Years ago, when the worn cassette tape that was used to play an instrumental “Star Spangled Banner” before matches at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex suddenly went off track, players and spectators groaned.
Then, John “Jack” Francis Sullivan Jr. calmly picked up the mic and finished the song so the matches could go on, giving everybody a chuckle and a lift.
“I remember thinking that it was so ‘Uncle Jack,’ he was always about doing whatever it took to get things done,” recalled Leila Wai Shimokawa, a reporter at the time.
Sullivan, who died May 12, at age 86, served as Santa Claus at youth correction centers at Christmas, was a leprechaun in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, an Eucharist minister in the Catholic Church, headed the Boston Club of Hawaii, was an officer with the Honolulu Quarterback Club and performed a half dozen other roles. But his name in Hawaii is inextricably linked to soccer.
Sullivan arrived in Hawaii from his native Boston in 1957 and, because he believed the sport offered better appeal to youngsters self worth, eventually began coaching it despite not having played it. “I never played a game in my life,” Sullivan said in a 2007 interview. “I missed that part, the joy of playing. But I have as much joy being a part of it as playing. I get joy from seeing the development of soccer.”
He contributed to the sport on every level from helping to form youth clubs, organize leagues, coach, referee and fundraise to campaigning to bring World Cup matches to Aloha Stadium.
Sullivan loved to talk about hockey and how he took part in the Silver Skates competition at the old Boston Garden. But he joked that he didn’t think he could stir up much of a following for hockey in Hawaii.
In 1999 he was selected to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame as a soccer pioneer. Later, he was added to the U.S. Adult Soccer Association Hall of Fame and the American Youth Soccer Organization’s Hall of Fame. The Men’s Island Soccer Association’s championship trophies were named for him.
But when people would introduce him as the modern father of soccer in Hawaii, Sullivan, in his hearty Boston accent, would demur and say, “Nobody is the father of soccer here, nor is there a mother of soccer. Everybody who’s ever served as a coach, referee or washed their kids’ soccer uniforms after practice or a game deserves credit.”
Former sportscaster Don Robbs said, “Jack Sullivan was a man who could never say ‘no.’ He would try and help out with anything that came his way. He was a wonderful man, always giving of himself. I feel blessed to have known him in my life.”
Friends said it was a good thing that Sullivan, an accountant who operated Hawaii Business Services, was self employed so he could work everything into his schedule. Though how he found the time or the energy they had no idea.
The Sullivan family home was near the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility and he would often hold Sunday services and teach soccer for male and female inmates.
Once, during a game he had set up for the boys, a couple of players shed the team T-shirts and scaled the fence in an escape attempt.
Undeterred, Sullivan returned the following week to coach again.
Services are pending.