They were patting Dave Shoji on the back and shaking his hand yesterday in Manoa in recognition of the announcement of his selection to the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
After all, friends took considerable pains to remind the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine coach, it must be a pretty exclusive class indeed if he is being inducted along with a … pole?
"Yeah," Shoji acknowledged, "you know, the standard, the pole that holds up the net."
Technically, Sports Imports Inc., maker of uprights, nets, floor plates etc. and benefactor to the game, is joining Shoji and two others in the 2010 class.
Not that Shoji will quibble one bit. He knows full well these things can be tougher to crack than a Penn State block. After all, he wasn’t even selected for his high school hall of fame.
"My high school basketball coach tried to get me into Upland (Calif.) High’s hall of fame a couple years ago and I didn’t make it," Shoji said, more amused than upset.
This for a guy who beat out Baseball Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers for the school’s best all-around athlete award in 1964.
"I think he got in," Shoji said with mock disgust.
For all the jokes about being accompanied by "a pole" it actually serves as a symbolic reminder that Shoji’s path to enshrinement has been built on considerable labor and persistence.
Before the modern uprights revolutionized volleyball, somebody had to tether the nets to a wall, hooks, something. And, at UH in the mid-1970s, Shoji was one of those people.
He’d unfurl the net, tie it off, roll out the bleachers and help sweep up leaky, creaky Klum Gum to boot. Along with recruiting and coaching, of course. It came with the job at a time when not much money or glory did.
Back then, women’s volleyball, in the early wave of Title IX, was more a vision than a marquee destination and certainly not something that an entire state followed on TV.
But through the dint of hard work, people like Shoji built the sport. And, in Hawaii, he assembled a lot more with a following that has helped UH lead the nation in attendance for 16 years and hoist four national championship banners.
Almost as remarkable as what Shoji has accomplished – 1,016 career victories, 25 NCAA regional appearances, 10 conference and two national coach of the year awards, etc. – is that it has taken this long for the hall to call his name. He is one of a handful of 1,000-win coaches and the latest one in. Go figure.
Actually, if it were not for Stanley Ching and some of the UH boosters who nominated and have painstakingly campaigned on Shoji’s behalf for a while now, the "pole" might have beaten him to the hall.
Their induction in December could be made even sweeter for Shoji if the Rainbow Wahine are on hand, too, since the NCAA final four will be played at the same site, Kansas City, Mo.
And, who knows, one of these days, Shoji might even make it into his high school hall of fame. Before the equipment gets in.
Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org