Columnist Bill Kwon and copy editor Dick Couch were among the veterans in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin sports department when I arrived there mid-career in 2000.
I mention those two because I got to see the old guard in the twilight of their careers. Think: Oscar Madison and cigar smoke, although I have no idea if either one lit up, but if I had to guess, the serial golfer (and golf writer) Kwon did.
The tagline on Kwon’s column read: “Hawaii sportswriter since 1959.”
Cool. That’s the year I was born. And now, if there is going to be a tag on a column written by me, it could say either “Hawaii sportswriter since 1989” or “Sportswriter since 1981.”
Simple math says that I am at the exact point of my career where Kwon — who had an easy going way with words that reminded me of the Boston Globe columnists I grew up reading — was 22 years ago.
By way of a small daily in Marlboro, Massachusetts, and then at quite a similar gig at The Garden Island newspaper on the island of Kauai is how I got to the relatively big city on Oahu.
And, not that I really want to get bogged down in tangents, but that tiny island of Kauai, population 40,000 (about the same as Marlborough, Massachusetts) was so isolated, I lost the ability to fathom population size anywhere else.
One night, Couch — who spent much of his career as an NHL writer at the Associated Press’ New York headquarters — had a supersized laugh when my guess of the number of people who lived in Honolulu was around 8 million.
“Ummm, try about 1 million on all of Oahu,” he said. “New York City has 8 million.”
Eh, don’t they say you learn something new every day?
Less than a year later, I recall that on the night of Couch’s retirement he gave me a card of encouragement about my future as a journalist. I still have it somewhere.
As you can imagine, it means a lot.
After so many years at small operations, I improved by leaps and bounds in all aspects of journalism at the Star-Bulletin, which merged with the other city’s daily in 2010 to become the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
While bouncing between copy editing and reporting, it was another old-school, no-nonsense true journalist who made a truly remarkable move to basically ensure that I was going to be able to find my way in the about-to-explode new world of our profession.
I speak of Paul Arnett, who learned his craft in Texas and, as a sports editor starting in the early 2000s, kept his staffers entertained with his fine witticisms.
Well, Pappy, as we call him, took me off of the copy desk in 2013 and installed me as a beat reporter covering high school sports. He was constantly looking at the trade journals and noticed sports staffs and copy editors getting laid off everywhere.
He would even say, “It might not be tomorrow, but it’s gonna happen some day. We’ll be looking at each other and saying goodbye because it will be our last night here.”
And then he would sing “Turn out the lights, the party’s over” like Don Meredith on Monday Night Football in the 1970s. Oh yes, that was only one of the many things he said thousands of times — to keep us laughing and wondering what made him tick like that.
But it turns out Arnett was so, so right, although the goodbye was over the phone because of COVID-19. Like many others around the globe, I was out of a job in June 2020, volunteering for one of the layoffs the company felt it needed to make. Arnett lasted at least a few months longer, before the human resources people came a calling to say, in effect, “Well, Mr. Pappy Claus (another nickname), the party is over.”
And, as another staffer, Jerry Campany, would say as soon as wrestling season was over, “Time to turn in your singlets.”
Please bear with me as I go on another tangent, this time about the world of the new media and also, since I broached the subject, wrestling.
Right around the time I went back to reporting, Mr. Campany and another dedicated reporter, Billy Hull, were putting together a little website thingie we called “Hawaii Prep World.” It’s still around, but it shriveled to a bare-bones place in cyberspace after all of those staff cuts.
For years (2013 to 2020 for me) we toiled with putting out more copy than the bosses actually wanted (please don’t tell that to the union). After we wrote our high school sports stories for the paper, we would have enough stuff to also post a story online. It was a labor of love, a requirement, in fact, amongst ourselves.
And the analytics numbers were amazing. For the first time, we were aware of what people were reading. Wrestling, it turns out, was the No. 2 most read high school sport after football.
Who knew? So we started covering wrestling voraciously.
Another thing I learned from being a part of Hawaii Prep World was that it was quite a special feeling to press a button and send out a story — just like that.
