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Nominations sought for People Who Made a Difference: Sports Edition

Between the Lines

Major league catcher Kurt Suzuki poses for a photo with players during his All Pono Foundation youth baseball clinic in 2017. The Baldwin High School graduate was recognized in The Maui News’ People Who Made a Difference feature later that year. This summer, The Maui News will be highlighting those who have had and continue to contribute to Maui County’s sports community. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

It is one of the features I wait for annually in The Maui News, usually published on Christmas Day: “People Who Made A Difference” is one of our annual traditions that will never get old for me.

Started in 1994 as the brainchild of my former colleagues Christie Wilson and David Hoff, it is almost as old as my career at the paper (I started as a young man in 1990).

Now, with high school sports tantalizingly close but still a few months away, we are going to expand the idea of recognizing those who have made a difference in the sports realm on Maui.

We are looking for nominees for features that will run throughout the summer, sports folks in Maui County who have gone above and beyond to “make a difference.”

Sports folks dot the annual list, from surf and wrestling aficionado Kim Ball in 1998 to Major League Baseball star Kurt Suzuki in 2017.

Then-Seabury Hall girls volleyball coach Scottie Zucco is shown during a match in 2017. Zucco, who runs Aloha Volleyball Association, was a People Who Made a Difference honoree in 2014. The Maui News file photo

Among other remarkable accomplishments for Valley Isle sports, Ball got surfing sanctioned as an official high school sport in the Maui Interscholastic League a few years back — it was the first and still believed to be the only high school league in the nation that has surfing as an official sport.

Suzuki, a 2001 Baldwin High School graduate, runs an annual baseball clinic where he pays the way for numerous kids from Molokai and Lanai to attend at Maehara Stadium in January. In 2019, slugger Albert Pujols, a friend who shares the same agent with Suzuki, showed up.

Suzuki has done remarkable things behind the scenes as well, both on the Mainland and here. Baldwin baseball and Maui youth baseball players are in better places now because of Suzuki, who owns championship rings from Cal State-Fullerton (2004) on the college level and the Washington Nationals (2019) at the big league level.

If COVID-19 has taught me anything, it’s that that things can change quickly, in one direction and then back the other way moments later.

The lack of MIL sports for the equivalent of four seasons — spring 2020, fall 2020, winter 2021, spring 2021 — has challenged us to find sports stories in many places other than normal.

One of the more fun stories recently that we perhaps wouldn’t have gotten to is the tale of Vaai “Uso” Seumalo, a Molokai High School graduate who played one season of high school football that lasted six games. He just finished his freshman season at Garden City Community College, which finished 7-1 and ranked fifth in the nation.

Seumalo is now an NCAA Division I prospect as a defensive lineman who has another football season to learn from in the fall.

Molokai football coach Mike Kahale asked me when we talked for that story, “How many stories like this one have we missed due to COVID?”

That made me think, there could be several stories like Seumalo’s that we may have missed.

For the last couple weeks, I have been working on the obituary for Fred Guzman, the Maui County iconic soccer coach and broadcaster who started to immediately make his mark here the day he arrived in 1991.

The feedback on my Guzman obituary has been remarkable, but it was a text from Baldwin athletic director Wade Hondo that really made me think that this series is a great idea.

“We gotta cherish and honor these people before they are gone,” Hondo wrote to me. Now, keep in mind I’m old enough to have covered Hondo as a swimmer at Baldwin, and his children are getting to the point where I will have the chance to cover them as well.

Heck, I’m closing in on grandchildren of folks I covered as high schoolers in the 1990s.

I look at the “People Who Made a Difference” list and marvel.

Mixing Kahale’s and Hondo’s thoughts, let’s not miss anything else that we can cover, give the people perhaps behind the scenes the publicity they deserve when we can.

In between Ball and Suzuki, baseball coaches Craig Okita and Dean Yamashita were honored in 2016; volleyball coach Scottie Zucco in 2014; rugby leader Jack Breen in 2013; waterman Archie Kalepa in 2012; MIL Division II pioneers Steve Colflesh, Albert Paschoal and Kahale in 2011; MIL icons Spencer Shiraishi, Kenji Kawaguchi, Garner Ivey and Warren Shima­bukuro in 2010 (Shiraishi and Ivey have since died); and Ken Nakayama and the state champion Molokai High School baseball team in 1999.

Now, with time (hopefully) running out on the COVID live sports break we’ve all been subjected to, we have the chance to tell some more stories. I’ve got to be crystal clear, this idea is not mine — it was thought of by my longtime colleague and boss, sports editor Stefanie Nakasone-Ramsey.

I have many, many ideas in mind for nominations, but I don’t want to influence the ballot box. Email any thoughts on nominations to sports@mauinews.com by June 15.

This can be a new person to the Maui County sports scene or a lifetime achievement award. We want to take advantage of this (hopefully) short window when we have the time and space to do this — and do it.

Nominations are now officially open.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

*****

To nominate a person for consideration to be featured in The Maui News’ People Who Made a Difference: Sports Edition series, send an email to sports@mauinews.com that includes the following:

“People Who Made a Difference” in the subject line;

• The nominee’s name and a brief summary of how they have impacted the sports community in Maui County;

• Your name, contact phone number and relationship to the nominee.

Nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. on June 15.

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