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Skip Akina’s influence went far beyond the field

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Skip Akina was a record-setting Punahou School quarterback, a dedicated coach on several levels and a pretty good racquetball player.

But for Jason Ching and many of the other beneficiaries of college football scholarships here, he was also someone who helped make dreams come true.

Akina died yesterday, leaving a legacy that reaches far beyond the football fields he spent much of his 62 years around.

In places, for example, like Houston, where Ching, a Notre Dame graduate, is a director for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Younger brother of former University of Hawaii center Shawn Ching, Jason remembers watching in awe the arrival of the Fighting Irish for a 1991 game with UH at Aloha Stadium, wondering what it would be like to attend the iconic institution.

But going into his senior season at Punahou in 1995 that’s pretty much all it was: a dream. For all of Ching’s rising tributes, the Irish hadn’t done much recruiting out here in years, so what were the chances?

At the time Ching remembers receiving interest from Stanford and some Ivy League schools but not a peep from the Golden Domers.

That changed almost overnight with his appearance in the Shawn Akina Classic, then in the midst of what would become a nine-year run as a preseason stage for Hawaii’s top high school football teams to play mainland powerhouses. San Clemente (Calif.) High was one of those marquee teams in September when the Tritons lined up against Ching and the Buffanblu.

The Akina Classic was the brainchild of Skip Akina, who named it in memory of his youngest brother, Shawn, a former Punahou School quarterback, who died of a heart ailment at age 19 at the University of Utah, where he was to play football.

Skip believed matching Hawaii’s best against top teams from the mainland was good for all concerned. It helped local teams elevate their games, gave exposure to the players and schools, provided visiting teams with a taste of Hawaii and produced great entertainment for fans.

Akina also invited high school talent scouts like Tom Lemming, the Chicago-based editor of the Prep Football Report, to attend and see for themselves. Lemming came to see a highly regarded offensive tackle for San Clemente. But what got his attention was Ching sacking Tritons quarterback Chris Boden four times in a 20-6 victory.

When the Buffanblu took him out late in the game, Ching remembers, Lemming asked them to put him back in so he could study him a little more. After the game Lemming inquired about Ching’s interest in schools and was told about Notre Dame. "That was on a Friday night, I believe," Ching recalls. "By Sunday morning Lou Holtz, the Notre Dame coach, had called."

In short order, so, too, had Michigan, and much of the Big Ten.

By season’s end Ching was a USA Today All-American and on his way to South Bend with a scholarship.

"That game probably changed part of my life ," Ching said.

Of such testimonials is the legacy of Akina written.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.

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