In between my furlough in March 2020 and the layoff three months later in June, I started a website called BedrockSportsHawaii.com. I’m very proud of it and the analytics numbers are fantastic and growing all the time.
Without Pappy bringing me back to writing and without my experience with filling the maw of Hawaii Prep World with content, there’s no way I would have had the wherewithal to do become what I guess I am now — an entrepreneur.
At Bedrock, the focus is on high school sports — especially football and wrestling — but I cover other newsworthy events as well.
Oh, and before you click elsewhere, it’s time for for the main point (finally) — the reason I’m jotting down all this stuff right now.
This here is The Sporting Tribune created by Arash Markazi — with serious plans to cover Southern California, Las Vegas and Hawaii — looks like it has “winner” written all over it.
And so fortune itself, it appears, has smiled on me again. Last week, Markazi asked if I would like to contribute to his baby and suggested I write a column for the Tuesday launch.
“I would love to read a story about your connection to Hawaii sports,” he wrote.
First, though, before I get more into that answer, I would like to add that the triangle of SoCal, Vegas and the Hawaiian Islands is brilliant.
On the map of our huge interconnected world village, those places are three shining stars creating the boundary for a new geographical area — the immense beauty and climate of Hawaii, the sun and fun and glamor of Los Angeles and San Diego, and the nightlife, lights, gambling and glitz of Las Vegas.
Where do Hawaii’s residents go on vacation? As you can imagine, many hit the West Coast, and others regularly opt for a place we call “the ninth island,” known to the rest of the world as Las Vegas.
And, note to readers: if the Sporting Tribune gets the right advertisers, be on the lookout for good package deals to vacation to Hawaii…Everybody wins.
Probably the biggest event I covered in Hawaii was the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, which pitted the four majors winners against each other in a 36-hole exhibition. This was in the Tiger Woods glory years, when he was winning majors regularly and playing in that tournament held at the Poipu Bay Golf Course, which was about three miles from where I was living at the time.
I also covered a bunch of Pro Bowls and remember the time when it was billed as coaches Michael Irvin vs. Jerry Rice. In the pre-event news conference, Irvin made a big deal about how his team was going to defeat Rice. Afterward, when Rice won, I asked the hands-down best wide receiver ever if he got a thrill out of beating Irvin. His answer: “It’s just the Pro Bowl, man!”
And although I don’t like to dwell on negative news, one thing I wrote about that got a ton of readers was when a wrestler assaulted a referee at the state championships. Our photographer got a photo of the boy in handcuffs and when I looked at the analytics, I saw 70,000 hits.
What’s seriously amazing to me, however, is that we had to convince the bosses to run the story. They wanted to kill it because they were afraid the athlete wasn’t 18.
Another major thing out here is surfing, and I was fortunate enough to cover the season-ending Triple Crown of Surfing at three amazing, world-renowned spots on Oahu’s North Shore many times.
As a matter of fact, Hawaii’s own John John Florence and Carissa Moore have won multiple world championships and the whole state is very proud of that fact.
Oh, the biggest sports team in the Aloha State, by far, is the University of Hawaii football team, and that’s where some of the greatest college passers ever played. Timmy Chang, who grew up here and is the Rainbow Warriors’ head coach now, ranks No. 2 in collegiate all-time passing with 17.072 yards.
And the late Colt Brennan, originally from California, is eighth in single-season passing yardage with 5,549. He also led UH to an undefeated regular season in 2007 before the team finished 12-1 after a 41-10 loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Another name with instant recognition here: June Jones. The former NFL and Uh player took over as the Rainbow Warriors’ head coach in 1999 and led them to a Western Athletic Conference championship and a 23-17 Oahu Bowl win over Oregon State. And what made all of that extra special is the fact that Hawaii went 0-12 in 1998.
And, yes, I am also fortunate to have covered a lot of UH football games through the years, including that magical 2007 regular season.
For now, I shall leave you with a fine line from Alanis Morissette’s “All I Really Want.”
“Enough about me, let’s talk about you for a minute. Enough about you, let’s talk about life for a while. The conflicts, the craziness and the sound of pretenses falling all around.”