WAILUKU - Some folks have called Garner Ivey the Father of Maui Interscholastic League wrestling.
Others take that a step further.
"I would say he is the father of wrestling in the state," Mike Donahoo, Ivey's longtime coaching compatriot at Baldwin High School, said Saturday morning.
Garner Ivey, shown coaching at a wrestling meet in 2004, helped found the Baldwin High School program, and worked with the team as recently as last year.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Ivey died at age 84 on Friday at Maui Memorial Medical Center after a short battle with cancer.
Donahoo met Ivey in 1980, after Ivey had stepped down from the Baldwin program "for the first time out of about 100." Donahoo, a 1974 California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section champion for Pacific High School in San Bernardino, coached with Ivey for more than a quarter century.
He will never forget the man known affectionately by just a single name - simply "Garner" or "Ivey."
"Coach was the man," Donahoo said. "When I met him he had his white shirt and black tie on. He looked the same as he was yesterday."
Ivey meant a great deal to the wrestlers he mentored.
"He was like a dad, he was a grandfather, he was the guy everybody could go to," Donahoo said. "Every kid always had a ride home, everybody had a ride to practice, they always had a meal ticket, they always had plane fare, they had a pair of shoes. If coach couldn't do it - he had a pretty decent job with (Alexander and Baldwin) - he always found a way to make sure the kid was taken care of. He never heard of fundraising. If we had to fundraise, he always said, 'I got it.'
"He has touched so many lives, the good, the bad, the ugly. He has been to court for kids. We have been to funerals, we have been to baptisms together. We have traveled all over the country - NCAA matches, Olympic trials."
Ivey, who wrestled for four years at Georgia Tech before graduating with an engineering degree, was on the mat as late as last season, showing technique to lower-weight wrestlers.
"Back in the day, 155 (pounds) and down, you were dust, I don't care how tough you were," Donahoo said. "Once he got a hold of you, he was a vice. It was all over."
Ivey could be counted on to resolve other issues, too.
"There would be problems at the state tournament and they would call for the Baldwin head coach, and I was coach by name," Donahoo said. "When I got there, they would say, 'Hey coach, we hope you don't mind, but can you bring coach Ivey up here?' "
Leigh Tonai was the first MIL wrestler to win three state titles, in 1973, 1974 and 1975 while at Baldwin. Tonai then attended Yale, where he wrestled for four years.
"Integrity," Tonai said of his most vivid memory of Ivey. "He was a grinder, a real gritty guy. He was really quiet, he never really showed any emotions. I can tell you this, he was a good role model for everybody. He probably influenced more wrestlers than anybody in the whole state. He was just a good person."
Tonai is now the chief executive officer for Hawaiian Island Creations surf stores.
"Besides my family he was probably the biggest mentor I had," Tonai said. "There cannot be enough positive said about the guy. When I was wrestling there were a lot of kids who were not the best students, but he was such an encouraging and positive person that a lot of guys would probably have gone off the cliff if it wasn't for him."
Among the high school All-Americans Ivey coached were Tonai, Joe Miller and Carlton Okamoto. Bulla Tuzon was a three-time All-American at Dana College and a U.S. Open All-American, and John Flavin was an academic All-American at Boston College.
For the past 14 years, Ivey was the caregiver for his wife, Mary Helen, who has Parkinson's disease. Garner Ivey said that wrestling - be it practice or meets - was his respite. He is survived by Mary Helen and four children.
"For the 32 years I have known him, his commitment to the sport and the kids is what stands out," said Kim Ball, who coached with and against Ivey since 1980 and is now on the Lahainaluna staff. "We were coaches together on a trip to Japan and Korea back in '85 with a group of Maui high school kids from probably five different high schools.
"That was awhile ago, but he was kind of the 'grand poobah.' The other coaches were just young guys and he was the guy who the Koreans and the Japanese respected the most."
The Maui Invitational Wrestling Tournament, annually one of the biggest meets in the state, will bear Ivey's name when it is held Dec. 14-15 this season.
"Who has been more dedicated to wrestling than Garner?" Ball said. "Not only did he start the program at Baldwin High School. His true love was coaching and whether it was an 8-year-old kid or a high school kid, he really had a passion, so it is fitting that is named in his honor."
Ivey coached several MIL wrestlers who went on to become coaches themselves, including Grant Nakamura and Todd Hayase.
Nakamura was a standout at powerhouse Iowa State and an NCAA and Olympic trials qualifier, and now coaches King Kekaulike. Hayase wrestled at Linfield (Ore.) College after graduating from Baldwin in 1983, and has coached Lahainaluna to the last seven MIL boys team titles.
"Just tireless, he never aged," Hayase said of Ivey. "He was almost always on the mat. I remember to this day, I would stay after practices and we would just wrestle for another 30-40 minutes. He was my coach, he was a mentor."
Hayase said this season will be different.
"I cannot imagine being at the first tournament not seeing his face," he said. "I have seen him for 30-plus years and it is going to be weird. His spirit is going to be there and we will keep it alive, not just on Maui, but at the state level. It is going to be tough."
Donahoo perhaps summed it up best when he said, "I just thought he was a man who would never go. I look up to my dad, I look up to my high school coach, but (Ivey), he was everything to me. There will never be another Garner Ivey. I tell you what, the coaching just got better upstairs."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org