Basketball: Vulcan Camp goes old school

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Editor’s note: Bill O’Rear is a former UH-Hilo all-district guard. He will coach in this summer’s Vulcan Camp, his 37th time working the event. He was the longtime sports editor at the Tribune-Herald before retiring in 2014.

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Editor’s note: Bill O’Rear is a former UH-Hilo all-district guard. He will coach in this summer’s Vulcan Camp, his 37th time working the event. He was the longtime sports editor at the Tribune-Herald before retiring in 2014.

At 82, former University of Hawaii at Hilo basketball coach Jimmy Yagi has traveled the world teaching youngsters how to play basketball and share life lessons.

And in more than 60 years of coaching at camps in the United States, Europe, Australia and the Far East, the one camp that remains closest to his heart is the one he helped start in the mid 1970s — the Vulcans-Hawaii Basketball School, aka “Vulcan Camp.”

“The Vulcan Camp has a great tradition.” Yagi said in a recent interview. “Our original idea was to do something where we could give back to the people who supported our Vulcan program, maybe do something for their kids. When we decided to do the camp, we wanted to bring in good coaches who would teach the proper fundamentals of the game. We wanted our local coaches to learn from them, and in turn, they would go out and teach those important fundamentals to their players.”

Yagi, then UH-Hilo athletic director Ramon Goya, UH-Hilo assistant coaches Dwight Sumida and Joey Estrella, and Orange Coast Community College coach Herb Livsey founded the Vulcan Camp in 1976 and it attracted 29 campers, including Hilo High School standout Reed Sunahara. The 6-foot-4 Sunahara was a tremendous three-sport athlete and went on to become an All-American volleyball player at UCLA. Goya says it was a blessing for the camp to attract a talented athlete like Sunahara in its first year.

Livsey, who went onto a Hall of Fame career at Orange Coast CC and became a longtime NBA scout, started the world renowned Snow Valley Basketball School in 1961 in Santa Barbara, Calif. and worked with Goya, Yagi, Sumida and Estrella in the 1970s to get the Vulcan Camp going. Livsey helped bring in highly regarded California junior college coaches to bolster the Vulcan Camp coaching staff and the camp quickly grew to over 200 youngsters per week each July.

Wilson expansion

Then when Yagi retired in 1985 as the Vulcan head coach, UH-Hilo hired Bob Wilson out of Phillips University in Enid, Okla., to take over the Vulcans basketball program. The energetic Wilson continued to expand the camp and it attracted more than 500 youngsters for six straight summers.

Wilson coached at UH-Hilo until 1995, before becoming the basketball coach and later AD at Vanguard University in Southern California. But by the time he left, he had built the Vulcan Camp into one of the biggest one-week camps in the United States. And the highly regarded Hilo camp attracted coaches and campers from throughout Hawaii, and even some from the mainland.

Wilson was also able to continue the “unique spirit” of the camp that Yagi, Goya, Sumida, Estrella and Livsey established in the mid 1970s, helping bond the local coaches with the visiting coaches into a closeknit staff to teach the game.

“I think the original intent with Jimmy (Yagi), Ramon (Goya) , Dwight (Sumida) and Joey (Estrella) was to do something for Hilo to help the sport of basketball,” said Wilson, who retired last year after 20 productive years at Vanguard University. “They went to Snow Valley Basketball School to see firsthand what was being done and if a similar type of camp could work in Hilo. They wanted to bring in really good mainland coaches to work with the local coaches and share their knowledge. Livsey helped make it happen and the Vulcan Camp became an important tradition to Big Island basketball and everyone who took part in it each summer.”

Wilson, his wife, Tammy, and Goya helped organize the Vulcan Camp during Bob Wilson’s tenure at UH-Hilo. Tammy Wilson saw upclose the impact the camp had on the youngsters.

“Some of our fondest memories were watching all the kids improve, seeing them playing together in games, and just enjoying themselves,” Tammy Wilson said. “I loved seeing Vulcan shirts and shorts on all islands as we watched the girls’ high school games. Vulcan camp was the social event of the year.”

“Our daughters, Saundi and Nikki, felt like it was the highlight of the summer,” Bob Wilson added. “We’re really proud to have been part of such a great tradition on the Big Island during our time in Hawaii.”

Local flavor

Goya praises former Hilo High School coach Al Manliguis for giving the Vulcan Camp credibility in the local basketball community during the early years. Manliguis was a coaching legend with the Vikings at the time and once he joined the Vulcan Camp staff, Goya said, other local coaches followed.

“Getting Al Manliguis to work the camp and having Reed Sunahara attend the early camps were instrumental in building the Vulcan Camp into something really positive for the community,” Goya said.

After 1995, the camp continued under Vulcan coaches Jim Forkum (2 years) and Jeff Law (15 years), but there was less emphasis on bringing in mainland coaches or attracting the big numbers that the Wilson era brought in.

When Law left in 2012, the Vulcan Camp was put on hold with new UH-Hilo men’s coach GE Coleman coming in to build his own program. The County of Hawaii, under Parks and Recreation director Clayton Honma, then stepped in to sponsor the Jimmy Yagi Basketball Camp, an off-shoot of the Vulcan Camp, for four years. Honma, the younger brother of former UH-Hilo women’s coach Daphne Honma, was a star player at Honokaa High and attended the Vulcan Camp as a youngster.

Vuls in charge

This summer, UH-Hilo is running the Vulcan Camp again, with Coleman and Vulcan women’s coach David Kaneshiro acting as co-directors. The camp has also invited Bob Wilson and former Vulcans Nelson Wong, Paul Lee, Bruce Ferreira and Jayme Carvalho to participate as coaches. The staff will be filled out with volunteers, many of whom have worked previous Vulcan Camps or in the Jimmy Yagi Basketball Camp.

Yagi will attend the 39th edition of Vulcan Camp in July, but he doesn’t do camps or clinics anymore, so he’ll be there at the gyms to support the coaches and players.

“I’m thrilled that UH-Hilo is taking over the camp,” Yagi said. “I’m also very excited to see Bob Wilson and the other guys coming back to help. I know GE and David will do a good job to continue the Vulcan Camp tradition. This is a win-win situation for the Vulcans and the community.”

Lee, now the Waiakea High boys coach, Ferreira, the Hilo High boys coach, and Carvalho, the Honokaa High boys coach, all attended the Vulcan Camp as youngsters and were standout prep players before moving onto play at UH-Hilo. Wilson said he is pleased to see his former players get into high school coaching and know they are making a difference with young student-athletes.

“I’m really excited to be coming back to the Vulcan Camp and work with a lot of special friends and some of my former players,” Wilson said. “We would like to see GE and David as well as the local high school coaches take ownership in the Vulcan Camp and work together to help strengthen Big Island basketball for the future.

“We think the Vulcan Camp can be something positive for the Big Island and give those local high school coaches an advantage over other high school coaches in the state. If the camp can focus on teaching the proper fundamentals and get everyone to work together, it can build on the great tradition that Jimmy, Ramon, Dwight and Joey envisioned when they started the camp back in the 1970s.”

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Camp info

UH-Hilo will host the 2017 Vulcan Camp, July 24-27, for youngsters ages 8-17 at the campus gym as well as the Panewa Covered Courts. Cost is $75 and includes a camp T-shirt and photo, a basketball and a notebook. For more information, call 808-932-7802 or go to www.hiloathletics.com and download a camp brochure.

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