he beauty of life is in its unexpectedness. The surprises, sometimes good, sometimes bad, that are encountered along the way.
It is the same with sports where even the heavily favored can be upset, the outcome in doubt until the final second, the final play, the final out.
That is the beauty, the unpredictability, the must-read-until-the-final-page mystery. It’s why athletes play, it’s why coaches coach.
It’s who Dave Shoji has been for most of his 70 years. An athlete. A coach. A lover of sports and sportsmanship. A fan.
After 42 years in a job he never expected to turn into a career, Shoji is getting used to a new title: former Hawaii women’s volleyball coach. He officially retired on May 1, turned in the keys to the office, turned in the school-issued car and cell phone, and cleaned out his office and his locker.
“It wasn’t difficult but it’s something I never had to do before,” Shoji said. “It’s not weird. We’ve anticipated this and I’m ready for it. It’s time.
“I have no immediate plans to do anything on a regular basis except to golf, get in the water, see the grandkids and try to follow the boys wherever they are.”
Which means that the former All-America setter at UC Santa Barbara won’t be far from the sport that has defined him and that he has defined. “The boys” — sons Kawika and Erik — are here for tonight’s “Aloha Ball” retirement party at the Stan Sheriff Center, taking a break from the U.S. men’s national volleyball team before heading to Serbia for next month’s FIVB World League opening round.
Shoji and wife Mary followed their sons to Rio de Janeiro, where the U.S. took bronze at last summer’s Olympics. Erik, considered one of the top liberos in the world, and Kawika, a reserve setter, are playing professionally in Russia and eyeing the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
Retirement now equals freedom, something Dave Shoji has rarely known in his life, where the calendar had two seasons: playing and getting ready to play.
“The job really ties you down,” he said. “There’s certain parts of the year where there are no days off, no weeks off.
“There were huge challenges in the job but that’s also part of what was enjoyable. You want something challenging. Now that it’s over, it’s a big load off your shoulders. That’s the good thing about retirement. You don’t have the every day, every hour kind of responsibility, the phone calls about players and staff. That’s nice not to have.”
More than anything, what’s nice not to have are the immediate health concerns. His prostate cancer diagnosis last fall was sobering for someone as active as he.
“The treatments went well, didn’t have too many side effects,” he said. “I felt good during the treatments, feel even better now that they’ve stopped. I still have doctors to see and evaluations to be made but I’m OK.”
It was a matter of faith that things would be all right.
“It was something I gave over to God,” he said. “It’s been a big part of the recovery. Ultimately, it’s in God’s hands. Whatever happens is going to happen. You have to have a good outlook.”
There’s also been time to look back, not with regret but with appreciation.
“I really don’t have any regrets, the job has been more than I ever could have expected,” he said. “I can’t think of a better life I could have had.
“Of course, you think about the games you could have, maybe should have, won. There’s a lot of tough losses and you remember those as much as the ones you won.”
The four banners that hang in the Stan Sheriff Center are as much of a reminder of that as are Shoji’s children. Daughter Cobey was born in 1979, the year of Hawaii’s first national championship (AIAW), and son Kawika born some five weeks before what would be Hawaii’s last in 1987 (NCAA).
Then there’s Erik, born a week before the 1989 season started, a season that ended with one of Dave Shoji’s “most devastating losses,” he said. Early on, Erik Shoji would look up at the Sheriff Center rafters and wonder where “his banner” was.
It’s hanging in The Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State.
The 49ers upset the Wahine in five in the regional final played at Pacific, then spoiled what was supposed to be Hawaii’s early Christmas present when winning the NCAA championship at Blaisdell Arena, the first time UH hosted the final four.
“That loss to Long Beach State was devastating,” Shoji said. “The loss to Michigan State (1995 regional final) probably was the toughest. We were undefeated, up 2-0 at home, points away from the final four.
“The final four is the goal and once you get there you can think about winning. But you can’t think about it unless you get there. The losses that hurt the most are the ones in the regional finals, because you’re so close. Even when we lost in the national championship game it wasn’t a negative because there’s nothing negative about losing in the championship game.”
Shoji’s legacy will live beyond the four championships, the 1,202 victories, All-Americans, the players who are now coaches, of being the first revenue-producing women’s volleyball program. Through 42 seasons, Hawaii volleyball was always relevant nationally and revered locally.
“Elsewhere, you play for your school, for yourself, your parents,” he said. “It’s little different here, where you play for a lot more.
“I think that’s the legacy. It grew into something that no one could imagine.”