Star-Bulletin Sports

Sunday, January 13, 2002


The Wilton family has embraced the sport of volleyball. Mike, the family's patriarch, is the University of Hawaii's men's volleyball coach. In the back row from left to right: Mike Jr., Harold Cabbab (Jenny's husband), Mike Sr., Eva, baby Kailani and Kanai Thiim (Eva's husband). In the third row: Melissa Wilton. In the second: Jenny, Ku'ulei and Aaron. In the front: Taylor and Jayden.

Volleyball weaves the
Wiltons together

By Grace Wen

Mike Wilton didn't intend for volleyball to be the family sport, but it almost seemed like the five Wilton children were destined for it.

After all, one of the first dates that the Warrior coach and his wife, Ku'ulei, had was at Klum Gym playing volleyball.

They met at a volleyball tournament where Ku'ulei was selling sweet bread to raise funds for the Hawaii volleyball team, a club team in its first year (1972) at the university.

Wilton didn't buy any bread, but a mutual friend formally introduced the two of them later that night and they hit it off. Thirty years later, there are enough members of the Wilton clan to field their own team if they want.

"That wasn't what we were thinking," said Wilton, chuckling in response to the suggestion. "I never would have guessed that would have happened, but it's been good. Volleyball is a wonderful game. People can play it at one level or another as long as they want to."

Mike and Ku'ulei decided early on that they wouldn't push their kids too hard to play. They wanted to encourage them to do well in school and to take part in "wholesome" activities.

It just happened that they all took to the same sport. That's what happens when you've been around the sport your whole life.

Their eldest daughter, Jenny, 28, paved the way. She played for Hawaii and was team captain her senior year (1995), when she earned second team Big West conference honors.

Jenny is married to former Hawaii baseball player Harold Cabbab and has two children, 5-year old Taylor and 2-year old Jayden. She's still involved in volleyball, coaching at Pearl City High School with former teammate Stephanie Shota.

Aaron, 27, was a Rainbow from 1994-1997 and earned second team All-American recognition in 1996. He is in his second year as an assistant coach with the Warriors.

Mike Jr., 23, is playing at BYU. Eva, 21, played at Roosevelt High School and Melissa, the youngest at 18, just finished her first year playing for Utah State.

"I've coached the whole time that they've been alive," Wilton said. "They were brought to the gym for like baby-sitting or something. I don't know what it was, but they were there and I can remember them always being in the corner and playing with volleyballs.

"I can remember Aaron as a little tiny tyke -- he could walk of course -- taught himself how to dive by seeing players dive."

Aaron might have taught himself to dive, but he almost didn't play volleyball. There weren't many opportunities for boys to play volleyball in San Luis Obispo, the Wilton home for 12 years when Mike Sr. coached at Cal Poly SLO.

"I never would have played if we hadn't moved to Hawaii," Aaron said. "Where I grew up in California there's no boys volleyball. They thought it was a girls sport. I never really took to it.

"In high school he (Mike Sr.) wanted me to try out more than I wanted to. We had just transferred to Hilo. It was my first year there and I guess I was scared to go and tryout with a bunch of people I'd never seen before in my life.

"I grew up around volleyball, touching volleyballs, but I never played at a competitive level on a team. That was a whole new thing for me. I guess at this point in time, I'd have to say thanks for him gently forcing me in to try out when I didn't have the faith to do it."

None of the other kids had to be nudged and they all kept Ku'ulei busy between games, tournaments and club ball activities for Jenny and Melissa.

She never missed a game unless there were two matches going at the same time. It was a hectic time, but she loved it.

"It's because I enjoy volleyball," Ku'ulei said. "I played it, so I know the game. I just enjoy watching my children and seeing how they develop. They like the feedback from mom because I have the knowledge."

Having both parents as resources made it hard to steer the family conversation away from volleyball.

With everyone involved in some capacity, talks at home would inevitably end up on volleyball whether it was Hawaii's next opponent or information the children wanted on how they played.

"The whole time I've been married I tried my very best to leave work at work," Wilton said. "It was something I would never try to do at home. (But) if they wanted to talk about it, we would."

And the talking usually happened on Sundays. With everyone scattered about in their various activities during the week, Sundays were the days the Wilton family gathered to go to church, share a few meals and just spend some time together.

Four of the five kids are no longer at home, leaving an empty nest feeling, but the Wiltons' four grandchildren are helping to fill the void.

"Church is still a very important part of our lives with Mike and I and a couple of the children," Ku'ulei said. "It used to be when everyone was home Sunday was just the family day. We'd spend time together, whether it would be meals or just getting together. It's the family time together.

"We still try to do it that way with the grandchildren now, but not everybody is here and not everyone will be at those Sunday afternoons at mom and dad's."

E-mail to Sports Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin