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Further Review | Sports

‘You never know when your number will be called’

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In what some call the toy department, we document a lot of fun and games, and sometimes we can be lulled into thinking they’ll go on and on forever and ever.

Mostly, we celebrate wins, and sometimes, we analyze defeats. But in the past 12 months, we’ve been tasked with reporting too often about the ultimate real-world loss.

Even before the Christmas Day death of one of the best players in the University of Hawaii basketball program’s history, Chris Gaines, a distinguishing feature of the 2010 Hawaii sports year was the passing of an unusually high number of the islands’ athletic icons.

We lost so many: ‘Iolani coach Eddie Hamada, three Punahou stars who went on to later fame in Mosi Tatupu, Charlie Wedemeyer and Curtis Iaukea, baseball scout Wally Komatsubara, surfing champion Andy Irons, golf Hall of Famer Masa Kaya, Waianae and Nanakuli football coach Al Beaver, Maryknoll and Chaminade basketball star Francis Fletcher, Roosevelt football legend Fa’atautau Salanoa, and others.

Each time it gave us opportunity to celebrate their achievements and contributions, but with profound sadness.

AS KIDS we derive from sports a relationship with the concept of immortality, often a warped one. Of course it’s a fantasy, but that’s what diversions from the hum-drum of everyday life are supposed to be, right?

One of my delusions at age 17 was a secret ambition to somehow make my high school basketball team. I’d begun to play a lot and was misguidedly confident of my abilities. That was until reality hit home one evening at the Highlands courts, when a little kid stripped me of the ball three consecutive times as I tried to bring it upcourt. He was 12, and for the next 10 years or so, I considered David Hallums immortal. So did others — even Kawika himself, as he now admits.

But the former Pearl City High, Brigham Young-Hawaii and UH star, now a 44-year-old Honolulu police officer, feels very much human today. That’s what can happen when the time to leave comes for people you respect and admire.

Most of us are too young to remember Salanoa’s exploits as a standout lineman for Roosevelt in 1957, when the Rough Riders won the ILH championship. But Hallums, who coached football with "Chief’s" sons, Thor and Fred, at Radford, grew very close to the man who served as a bodyguard at the state capitol and died in November at 71.

And then, barely a month later, came the death of 42-year-old Gaines, Hallums’ room and backcourt mate at UH. "I’m still shocked and can’t believe what happened," he said. "He was truly a perfect teammate. Never complained, always played hard."

OF ALL the sports figures we lost this year, Gaines is the one to whom I feel closest. I covered him a bit when he was at UH, but that’s not why. He’s the only one I actually shared a field of play with, as we were regular opponents in a semi-competitive but friendly slowpitch softball league at Kanewai Park in the 1990s. He was the best left-handed defensive shortstop I’d ever seen and a powerful hitter. And his uniform was always dirty by the third inning.

We got to know each other over postgame refreshments. My teammates and I loved that Chris was such a great athlete and competed so hard during the game, but was such a nice, down-to-earth guy after it. I guess you could say he was both immortal and mortal.

Hallums sums it all up best.

"I respect the fact that we are no longer untouchable. As athletes, you never think you’ll be seriously hurt or injured," he said. "This past year made me realize the importance of keeping healthy on all levels: physical, mental, personal, professional, etc., but most importantly, to live life to the fullest. You never know when your number will be called to leave this Earth."

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

 

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