State champ football coaches come from 1 team

Iolani coach Wendell Look is among the top of Hawaii's career wins list. Dennis Oda / Star-Advertiser
Iolani coach Wendell Look is among the top of Hawaii’s career wins list. Dennis Oda / Star-Advertiser

Rod York looked like he wanted to get out on the field right now, and coach, or, maybe even play.

He was jonesing for football, but instead was at the head table as a guest speaker for a gathering of ‘Iolani alumni and other special guests on Tuesday.

The crowd at the Hukilau Honolulu Executive Center was mostly male, mostly sports-oriented, and most — it appeared — had a good time listening to the two reigning state championship football coaches.

York, a 1991 ‘Iolani graduate, and his Mililani Trojans broke through for the school’s first Division I championship in November.

He was seated next to one of his mentors, the 24-year veteran head coach of the ‘Iolani Raiders, Wendell Look, whose teams have won eight D-II state titles in the last 10 seasons.

Mililani coach Rod York is fresh off the school's first state title. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser
Mililani coach Rod York is fresh off the school’s first state title. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser

Of course, there was talk of the “one-team” ethic that was initially installed in the Raiders’ sports programs under the revered Father Bray and then handed down by Eddie Hamada and now Look.

York took a detour out west, but he talked about how he brought a lot of the ‘Iolani values with him.

He mentioned running back Vavae Malepeai, a Division I prospect, who, York said, gets people telling him how great he is wherever he goes.

“I told him he was great because he is great, and he is a great kid, the kind of kid you would want your daughter to date,” York said. “But I said, ‘You’re not that great. Great is making others great. Great is helping the third-string players get better. ’ ”

York said that he relies on seven to eight of his players to be the leaders each year, and now he believes Malepeai, who will be a senior, will step into that role.

The team philosophy. There is an I in ‘Iolani, but there is no I in ‘Iolani’s teams.

As mentioned a bit earlier, while he was speaking, York wondered out loud a few times what he was doing speaking when he’d rather be coaching on the field. He just can’t wait for next season to start.

York and Look got plenty of laughs, and the locker-room sarcasm was flowing.

Yet, despite the laughter, York’s voice cracked while being swept up in emotion about all of the people in the room that helped him achieve success. One time, he lowered his sunglasses to his eyes to hide tears.

“There is no better school than ‘Iolani,” he said.

One thing York said he learned from Look, who was an assistant during York’s playing days, was how to keep everyone — coaches, players, parents, team moms — on the same page.

“When I first became a head coach, I came to Wendell and asked for his advice,” York said. “I thought it was going to be X’s and O’s. The first thing he showed me was a long table, and then he asked, ‘When do you meet?’ ”

York said he gave puzzled look and repeated the question, “When do we meet?”

It was a reminder that communication is key among all the people connected with the program. One team.

Look said that if the school decides to not appeal an ILH rule that has the Raiders moving up to Division I, then he will present it as a “challenge” to his undersized team.

Kiddingly, or seriously, York told Look that all he needs to do to beat ILH powerhouses Punahou, Saint Louis and Kamehameha is to get three big offensive linemen.

“Three. Four would be unfair,” he said.

York is not the first to branch out from ‘Iolani to coach football at other Oahu schools. The list, provided by the HHSAA’s Wes Nakama (a former Honolulu Advertiser sportswriter who was the moderator of Tuesday’s Hukilau event), is long —— Masa Yonamine (Waipahu, 1954 to ’70), Joe Kahahawai (Kailua, 1959 to ’64, and ’71 to ’79), Larry Ginoza (Waianae, 1965 to ’84) and Charlie Kaaihue (McKinley, 1988 to ’90), Hugh Yoshida (Leilehua, 1970 to ’86), Keith Morioka (Waipahu 1978 to ’84), Cass Ishitani (Leilehua, 1995 to ’01) and Dean Nakagawa (Damien, 2002 to present).

Which brings us to the unsaid, yet, present feeling swirling among the ‘Iolani faithful at this talk story session.

Will York someday succeed Look?

You never know.


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