The Folks You’d Meet At Central YMCA

“And now the end is near and so I face the final curtain …”

The lyrics of that Frank Sinatra classic My Waycertainly weighed heavily on the minds of members of Central YMCA on Atkinson Drive as Feb. 28 approached. On that date, the venerable 64-year-old fitness and recreation center would cease to exist because the property had been sold to pave the way for another high rise at Ala Moana.

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Leo ‘Miracle' Reed PHOTO COURTESY LEO REED

Most, if not all, of its members were sad to see this happen. We were even willing to overlook necessary improvements and maintenance to the building being largely ignored and deferred as a result of the pending sale.

For 87-year-old Turk Masuda, one of the original members of the Y when it opened in 1951, there would no longer be a place where he could begin his jogs around Ala Moana Park. Only two years ago, he gave up his regular doubles racquetball games because of his inability to find a regular foursome. Imagine yourself playing at that age! When asked what’s next, the Waialae-Kahala resident retorted, “I’ll just run around my neighborhood.”

What made the Y such an interesting place to exercise was that it was known as the repository for the latest scoops and rumors floating around our community. Folks who came to the Y hailed from all walks of life and represented all types of professions and every neighborhood, from Hawaii Kai to Waianae. It was affordable, accessible and a fun place to develop some interesting friendships and alliances. I became an avid gym rat by piggybacking (freeloading would probably be a more apt description ) off my brother Nephi’s membership, then gradually transitioned from ballin’to racquetball as the exercise of choice as I got older. The Y also was a very popular place for the women and men in blue, and also a training ground for the guys from the “other side of the street.” Countless tales are told of leads and tips that were exchanged in the cozy confines of the steam room and sauna that helped solve criminal cases that were unsolved for years.

Central Y was a prime gathering place for professional athletes and serious college and high school jocks and their female counterparts to exercise, stay fit and prepare for the upcoming season. I recall seeing legendary Wilt Chamberlain engage in some serious racquet-ball matches, as the Y was a stone’s throw away from his Wailana penthouse.

And then there was former Y executive director Woody Cox, a star receiver opposite Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers on those vaunted Nebraska Cornhusker football teams, who led the most strenuous aerobic exercise classes imaginable. The classes started out with a huge following among the female members but once the guys saw it as an opportunity to check out beautiful ladies, it quickly became the most popular exercise program.

The added bonus was that Cox would take the endurance and stress levels up a few notches as the classes got larger and added music that was used for dancing at the Point After and Bobby McGees.

On Feb. 27, an old-fashioned potluck farewell party was held at the Sam’s Landing area of the Y. This special place is affectionately named after the late Sam Koanui, a City and County of Honolulu refuse worker dubbed the Father of Racquetball because of his mastery of the game and the numerous protégés he tutored through the years.

Thanks to racquetball ace and businessman Al Serafin, a loosely put-together committee was formed to stage the event and the coconut wireless got the word out.

Serafin, who has been a member since 1985 and has assumed Koanui’s role of mentoring younger players, says, “Such a gathering was necessary to bring together retirees, former members and ongoing members and the younger age groups to allow them to fellowship, talk story and exchange memories one last time.”

Holding sway that day was former HPD officer and Honolulu socialite Manny Rezentes. If an award were given for a Central Y MVP, the Kaimuki graduate would win hands down. The athletically gifted Rezentes took full advantage of his membership by participating and excelling in almost every activity the Y offered, including teaching Wilt the Stilt the game of racquetball. Also, the three-point shot should be named after him because he was making baskets from way beyond the arc long before the NBA officially made it part of Dr. Naismith’s invention.

“Man,” as he is called by friends and loved ones, had the tale of the day as he re-created, in his inimitable way, an act that will go down in YMCA folklore. The story revolved around a skills competition he had in his 20s with another superstar athlete of yesteryear, Leo Reed. They were the same age, and were police officers who decided one afternoon to have a skills competition for bragging rights. They ran five miles, lifted weights (Manny bench-pressed 400 pounds, Leo 500 pounds), played one-on-one basketball and then saved the hardest competition for last. “Man” challenged the muscular, 6-foot-4, 255 pound Reed, who has the distinction of being the first Kahuku graduate to play in the NFL or CFL, and to make a basket not from half court, but from full court! Reed, never one to back down from a challenge, smoothly banked it in as if it were always part of his shooting repertoire.

Then, to prove that it was no fluke, Leo made sure there was another eyewitness account of his miraculous shooting by doing a “hana hou” in front of another Y member, the late Duke Tomimatsu, who fell to the floor when he saw the ball swish through the net.

Incidentally, Rezentes, now 75, the night before texted Reed, currently retired in Southern California after a distinguished executive career with the Teamsters, that he was sharing his incredible feat at an HPD retirees bash with some former colleagues. Manny says, “You’ll never believe what he texted back: ‘Watch your diet, exercise regularly — I need you around.'” No doubt to keep the story of the Legend of Laie hoopin’ at the Y alive!

There never will be another Central YMCA, even with a promise that a sleeker, modern replacement facility is in the works to bring us all back in a couple of years. As one dedicated Y staff member reminded me as I packed up my belongings and gear from my locker, “I know you are moving over to the Nuuanu Y, but don’t suspend your membership here cuz we’ll be back with a spanking new facility.” All that did was remind me of the popular slogan of a drive-in in Kalihi, where we loved to hang out as teenagers, that I have always remembered, “Often imitated but never duplicated!” That’s a sentiment I’m sure is shared and embedded in every diehard member of Central YMCA.

mufi@mufihannemann.com