Wright On: Saiki’s record says it all

  • IVY ASHE/Tribune-Herald file photo In Bo Saiki’s 14 seasons as Waiakea High softball coach, the Warriors had more undefeated BIIF seasons, six, than they did seasons in which they failed to win the league title. Saiki’s teams claimed nine titles – including 2017, when, from left, Jolene Hirata, Halee Sweat and Kristi Hirata celebrated a perfect season – and made 10 trips to the HHSAA tournament.

There will be no pity party for Bo Saiki, no public demonstrations of outrage over a lack of recognition for the softball team at Waiakea High School that preceded his forced departure not so long ago.

Factually, his last season was an anomaly for the coach who has won more BIIF championships, nine, and had more undefeated seasons, six, than anyone else. The Warriors went 12-4 in 2019 and ended the season with a loss in a state tournament play-in game, but that was beside the point.

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In high school athletics, here, there or anywhere in the United States, you can almost count on the fingers of one hand the instances in which school officials take the side of a coach when parents complain.

A big man with a gruff exterior, Saiki has been enshrined in the Big Island Hall of Fame for his efforts, and that isn’t going away because he occasionally barked at players, upsetting the parents.

His last season’s record won’t go away, either, but it will be obscured by the other numbers that show, in his time at Waiakea, his teams recorded 161 wins against 25 losses (no records from his first year, 2006 when the team was a BIIF runner-up and qualified for the state tournament). In all, he coached 10 teams to the state tournament. In a stretch of 59 games from 2007 through 2012, Saiki’s squads never lost in BIIF competition.

But he’s OK with it, he understands how things work in high school, he’s more aware than ever that disgruntled parents can be the biggest decision makers when they complain. He doesn’t agree with the complaint, he might not have changed anything had he the chance to do it all over again, but in this case, there are no do-overs.

“It was fun,” Saiki said the other day, “the girls played hard, we had some successes. The challenge was always to adjust the coaching to fit the players — their individual talents — instead of the other way around. I didn’t have a system that they all needed to fit into, we changed what we did based on the kids and what they did best.”

A draftsman who worked for the county planning department and became a zoning inspector to support his passion, Saiki, was, in some sense, a failed baseball player.

Maybe that’s too harsh, let’s say he was an incomplete player who still loved the game.

“I could never hit, that was my problem,” he said. “My dad would make me stay after practice after everyone else left and I’d practice bunting for at least an hour, every day.

“He would have me practice bunting against inside, outside, off-speed, whatever pitches he could throw at me, until I got pretty good at it.

He would have me in situations with bases loaded, two outs and two strikes and I’d have to put the ball down. After enough time, that ball would be on the ground.”

Saiki learned what he could, got to be a very effective bunter and in so doing, the instructing opened the door to the kind of baseball and softball he later coached.

He coached AJA baseball, PONY League — where his team won the Hawaii State Tournament one year and got a trip to Chula Vista, Calif. for regionals — and eventually settled in to the game that came to define him on the Big Island when he was named the first softball coach at Keaau High School in 2000. But it wasn’t until the move to Waiakea that it all started to come together.

Over the years, players and parents came to see the softball team at Waiakea as the place to go to succeed. Winning happened there, a lot, and it’s fair to say that was all a part of the plan.

“In the beginning, I always told the players and the parents the same thing, every year,” he said. “I notified the freshmen and sophomores that they would be starting on the JV team and I wanted them playing in every game, gaining experience, getting training for the varsity.

“Then, I would always tell them once they get that experience, they come to the varsity and that’s where we go for the W’s, that’s where I try to win every year and keep my job.”

This guy can coach. He’s not touchy-feely, he yells sometimes, which is as common as popcorn and hot dogs at a ballgame, but it’s a fact that some parents cringe when they hear the coach shouting at their daughter.

Names aren’t necessary, but Saiki doesn’t deny hollering from the dugout at a player he thought was taking a passive approach defensively. Complaints were lodged. According to Saiki, athletics director Tommy Correa cautioned him to “control how you scold” players in games.

A phone call to Correa last week for a confirmation of the discussion with Saiki was not returned, so we take the coach’s recollection. When Correa called at the end of the season to say he had paychecks for everyone, Saiki went to the school to pick them up and said he was told the job was being posted — Waiakea was looking for a new softball coach.

One more year would have been nice. Saiki would have agreed to one more year before stepping down on his own, but that didn’t happen.

“It’s a year (next season) we’ve been waiting for,” he said. “I had a senior pitcher, senior catcher, senior first base, senior third base, we could have had a really good season, I think.”

He might go back to the Keaukaha AJA team he started, who knows, maybe another softball opportunity will occur. One thing for sure, despite losing the job, his bank account won’t suffer. For seven years, Saiki spent $3,000 of his own money to fly his team to Oahu for preseason tournaments hosted by Mililani High School that annually featured some of the best teams in the state.

“We don’t get to see that kind of pitching here,” he said, “but I wanted them to see the kind of stuff that would be waiting for them if they could win the BIIF.”

This crusty veteran leaves the Waiakea position with an issue he has championed to no avail over the years.

“I’ll be honest, I’m going to miss it,” he said, “but I’m not going to stick my nose in other people’s business, they did what they thought was best.

“Where I do speak out, and I have, is when I think of Title IX and how we can possibly be in compliance with it. Go to a softball game sometime and see if you can find a restroom. There aren’t any.

“Baseball has restrooms,” he said, “but they spend thousands to put up new stands (at softball fields), so parents, family, fans can come watch, but they give us no restrooms. You might have to walk mile to find a restroom at a softball game, and that’s just wrong. Somebody needs to make it equal to how they support baseball.”

And at the end of the day, at the end of his time at Waiakea, Bo Saiki was asked if there was anything he wanted to say about his time at the school.

“That’s not me,” he said. “I enjoyed those teams, those girls who played for me. I’ll let my record speak for itself.”

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The record, like the coach, hollers out loud.

Send suggestions for teams and individuals worthy of wider exposure to barttribuneherald@gmail.com

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