Mustang Coach: Good Soccer Players Make Good Citizens

It was the late, longtime Ohio State head football coach Woody Hayes who popularized the phrase “pay forward,” in urging his student-athletes to do for others. Kalaheo head boys soccer coach John Nakagawa identifies with those sentiments.

Since taking over the program eight years ago, he’s made a point of the Kalaheo players being active participants in the community.

“I like that one a lot,” Nakagawa said of Hayes’ refrain. “Yes, we are results-oriented, but wins and losses are not how we measure success. Are we playing with positive character, with good sportsmanship? Are we trying hard and improving as a team?

“There’s a responsibility that goes with making the team that extends far beyond the soccer field,” he added. “Our community service is more what we’re about. We insist that the boys respect the game – and not just on the playing field.”

So it was no surprise that Kalaheo began its preseason a few weeks ago by volunteering at the Kailua AYSO Sportsmanship Festival. The Mustangs’ extended family of players arrived at 7:30 a.m. to set up goals and prepare the fields for the event. Later they ran all of the youth (Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12) friendship soccer games. The boys also refereed all of them, served as ball boys, and supported each team by getting the players ready for their games. At the end, they took apart all the goals, put away equipment and cleaned up the fields.

“The boys really enjoyed it and, to me, the event is always a highlight for us,”

Nakagawa said. “They got a lot of fantastic feedback from the coaches, parents, youth soccer players and Kailua AYSO board members. This really boosted our team pride and team spirit. An added benefit is the team’s bonding in bringing them together.

“Most of them – if not all (had played in AYSO themselves). It’s a way of giving back to their roots, and they laugh and remember when they were that small. This connects them with their community and makes it real for them.”

Hopes are high once again for the Mustangs and Nakagawa. Kalaheo will participate in Division II this year once the post-season arrives, but for the regular season, the OIA format will enable the Mustangs to play every team once in the East regardless of having moved down a level.

“Our primary goal is to get back to the Red (Division I) as soon as we can. We’re looking to be competitive with every team that we play. We have a real positive and cohesive group this year and a good balance of under- and upperclassmen.”

The Mustangs have 10 seniors, eight juniors, seven sophomores and three freshmen on their roster.

Kalaheo opens its OIA slate today (Dec. 5) in a key road game at Kaiser and will play its home opener Saturday versus rival Kailua.

“It’s a fun game for the kids,” Nakagawa said of that matchup. “They’ve played together in AYSO and Club, so there are a lot of friendships between Kalaheo and Kailua (players). They always look forward to it.”