Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Monday, April 12, 1999

Okita works more
magic at HPU

THE Norfolk pines are growing taller and stronger as they embrace the outfield of the Hawaii Pacific softball field. The view from home plate is of the Koolau mountains; the view from the hill behind home plate is of a manicured lawn wearing cinder-colored nail polish in the shape of a diamond.

Tucked away in a corner of the former Hawaii Loa campus is one of the prettiest ballparks on Oahu. It receives its daily blessing of rain and, almost as often, a victory shower for the Sea Warrior softball team.

HPU won its 13th and 14th games yesterday, improving to 31-2-2. The victories capped a perfect day for the Sea Warriors' coach, Howard Okita.

Before yesterday's first pitch, Okita received an etched-glass trophy, commemorating his 200th career victory at HPU. That milestone occured back on March 23; his record total has since increased to 212 (against just 60 losses) in his sixth season.

Okita's numbers are even more impressive when adding the 125 wins and an NAIA softball title while at Hawaii Loa, and the 181 victories and six state softball titles as coach of Kailua High. This by a man who first got into coaching in 1963 as a favor to a neighbor who needed help with his son's T-ball team in the Kailua American Little League.

"Then we moved up to the minor level then the major level," said Okita. "I think that's my favorite age-group, the majors (11-12). At that stage they still want to learn baseball."

Okita took two teams to the Little League western regional in California, including the one led by former major league pitcher Sid Fernandez in 1975 that lost in the regional final.

"I just remember playing in front of 10,000 people, more than even the Hawaii Islanders were drawing," Okita said, referring to Hawaii's defunct Triple-A franchise.

Those tournament lights still beckon. Okita is hoping his Sea Warriors will make it to the Division II World Series in their first year of competition after moving up from the NAIA level.

"We're still trying to get the recognition for Hawaii," said Okita. "Hawaii-Hilo's been at Division II for a few years already, had good teams, but hasn't gone.

"We're hoping to break in this year. Being ranked in the region (No. 2) is a good sign. As I tell our girls, as long as we keep on winning, they can't take anything away from us."

Okita said he'll keep coaching as long as it's enjoyable. Every year, there's a new group of freshmen with stars in their eyes and a group of seniors with diplomas in their hands.

"The most satisfying part, the reward, is seeing the girls graduate," said Okita. Of his seven seniors, two are playing as graduate students and the remaining five will graduate this year.

"This is his love," said Nina Okita, the coach's wife of nearly 40 years. "He's happy doing this, and what more can you ask?"

The Okitas have five grandchildren. Kele Sumner, 7, is already making a name for himself; he homered over the temporary fence at Enchanted Lake field recently and "He's going to be quite a player," said Howard Okita.

Homers run in Okita's extended family. One of his former T-ball players is Harris Matsushima, whose daughter is the only girl currently playing at the major level of Kailua American.

On April 3, Gail Matsushima --a pitcher and outfielder for the Rangers -- hit a grand slam over the centerfield fence at Keolu field, a first in league history.

"I was kind of stunned," said the Keolu School sixth grader.

So were some young male egos.

Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.

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