LAHAINA - Lahainaluna High School football coach Bobby Watson is a man who likes the public spotlight on him the same way the rest of us feel about the blue light heat of police cruisers pulling us over in a traffic stop. He's the type of guy who would dedicate his adult life to the character development of our youth, then sneak out the back gate of the stadium without any fanfare, without giving us the opportunity to say thank you for all he's done.
And so, as it is no secret that Coach Watson, having coached Lahainaluna football for 31 years now - the last 22 as the head coach - has been grooming Garret Tihada to take over the program, we would like to take this opportunity to honor him - before he pulls a trick play on us and retires without giving us a chance to express our gratitude to him - as the Lahaina News' "Sportsman of the Year" for 2011.
Coach Watson's contributions go way beyond the ten Maui Interscholastic League championships and the unforgettable runs those teams made in the state championship playoffs that went with those titles. No, this recognition is not solely for his tireless effort - including yearly trips to coaching clinics on the Mainland - to continuing the winning tradition of championship football at Lahainaluna. It is not only for developing the stalwart defenses that have dominated the MIL during his tenure or the special teams strategies that helped the Lunas win.
Coach Bobby Watson addresses the team after practice last fall. Photo by Kaua “Toots” Arcangel.
No, it's not the Xs and Os of coaching football that make Bobby Watson a special person in our community. It is his insistence on carrying on the time-forged integrity of the program laid down by his predecessors at the helm at Lahainaluna, including Lanny Tihada, Henry "Bruno" Ariyoshi and Norman Oda, that is important. It is his firm hand on the discipline and sportsmanship, his demanding of commitment, teamwork and sacrifice for the program that has fortified the tradition and honor of Luna football.
At Lahainaluna, no individual player or position receives special attention, and the only statistic that matters to the coaching staff is the number of "Ws" at the end of the season.
If you don't practice during the week, you don't play in the game - it's as simple as that. And the focus on the field is always directed toward making the team better.
Lahainaluna coaches do not tolerate unsportsmanlike conduct such as taunting or cheap shots. There are no raucous victory celebrations for the Lunas after big wins, because, as Coach puts it, "How would you feel if you were the other team right now?"
He demands a total commitment to team ethics and sportsmanship and strives to develop passion and poise under fire in his players.
Make no mistake, not all of the teenage boys that play football at Lahainaluna buy into the system, but for those who do, the rewards are life-lasting.
The three sons of Stacy and Randy Casco - Kawika, Kainoa and Lake - were all Luna team captains of championship teams and all went on to college to earn degrees.
Ikaika Neizman was another stalwart leader of a championship team that went on to a college career and a degree. Blaze and Chase Rogers the same. And my wife and I have no doubts about the influence of Lahainaluna football under Coach Watson for our sons, Carson and George, who have gone on to a college degree and military service with the Coast Guard, respectively.
The Lahaina News, TS Restaurants and the West Side community at large extend a heartfelt thank you to Coach for all he's done.
Dickie Moon, executive vice president of TS Restaurants, who has supported this award since its inception five years ago, said, "The West Maui community is extremely thankful to the dedicated leaders of our youth like Bobby Watson.
"Their contribution to the betterment of our kids, and of society in general, is immeasurable, and we are thrilled to be able to help recognize them in this way."