Guillen: UH Hilo making strides threefold

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Aloha! I appreciate the opportunity given to me by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald to write this column and consider it an honor and a privilege to serve our students and community as the athletics director at UH Hilo.

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Aloha! I appreciate the opportunity given to me by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald to write this column and consider it an honor and a privilege to serve our students and community as the athletics director at UH Hilo.

I just completed 18 months in this capacity, and it has been a great experience living and working at a first-class university and a world-class community, in my humble opinion. I have said many times that the people and the community is what attracted me to UH Hilo and this is truer today than ever before.

I feel very fortunate to live and work here. Mahalo!

We have had our challenges in the last year and a half, but have also shown much improvement and success during my brief tenure.

This is due to a strong team of staff, coaches, a supportive chancellor and senior administration, a generous community and most importantly … great student-athletes!

Our vision is to educate and develop our students as “Ambassadors of Aloha” through rigorous academics, service learning through a strong community service program and pursuing athletic excellence.

If these expectations and approach are applied consistently, we will be able to graduate individuals who are well-balanced and able to meet the high demands of an ever-changing world and workplace.

This approach will also teach the value of community and teamwork, which is more vital today than ever before.

So far this approach is working.

Grade A

Our cumulative overall team grade point averages have increased from 2.90 in 2014-15 to 2.96 in 2015-16. Our top female sport academically in 2015-16 was women’s tennis (3.53) while men’s soccer was the top male sport (3.00).

While this is an accomplishment, we can always do better. Therefore, in 2016-17 we will be opening a “Student-Athlete Academic Success Lab” which will serve as a dedicated study and research space for our student-athletes. We will also be looking to add the position of Academic Specialist that will assist us in our top priority, which is to retain and graduate our student-athletes.

In the community

In 2015-16 our students, coaches and staff logged hundreds of volunteer hours and participated in dozens of community outreach/service programs.

As a result, the Pacific West Conference honored UH Hilo with a prestigious award for our community engagement work that embraces those within our community that are underrepresented. This was the first time that a Hawaii school has ever received this honor. Our camps and clinics are always popular, and last year we added the Dr. Seuss Read Across America Day to our growing list of opportunities in the community.

That day our student-athletes read to nearly 1,800 keiki across seven different elementary schools in East Hawaii.

On Thursday, we are looking forward again to this new annual event and this time we are visiting eight schools and will reach more than 2,000 keiki. What a great experience for our student-athletes!

On the field

The third component to providing a well-rounded experience is the pursuit of athletic excellence.

Overall, this has eluded us with a few exceptions over recent years. However, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction. We are beginning to add resources for our programs and with that will come increased expectations. Our coaches are dedicated to building not just a team but also a program that our community can be proud of. I am committed to continue to provide the necessary resources to ensure that this continues.

• Kallen Miyataki’s baseball program is a great example. With much help from his supporters in the community he was able to get the Chuo University team from Japan here this past week, providing two great nights of baseball for the Hilo community.

Nearly 2,000 folks enjoyed international baseball and a unique cultural experience for both teams.

* Callen Perreira, UHH’s all-time winningest softball coach, returns to lead the program this year, looking to contend for a conference title.

* The men’s and women’s tennis teams under the direction of Tina McDermott are greatly improved this year, and will feature one of the top men’s players in the conference in Division I transfer Vaclav Slezak.

• Coach Earl Tamiya annually hosts one of the top men’s golf tournaments in the country in Waikoloa, and this year’s Amer Ari Intercollegiate was again a smashing success. His tournament field for 2018 is already sold out with some of the top Division I programs in the country signed up.

Jim DeMello’s women’s golf team just returned from a couple of tournaments in Texas. His teams feature five players from the great state of Hawaii, including three from the Big Island.

• Both of our basketball programs are just on the threshold of breaking through into the top half of the Pacific West Conference. Men’s coach GE Coleman returns most of his team for 2017-18 and has already signed some solid players for next year.

David Kaneshiro’s team had more than their fair share of injuries this year but finished the back of the season strong when most of his team got healthy.• We are proud to have Jaime Guerpo as our women’s cross-country coach. He and our staff hosted the PacWest Championships last fall, providing what many said was one of the most memorable and enjoyable championship events they had ever participated in.

• Gene Okamura admirably coached both our men’s and women’s soccer teams last fall as we partnered with Kamehameha Schools to host our home matches.

We will begin a national search in the coming months to add another head soccer coach to the program, which will benefit the program and provide a better experience for our student- athletes.

• We are close to announcing who the new leader of the Vulcan volleyball program will be. It is my goal to see that program return to the glory days of the 1980’s when UHH competed for and won many national championships under the direction of Sharon Peterson. Our next coach will integrate the team into this great volleyball community and give the people of Hilo a program to be proud of again.

It takes a team

During my interview process and when I officially arrived here on the Big Island, I stated that I could not accomplish anything here on my own. It would take a team effort by all – coaches, staff, students, local businesses and community – to work together to build an athletics program that will provide a source and sense of pride and belonging for our community. I am very pleased to say that as I am out and about at various events, functions and meetings that the community has been very receptive and has embraced the vision of what we want to accomplish in Vulcans Athletics.

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It is my hope and goal that the UH Hilo athletic program continues our forward progress and becomes an important piece of the rich fabric of this great community.

Much mahalo to you for your continued support as we work towards these goals. See you at the games!