, 2009

They called him Clown, but he was as serious as they got on the playing fields.

The thing about Harry “;Clown”; Kahuanui was his enthusiastic approach to being an athlete, or in just greeting people. An ambassador, an embodiment of the Aloha Spirit.

“;A very nice guy off the field,”; said Jimmy Asato, his teammate on the 1949 and 1950 University of Hawaii football teams. “;But every bit the competitor.”;

So why Clown? There are at least two stories. His daughter, Shelley, said an old teammate of Harry's told her that he was a gangly young guy whose movements were “;clown-like.”; Another tale is that Farrington High School teammates gave him the label because he could dribble with the best of them, a total crowd pleaser. And back in those days, the word clown was more associated with someone being an entertainer than a fool.

Football was where his star was brightest. Kahuanui made honorable-mention All-America as a United Press International choice at defensive end in 1949.

“;He was often the biggest guy on the field, in height (at 6-feet-4),”; Asato said. “;He wasn't the heaviest, but he wasn't too thin either, played around 190 pounds.”;

He was the first Rainbow to take part in the Shrine game, held in those days at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park. Harry played end on offense and defense with equal brilliance, Asato said. “;He was so good all-around it's hard to pick out one thing. Just a great player and a great natural athlete.”;

His football experiences under coach Tommy Kaulukukui included making the longest road trip the team had made up to 1948 when the 'Bows played Michigan State in East Lansing—a 68-21 loss, but one of just four defeats that season.

Highlights of the 1949 campaign included a road win at Denver University, 27-14, and a good showing against Fresno State at Honolulu Stadium 41-14.

In addition to basketball in the winter, Kahuanui was active at Alexander Field in the spring during the track season. In the Rainbow Relays, Harry put the shot and threw the discus and the javelin.

Harry also was a territorial Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champion during his freshman year at Manoa. This honor meant a mainland trip to the national tournament, which he could not make due to a conflict with football practice.

“;We knew he was tough,”; Asato said with a laugh. “;But we didn't know he was boxing tough.”;

After UH he served with the Marine Corps in San Diego, getting pulled out of basic training when his athletic background was discovered, so he could play on the base football and basketball teams.

Later, Harry was a teacher and a coach at several schools, mostly at Kahuku High. “;He was just Dad to me when we were growing up, never talked about what he did,”; Shelley said. “;But as I became an adult and got into coaching, almost everyone I would meet would ask if I was related to Harry. Everyone knew Clown, and I gradually learned about his playing days.”;

Harry coached girls basketball with Shelley at Punahou. “;That story goes back even farther,”; she said. “;We actually coached against each other in the girls state tournament. He won, of course.”;

As far back as she can remember, she recalls her father watching basketball games on TV with 10 coins in front of him representing the players, learning the latest tactics.

“;Even as he got older, he did that and kept up with the style of play of the day,”; Shelley said. “;He was always looking for something new.”;

Harry died in 2002 at age 74. But his sports legacy lives on. His grandson, Micah Christenson, was an all-state basketball and volleyball player as a Kamehameha sophomore this year.


Lyle Nelson is a retired Star-Bulletin reporter who covered sports in the 1950s and '60s. We reveal five more UH football greats tomorrow.