Retiring Okita Looks Back On Softball
Howard Okita’s coaching career spans 50 years and includes 729 wins at Hawaii Pacific University alone. But what means most to him are the countless students he helped to earn a college degree via softball.
“The last count was close to 100 kids,” said Okita. “That’s the biggest reward in coaching. A lot of the Mainland colleges don’t know about our kids, so seeing the local kids be able to get an education here and play college softball is a big reward.”
Okita recently wrapped up his 25th and final season at HPU as one of the most decorated sports figures in its proud athletic history.
“”I’ve been fortunate to have great kids, and a program can only be as good as its assistant coaching staff,” said Okita, who also won five state titles at Kailua High. “We’ve always had an outstanding coaching staff. My time had to come at some time, and now is the best time. It’s been a good long run.”
Among his legacies will be that of program-builder. After establishing a stellar Kailua High program in the late ’70s (not long after softball became an OIA-sanctioned sport), he was sought out by then-Hawaii Loa athletic director Albert Minn, who had brought Okita on as head Kailua coach when he was principal there. “He bugged me for four or five years,” Okita said of Minn. “I told him, ‘Build me a softball field.’ Finally, in 1987, I gave in, and we played our games at Keolu (Park).”
In 1991, Hawaii Loa won the NAIA national title despite having just 12 players. Eleven of them were Hawaii-born kids. “We’d never played a road game,” Okita recalled. “We went to Missouri and were there for three weeks. Our only supporters were my wife and another parent. We missed our rice a lot, but the kids did real well there.”
A year later Hawaii Loa and HPU merged, and Okita and current Sea Warrior head coach Bryan Nakasone spent a year as assistants before taking over the program themselves. It has continued to blossom, highlighted by a Division II national title in 2010.
“I never had visions of winning a national championship, but the Hawaii kids are very athletic, and it was just a matter of time till they picked it up.”
HPU’s softball field was named for Okita, who over-saw its construction with the support of then-HPU president Chatt Wright. “He gave us $10,000 to finish off the field we had started. The school always has been very supportive of me and the program.” Okita was inducted into the HPU Sports Hall of Fame last fall.
When HPU wrapped up its recent road trip, he stayed behind in California so he could watch grandson Kale Sumner play on the HPU baseball team. Sumner has been one of the PacWest’s top players since he arrived at HPU.