Call them the Four Musketeers of Maui sports.
Spencer Shiraishi, 84, Kenji Kawaguchi, 83, Garner Ivey, 82, and Warren Shimabukuro, 77, have worked the bulk of their lives to improve athletics on the Valley Isle, and it's hard to imagine where their sports and the Maui Interscholastic League would be without them.
The men, now all in various stages of "retirement" from their sports, share the respect of each other, knowing the longtime commitment each has provided athletes seeking a chance to compete.
"I know Baldwin had a good wrestling program with the coaching of Garner Ivey," said Shimabukuro, who has played a role in nearly every baseball league on the island. "Spencer, I helped him with swimming for about 15 years. Kenji was 'Mister MIL,' and he was my idol. We went to the same school, and I used to watch him play football and baseball. That got me into it, and I followed him right through."
Kawaguchi looked at Shiraishi and said, "Spencer, he was everything in swimming."
Kawaguchi, a former Lahainaluna High School and University of Hawaii star football player at 5-foot-4 and 135 pounds, was the first man to head the MIL, a duty he held from 1960 to 1989 before it became a Department of Education post. He also served stints as sports coordinator for the Christian Youth Organization and later for Maui County.
When he stepped down from county government service in 1989 as deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, his MIL executive secretary job became a full-time position under the DOE.
"It was a one-man show back then," Kawaguchi said. "I was still running the MIL up until the last year I retired, but unofficially because I didn't get paid. The people that came in, they had no knowledge, so they were always depending on me."
After his football career at UH, Kawaguchi played in the 1951 Hula Bowl as a teammate with Sammy Baugh, an inaugural member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; and Leon Hart, the 1949 Heisman Trophy winner for Notre Dame and No. 1 overall pick in the 1950 NFL draft.
One of 10 children, after playing in the Hula Bowl - "One of the greatest experiences of my life," Kawaguchi said - he had no thoughts of playing professional football.
"I had to come back and work. I had seven brothers and sisters below me," he said. "When I finished college, I came back and had a job waiting for me, West Maui sports director through the West Maui Community Association . . . That ended up being what I did."
The CYO followed about three years later, a job he kept for 20 years, and then he finished with Maui County for 16 years, all the while coordinating the MIL from the side, getting only expense money for his work with the high schools.
Kawaguchi continued to coordinate the officials for MIL baseball until just two years ago, a few years after giving up that duty for football.
Initially, the league had just four schools (Maui High, Baldwin, Lahainaluna and St. Anthony) playing four sports (football, basketball, baseball, and track and field). It now has 13 schools and sends teams to 35 different state tournaments.
Kawaguchi credits Ivey, a former wrestler at Georgia Tech, with starting that sport in the MIL and while Ivey admits "retiring many times," he is still an active assistant coach at Baldwin.
"I retired again last year," Ivey said. "I am off the payroll. I am just a volunteer now, but I am there every day. I haven't missed a day of practice."
Asked if wrestling is in his blood, Ivey smiled and said, "It has to be."
The sport for Ivey has been a respite from the caregiving he provides his wife, Mary Helen, who has suffered from Parkinson's disease for the last 12 years.
Shimabukuro's leadership in baseball leagues on the island has gone from serving as president of the Maui Pony and AJA leagues (each for seven-year stints) to scorekeeping and field maintenance.
He has been stepping down from one league or another for the past three or four years, but he was at all 50 home games for Na Koa Ikaika Maui's inaugural season in the Golden Baseball League over the summer, helping with field maintenance at Maehara Stadium.
He also spent three years as the official scorekeeper for the Maui Stingrays in their run in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League in the 1990s.
Shiraishi, the coach of the Maui Swim Club, said he will be completely finished with the sport he started coaching as a 9th-grader when he turns 90 years old.
He said he watched the legendary Soichi Sakamoto, coach of the many national champions trained in the Puunene irrigation ditches, when Shiraishi was growing up in Paia.
"I go back to 1942, when I was a 9th-grader at Paia School," Shiraishi said. "Mister Terua Tadaki was the usual swimming coach and a teacher at Paia School. He asked me to coach the Paia School team because he was too busy. Of course, I didn't know nothing about swimming, but all the boys at Paia School, we used to swim together at the punawai.
"So we trained in a primitive way because I wasn't the regular coach. I didn't know anything about technique, but we were having fun."
Shiraishi had his swimmers watch the workouts of Sakamoto's 3-Year Swim Club.
"And we used to imitate their strokes, and that is the only way we were able to swim the way good swimmers were supposed to swim," Shiraishi said.
* Robert Collias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.