Kamehameha-Hawaii’s Keith Laeha broke new ground for Hawaii wrestling on the national stagee recently.
He was named the National Wrestling Coaches Association assistant coach of the year, the first time an honor has been bestowed upon someone from Hawaii.
“Keith was recognized for his (more than) 40 years of service and dedication to the sport,” said Alfred Torres, a Radford wrestling coach who once coached Laeha at Kamehameha. “I’m very proud to say Keith is a former wrestler of mine.”
Laeha started wrestling in eighth grade and began coaching at his alma mater soon after his graduation from Kamehameha in 1977. He was an ILH champion and placed fourth at states.
Before being national assistant coach of the year, Laeha won the honor at the state and regional level.
“It kept progressing and I was in shock every time,” Laeha said Tuesday. “Honestly, I don’t know what I did. Somebody put my name in and they voted on it.
“I always try to keep it about the kids, and it’s not necessarily about being a winner and getting your hand raised. It’s more about what you get in life. Teaching kids how to succeed in life.”
Laeha coached at Kamehameha until 1986 (including a year off in the early ’80s). He went on to be an assistant coach at various schools, including Honokaa, Waiakea and Hilo while employed as a firefighter on the Big Isle. At times, he has also served as head coach at Hilo, Waiakea and Kamehameha-Hawaii.
“I like being an assistant,” he said. “Less headaches, less pressure, less paperwork.
“I am very honored and humbled by this award. There are so many other coaches out there who can list a whole lot of things they’ve done. I don’t know what to say.”
Kamehameha-Hawaii head coach Carey Masuko (who was one of Laeha’s wrestlers at Kamehameha) called Laeha and asked for his help to start the Warriors’ wrestling program when the school opened in 2001.
“That’s one of the great things about coaching,” Laeha said. “When they come back as adults and relate their story to you and say things like, ‘If it wasn’t for the program and coming through wrestling, life would have been a lot different.’ Some have told me they stopped doing drugs because of wrestling. They say that having done wrestling, everything else seems easy and they’re not afraid to take challenges in life.”