By KEVIN JAKAHI
Gilbert Tomas coached Waiakea to a pair of HHSAA championships in 1985 and ’86, interrupting Oahu’s dominance in girls basketball.
He was the first neighbor island girls coach to win a state championship. Then 17 years later, Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa took the baton and continued the BIIF’s monopoly.
But to those who knew him best, Coach Gil will always be remembered for teaching life lessons through basketball and having a demeanor gentle as a summer breeze.
After a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease, he died on July 6, 2018. Coach Gil was 76 years old and celebrated his 50th anniversary with wife Odetta last month.
He is survived by wife Odetta, son Eric (Ilima) Tomas, who lives in Las Vegas, and daughter Debbie Walker, who lives on Maui, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Eric’s children are Hunter and Kimora. His older sister Debbie’s children are Joshua, Jessica, Justin, Jonah, and Jayden, and her grandchild is Mahinauli.
Funeral services will be held July 21 at Dodo Mortuary.
Coach Gil was a 1959 Hilo High graduate, attended UH-Hilo and worked for the police department for 32 years. He retired in 1995 as a Sergeant Detective. In 1982, he was named Police Officer of the Year by the Hilo Exchange Club.
He one of the BIIF’s top scorers in his playing days for the Vikings and was noted for his sharp-shooting. He played in various senior leagues for the Raiders, Bears, and Fil-Americans.
He coached in P&R leagues and was instrumental in starting the HI-PAL program. Coach Gil also assisted at the Vulcans camp. He was inducted into the Big Island Sports Hall of Fame.
One of Coach Gil’s hobbies was photography. He joined a Film Club and won several awards for his shots of nature.
He was Waiakea’s coach from 1982 to 2000 and led the Warriors to 11 BIIF championships: 1982-83, 1985-86, ‘88, 1993-95, 1998-99, and 2000. Waiakea was the state runner-up in 1988, third in 1998 and fourth in 1993 and 2000.
Eric Tomas played under his dad as a youngster and laughed at the memory of having an egalitarian coach, sort of a Bill Belichick at the time.
“He benched me and put me on the second team,” said Eric, who played hoops at Waiakea. “He coached me at Andrews, and I was on the B team. There was no favoritism. He treated us all the same.”
Eric works at Craftsteak, a fine-dining establishment in the MGM Grand, where T-shirt, shorts, and slippers would be frowned upon.
Before moving to Las Vegas, Eric received a bit of fatherly advice that tilted toward one of Coach Gil’s passions.
“My dad liked to gamble,” Eric said. “So, he was like, ‘Yeah Eric you should move to Vegas, and I’ll come to visit you.’”
While Eric played hoops at Waiakea, Debbie was a cheerleader as a Warrior. The family went to their share of football games to support Debbie, who’s an eighth-grade teacher on the Valley Isle.
Coach Gil was a role model for all and brought out the best in his players, including his son.
“He was an inspiration for sure,” Eric said. “Because I was never the basketball player he was, I used all his life lessons he taught me from basketball and put them into bodybuilding and men’s physique competitions. I won many competitions in Hawaii and Vegas trying to make him proud.”
Good cop/bad cop
Coach Gil was consistent in character. He didn’t change his personality when he put on his police uniform, something Debbie witnessed.
“Because he was a police officer, he had all these values that he taught, how to treat other people,” she said. “Some police officers have bad reputations, but I saw him deal with other people. He treated the public very fair and was very patient dealing with other people.
“That patience rubbed off on me. He was very patient with us as well. He was soft-spoken and very kind to people. It’s those main values you try to pass on to your students and my own children. Basically, treat people like how you want to be treated.”
Growing up, Debbie and Eric tested their dad’s patience with bouts of disagreements. And then the silent hammer came down. Debbie described her mom as the strict one while her dad was quiet.
“When it came down to not listening when Eric and I were both out of control, my dad spoke once, and we wouldn’t talk back,” Debbie said. “It was his presence. You can mess with mom but not mess with dad. He didn’t do anything. It was his whole presence.”
Debbie’s favorites times are of the photography trips the family took, places that had limited access.
“I remember being in nature a lot, at the beach and mountains,” she said. “Those are my fondest memories because we got to go to these beautiful places on the island.”
Coach Gil and Odetta were teammates in every way. That’s one reason the supportive couple was married for 50 years.
Every year, there was a planned family trip somewhere: Kona, Honolulu, or the mainland.
Coach Gil didn’t bring a basketball along to practice dribbling skills or read John Wooden’s book.
He unplugged and enjoyed family time. Then it was a return trip back home where Odetta worked as a banker and Coach Gil chased bad guys and shaped his Warriors.
When he retired, Coach Gil wanted Odetta to retire at the same time, so they could spend time together.
But on every team, there’s only one point guard who gives directions and passes the ball (the Houston Rockets being an exception).
“As a banker, I managed people and bossed him around all the time,” Odetta joked. “I later went back to work part-time on contract. He went back part-time on contract.”
Odetta pointed out that Coach Gil’s basketball not only touched his players but his family, too.
“We followed his career as a coach,” she said. “We went to all his games and traveled with the kids when they were young. That was the family time together.”