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10 WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE
#5 ROCKNE FREITAS


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Freitas greased skids for UH sports to switch conferences

By Ferd Lewis

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:03 a.m. HST, Dec 27, 2010


When the University of Hawaii merged two vice presidential posts this summer, Rockne Freitas, the man who landed in the just-created position of vice president for student affairs and university and community relations and special projects for the UH system, shook his head.

"I'm not sure what that means," Freitas said of his 28-syllable job title.

What it meant for the 6-foot-6, 270-pound former Pro Bowl performer was that he would call upon 11 years of experience as an NFL offensive tackle and help open the way for the Warriors' biggest conference move in more than 30 years: entrance to the Mountain West Conference.

"All his life he has been blocking for others for the good of the team," said UH President M.R.C. Greenwood. "He plays any role that we need him to play. For this assignment, he was my designated leader to frame and clear a path to make this happen."

Freitas used his knowledge of intercollegiate athletics, UH background and ties with Nevada-Las Vegas President Neal Smatresk to assist in brokering a deal that will put the Warriors football team in the MWC in 2012 and most of its other teams in the Big West Conference.

After months of anxiety about the future of the state's only major college athletic program amid the suddenly changing national landscape and breakup of the Western Athletic Conference, UH's Christmas-wish scenario was announced Dec. 10 with much fanfare.

UH will rejoin former rivals Air Force, Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State and Wyoming, plus fellow WAC defectors Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada, in the new-look Mountain West.

UH had faced the prospect of remaining in a watered-down WAC minus Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada and with newcomers Texas State, Denver and Texas-San Antonio — or attempting to make a go of it as an independent.

Athletic Director Jim Donovan had gotten the ball rolling with the MWC in August and built a foundation with the Big West. Then, Greenwood and Board of Regents Chairman Howard Karr summoned Freitas from the sidelines to be a special envoy.

THEY MADE A DIFFERENCE

Every day through year's end, the Star-Advertiser will recognize people who changed Hawaii in 2010. Some are familiar names; others shunned the spotlight. But all made a difference. The winners were chosen by Star-Advertiser editors from nominations submitted by staff members and readers.

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Enter the 65-year-old Freitas, who had been chancellor of Hawaii Community College on the Big Island for nearly six years before returning to Bachman Hall in July. Suddenly he found himself on what UH was calling its athletic membership "team."

"In our initial discussions between President Greenwood, Rockne, Keith Amemiya (Board of Regents secretary) and myself, Rockne mentioned his relationship with Dr. Smatresk, and he was given the authority to make the initial contact with Dr. Smatresk," Karr said.

Smatresk, who had been Manoa vice chancellor for academic affairs in 2004-07, and Freitas had formed a friendship and kept in touch. Both saw the advantages of UH in the MWC and rolled up their sleeves.

"Rockne was a key player and made initial contact," Smatresk said. "He got the ball rolling and opened up the dialogue. I think he was the catalyst, and while it might have happened ultimately, the quick entry can be credited to him working with the president."

Smatresk helped set up a meeting with MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson in Las Vegas. Within a month a straw poll of MWC presidents showed support for accelerated talks with UH.

At that point, UH officials said, Freitas was doing double duty between the MWC talks and helping oversee final arrangements on the agreement for a Hawaii Community College campus at Palamanui.

Thereafter, the MWC pace quickened, and in November Greenwood, Donovan, Freitas, Karr, Amemiya and Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw met with Thompson and key MWC officials in Colorado.

Said Greenwood, "In the words of Karr, 'If it wasn't for Rockne, this wouldn't have happened.'"

Every day through year's end, the Star-Advertiser will recognize people who changed Hawaii in 2010. Some are familiar names; others shunned the spotlight. But all made a difference. The winners were chosen by Star-Advertiser editors from nominations submitted by staff members and readers.






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