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Kalaheo’s vague edict left Smith no choice but to quit

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    Alika Smith cited philosophical differences with Kalaheo’s administration in his decision to step down.

In a letter dated June 3, 2015, Kalaheo High School principal Susan Hummel and athletic director Mark Brilhante basically put varsity boys basketball coach Alika Smith on notice.

There are 13 bullet-point items (you can read them all and the contents of the entire letter on my “Quick Reads” blog at that Hummel and Brilhante term as “expectations” and that if they are not “followed to the satisfaction of either or both” of them, Smith could be suspended or fired.

The proposed agreement is almost all vague and in effect unfair to Smith. Only two of the 13 items are things that can be factually and objectively evaluated.

“I shall demonstrate positive coaching by not yelling and cursing during practices and games,” and “I shall complete and turn in all forms required by the due date,” are straightforward and clear.

Everything else is a bunch of platitudes about leadership and sportsmanship that can be interpreted any way the principal and athletic director wish. It gives them the pick to easily break whatever thin ice Smith was skating upon, even if he’d transformed himself into the Mother Teresa of high school basketball coaching when it came to sportsmanship and “positive coaching” in time for next season.

I don’t blame Smith if he crumpled it up and used it for garbage-can free-throw shooting practice.

There’s nothing in the proposed agreement about an appeal process or Smith being allowed to defend himself in any manner.

“As demanding as I am with these kids, I’m going to be fired in the first week as soon as one parent complains,” Smith told the Star-Advertiser’s Paul Honda.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Hummel said all Kalaheo coaches are receiving the same letter and are expected to sign it. The letter doesn’t indicate that any coach violating the agreement would receive any form of due process before discipline, but Hummel said that is not the case and the coach’s side of the story would be heard.

I’m not up on what Smith did and didn’t do as head basketball coach at his alma mater except win two Division I state championships and one in Division II. I don’t know how many eggs — as in kids’ and parents’ egos — had to be broken to make those omelets.

It’s a fact that winning programs produce unhappy players and parents, sometimes even more than losing programs do. The kid who was the star of his CYO team might be sitting on the bench for a high school championship squad. The PONY League stud might not have even made the baseball team at Punahou when it had that run of seven state championships in a row (and pressure from parents of those benched and cut in order to fuel that dynasty might have been why the coach was no longer there just one year later).

Maybe Smith is an old-school coach who needs to develop self-control and limit his vocabulary. But a list of vague “expectations,” including “I shall maintain a level of respect that will keep the fun in sports” without any specific goals or even a mention of how he would be evaluated just looks like a set-up.

Smith said he has a job opportunity out of state but that he hasn’t decided whether to take it. That would mean his son would finish out at a high school on the mainland. That’s too bad; Hawaii is losing one of its sports icons and an excellent second-generation coach.

When he played at the University of Hawaii with Anthony Carter as half of the best starting backcourt in its history, the thing I remembered most about Smith was something that consistently happened when he came out of a game for a rest.

When a manager gave him a cup of water, he was the only player who regularly said “Thank you.” Same when he signed autographs.

It’s hard to believe a young athlete that polite would become an ogre as a coach. But these days, if you work kids in a way believed to be even a little bit too harsh or bench one of a hovering parent, it’s at your own peril.

Reach Dave Reardon at or 529-4783. His blog is at

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