Kaipo Spencer was a household name in Hawaii way before Timmy Chang, Marcus Mariota or Tua Tagovailoa.
One of the most renowned figures in state high school sports history, Spencer died of natural causes at his home in Makiki this week.
Spencer, 66, was a star quarterback in football and guard in basketball at Saint Louis School when the Interscholastic League of Honolulu included all of the town schools, and was more popular among most local sports fans than University of Hawaii athletics.
After graduation in 1971, Spencer went on to break school passing records as a quarterback at Santa Clara University.
With knee injuries preventing a possible pro career, Spencer began coaching football and basketball at his high school alma mater soon after college.
He eventually became the varsity head basketball coach and the quarterbacks coach for football at Saint Louis.
“I wanted to be like Kaipo when I was a kid as I watched him play football and basketball at Saint Louis,” wrote Mark Rodrigues on his Facebook page. “Was in awe and giddy when he befriended me when I was in eighth grade, and had the opportunity to play both basketball and football for him at Saint Louis.”
In 1980, his second year as varsity head coach, Spencer was named ILH Coach of the Year.
As a player, Spencer was known more for football. But he had his most high-profile success in coaching in basketball.
With Spencer as head coach in 1986, the Crusaders won the state championship. It was their first state crown since 1968, when Saint Louis won for the third year in a row under Spencer’s legendary coach, Walter Wong.
“(Spencer) was a special coach who always worked to make his athletes better,” Saint Louis football coach Cal Lee said. “As an athlete himself he was one of the best to play for Saint Louis. Such a great person to know and call a brother.”
Spencer had a charismatic personality that served him well as a coach.
“He was easy to relate to because he wasn’t that much older than us,” Rodrigues said.
Kaipo was the fourth in a family of five children growing up in Kaimuki.
“He was the funniest guy,” said Kenui, one of his two older brothers. “He always made us laugh. We had the most fun listening to his stories because he always had something funny to say. And he was good at imitating people.”
Their father, John, was a professional musician and their mother, Vivian, was a sports-crazed homemaker, Kenui said.
“She’s the one who would be outside throwing passes with him, practicing,” Kenui said. “When Santa Clara recruited him she was the one who made sure he got a full-ride scholarship and wouldn’t be moved from playing quarterback.”
Keeping Spencer behind center in college was wise, as he broke school passing records set by his predecessor, future NFL starter Dan Pastorini. Spencer passed for 24 touchdowns in 1975, helping him make the United Press International All-West Coast small college all-star team.
Spencer’s ex-wife is former UH volleyball star Terry Malterre. He was retired from a job as a stevedore and enjoyed all sports throughout his life, and in recent years he still played golf at least once a week with friends. He would also walk the course to watch PGA and LPGA Tour events in Hawaii, despite his college football knee injuries acting up, Kenui said.
Johnston “Kaipo” Spencer is survived by brothers John Jr. and Kelani, sisters Kehaulani and Nalani, sons Nainoa, Waika and Kaipo and many nephews, nieces and grandchildren.
Services are pending.
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