Punahou Division II head coach Gary Pacarro, right, coaches with his father Clarence, center, and brother Cole, left.

Learning from the Game

The Pacarro family of coaches
uses basketball to teach life’s
lessons of teamwork and humility

Colin Pacarro easily recalls when his experience in coaching basketball began.

He was in the fifth grade and a player on a youth-league team, and his father, Clarence -- the real coach -- couldn't make it for the start of practice because of work.

Family Tree Logo "Dad told me, 'I can't get there until this time,' " Colin, now 41, explained. "So I had to start the drills, lead everyone through them."

That Colin, his two older brothers and his older sister played the game and understood it well was very important for Clarence Pacarro. That's because in the Pacarro family, basketball has never been just a game.

It's been a tool to teach life skills like teamwork and humility. Basketball has been a way to build character and drive home his most important point: To become good at anything, you have to practice hard and often.

"All of them played basketball," said Clarence, an all-state player at Farrington High School in the late '40s and a coach ever since his playing days ended. "I told them that they didn't have to like it, but they had to learn how this game (works)."

Clarence, now 75, has an infectious smile and chuckle. He's soft-spoken but has always been a successful teacher. His kids learned the game of basketball -- and, just like he did, even came to love it.

The eldest, Gary, has been the head coach of Punahou's Division II boys team the past eight years. With his father and Colin -- the youngest -- also working his bench as assistants the last two, Gary has led the Buffanblu to back-to-back undefeated seasons and Interscholastic League of Honolulu D-II titles -- the most recent with a convincing win over Word of Life in the league championship last Thursday.

"The sport of basketball within our family -- it has always been a part of our life," Gary, 52, said. "Dad has always been a coach -- and will always be one. I will always keep him on my right side on the bench as long as he lives."

Gary calls his father "the wizard of the Pacarro legacy in coaching." That legacy began with helping disadvantaged kids at Kalakaua Gym right after his own playing career and grew in the '50s while Clarence was a volunteer coach at Mid-Pacific Institute. It continued after at -- among other places -- Punahou, where Gary played and Clarence served as an assistant coach on the 1970 team that won the first of the school's state basketball championships.

The legacy also includes Clarence's younger brother Harry, whom Clarence helped as an assistant throughout Harry's tenure as head basketball coach at Farrington during the '80s and early '90s, and Harry's two sons, who also turned to coaching. It includes Clarence's daughter, Julie, a former basketball coach who now coaches volleyball on the mainland.

And it has even spread to the next generation: Granddaughter Noel -- Gary's daughter -- now coaches water polo, and granddaughter Brittany -- Colin's eldest -- recently wrote a school paper on her desire to become a coach like her dad and grandfather.

So it was a natural fit when Colin -- also known as Cole -- returned to Hawaii from the mainland two years ago with his family and joined his father and brother on the Buffanblu bench. And Punahou has not lost a single game since.

"Our roles are very interesting," Gary said. "Cole has worked hard to become a person that looks at all the small details, the things the kids are doing that we can tweak, especially during game time. I look at the game from a more 'macro' level. Clarence -- 'Grandpa' is what we all call him -- is the shot doctor. Whether an elbow is out of place, or the arc on the shot -- he picks the kids' shots apart to make sure they're fundamentally tight on all aspects.

"It's a real team effort. I make the final decision, but it's not without input from both of them and my other assistants. ... It works. Especially since we always try to have all the kids play."

While Gary believes his youngest brother can effectively lead his own team, Colin said that he plans to stay with Gary and their father at Punahou as long as the school wants them.

The family gets together at Gary's house each Sunday for dinner. They try not to get into the Xs and Os of basketball, but it's not easy when even Grandma Pacarro has gone to all of the games and knows as much about hoops as anyone.

Sure, the Pacarros have enjoyed successful lives outside the game. But they also attribute much of this to Grandpa and the lessons gleaned on the hardwood.

A patriarch and architect, Clarence Pacarro remembers all 60-some of his years in basketball clearly and fondly. But he immediately chokes up when asked about the last two in particular: being able to turn to his right and see Colin now protecting the far end of the Punahou bench while he sits at Gary's side on the other; having grandchildren who aspire to help others as he always has.

"I'm so proud. It gives me tears in my eyes," Clarence said. "Basketball, it's very special. And getting kids going, that's our life."


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