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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Thursday, June 8, 2000

Yanagisawa leaves
us quietly

MACKAY Yanagisawa was known as Hawaii's "Shogun of Sports."

I ought to know. That was the nickname I gave him when he was a man of all seasons, a powerful figure in local sports.

Like a shogun, Mackay once commanded the attention of everyone -- community leaders, politicians and prominent college football coaches.

That's what happens when you establish the Hula Bowl, also start up the Aloha Bowl and help get the Pro Bowl rolling. All while managing first, Honolulu Stadium, and then Aloha Stadium when it opened in 1975.

Mackay died last Tuesday at the age of 87 after battling heart problems, failing eyesight and pneumonia the last several years.

His funeral service yesterday morning at Hosoi Mortuary was attended by only Ellen, his wife of 62 years, relatives and several members of his Hula Bowl committee.

It was a fitting farewell to a quiet, humble man.

There could have been thousands at the service, more than anxious to pay their final respects to a man who did so much to bring big-time sports to the islands.

Ellen, however, said she respected her husband's wishes. Yesterday's simple Buddhist ceremony was conducted with quiet dignity and solemnity.

One without any fanfare.

Which seems a startling contrast in view of all that he had accomplished over the years as a promoter, executive and sports pioneer.

After all, for Mackay, promoting huge crowds was what his life was all about.

And he could get riled up, no question, if things didn't go quite his way. But he had all the political savvy to get things done, either with a little forceful persuasion or charm.

He was on a first-name basis with all of the leading football coaches back in the 1960s and 1970s when the Hula Bowl was the postseason all-star college game.

Of course, maybe it was because they couldn't pronounce his last name. But he always had an open pipeline to them.

The secret why, he once told me, is to get to know their secretaries.

Mackay would make it a point of knowing them by their first names and always sending them flowers and macadamia nut candies.

It's surprising how many messages are quickly returned or meetings broken into because, "Mackay's on the phone from Hawaii."

MACKAY had always been a sports fan first.

He went into the promoting business because his dream was to bring the New York Yankees to town. Which he did.

In 1947 he founded the Hula Bowl because he wanted to bring fans to the old stadium in Moiliili as its manager. He kept his baby alive by mortgaging his home until TV revenue took care of some bills.

Mackay, his good friend and golfing buddy Buster McGuire and Frank Valenti helped to persuade the NFL that Hawaii would be a good home for the Pro Bowl, which it has been since 1980.

The three can now huddle together with that Great Scorekeeper in the Sky.

As if that weren't enough, two years later Mackay thought up the Aloha Bowl, in great part because he was such a huge Notre Dame fan and wanted to see the Fighting Irish play in Hawaii.

In 1987, Mackay was inducted into the UH Circle of Honor. Ten years later, he was named to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

Mackay might have left us quietly. But he left a big imprint in sports in Hawaii.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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