Sports

NHK NEWSLINE

NHK NEWSLINE

 

NHK NEWSLINE delivers the latest from Japan, Asia and the rest of the world. Their wide network of correspondents around the globe cover breaking news and developing stories, offering a unique Asian perspective. Together with a team of trusted anchors, NHK NEWSLINE presents a picture of what’s happening now, and what’s ahead. The series’ alternating anchors include: Ross Mihara, Raja Pradhan, Minori Takako, James Tengan, Ai Uchida and Miki Yamamoto. Photo courtesy of NHK.

 

 

 

 

HIKI NŌ
Unified Sports

 

TOP STORY

 

“Unified Sports”
Students from Maui High School in Kahului feature fellow student Britney Bautista. Britney, who has a developmental delay syndrome, has gained a sense of belonging through the school’s Special Olympics Unified Sports program. This program brings students with and without disabilities together to participate in sports, socials, and other extracurricular activities. Britney is also one of only twelve U.S. youth ambassadors to the Special Olympics, which gives her a voice to advocate for the advancement of inclusive youth leadership. “My goal is to introduce Special Olympics to the younger generation,” says Britney. “I want them to learn that everyone is the same, and nobody should be judged by what their physical characteristics look like.”

 

ALSO FEATURED

 

Students from Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy in Waimea on Hawaiʻi Island introduce us to a wahine paniolo champion.

 

Students from Hilo Intermediate School on Hawaiʻi Island tell the story of a bone marrow donor in Hilo who discovered that the recipient of his bone marrow lives just a few minutes away from him.

 

Students from Hawaiʻi Technology Academy on Oʻahu profile Hawaiʻi’s fledgling ice hockey league.

 

Students from Waiākea High School on Hawaiʻi Island tell the story of a dedicated group of dog lovers who place homeless canines with their new, forever owners.

 

Students from Mililani High School in Central Oʻahu share a public service announcement about simple changes people can make that will have a positive impact on life in Hawaiʻi.

 

Plus, a montage of HIKI NŌ stories from Saint Francis School on Oʻahu, whose 95-year-old history is ending at the close of this school year.

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ also features students’ profiles on their HIKI NŌ teachers.

 

 

 

MUSIC VOYAGER
Atlanta Unites

MUSIC VOYAGER: Atlanta Unites

 

Atlanta has a new flag to follow: Atlanta United. A soccer team that on an average draws some of the biggest attendance numbers in the world. There is dedicated fan clubs and rally cries that are unique and have an American twist to it, like tailgating. A world of creatives rally around the club and we get to experience Atlanta through them.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jim Leahey

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Jim Leahey

 

As the most recognized sports voice in Hawai‘i, Jim Leahey did more than call plays; he was a masterful storyteller who informed as well as entertained. After lending his voice to thousands University of Hawai‘i and other athletics games, and a career of more than 60 years, he retired from sportscasting in June of 2018.

 
Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 3, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Jim Leahey Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

People that come up to me and said: You know, I’m gonna do my first game.  I said: Well, you have to know the players, you have to study the statistics, you have to know the trends that are going to happen.  You have to study the language, you have to read, read, read.  And you don’t have to read sports all the time; you read other words that you can compare and contrast for the theater of the mind, the people that listen, the people that you’re providing the picture for.

 

Jim Leahey is an iconic name in the world of Hawai‘i sports broadcasting. For thousands of games, his voice brought University of Hawai‘i athletics into our living rooms.  And he’s one-third of a local sports dynasty; his father was legendary sportscaster Chuck Leahey, and the ball is now in the hands of Jim’s son Kanoa.  Jim Leahey, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  James Charles Leahey, sometimes called Kimo, but better known as Jim, retired in June 2018 from a career that spanned more than sixty years in sports broadcasting. He started out teaching school, which he calls his first love.  After he changed careers, he became the most recognized sports voice in Hawai‘i, announcing games and hosting sports talk shows on radio and television for decades. His first radio announcing job came unexpectedly in his teens, when his sportscaster father, Chuck Leahey, fell ill. Chuck Leahey had gotten his start in Hawai‘i as a U.S. Navy reporter during World War II.

 

He was at the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He was on the destroyer tender Dobbin, seven hundred yards from the Arizona when it blew up.  For one month, his job was to pick up dead bodies and body parts. Okay?  And that really affected him.  He was also at Midway, he was also at Tarawa, he was at Iwo Jima, but he never talked about them.  So, later on, I said: Dad, they’re having the anniversary for Pearl Harbor, and all of these people, you know, they wear the hats, survivor.  How come you never joined that?  He says: Let me tell you something.  And he looks … Let me tell you something.  That was the greatest defeat in the history of the United States Navy; it has affected me greatly.  I’m not going out wearing a celebratory hat.  And so, that’s the kind of person he was.  I mean, he really loved his children, he really loved his family, but he knew as a chief petty officer, a journalist chief petty officer in the Navy, which he stayed in after World War II, and he married my mother a month after the attack, he needed something else.  So, he went into play-by-play; he went into radio.  He refereed basketball games.  He did that kind of thing.  And because of that, he would have to take us along, because he had these kids.  He had to take me along.

 

How many kids?

 

Well, he had a total of five.  One is deceased now.  My brother Robby was blown up in that ammunition firecracker incident.

 

In Waikele.

 

In Waikele; yeah.

 

I’m sorry.

 

So, the thing was that we sat there, and we absorbed, we absorbed, we absorbed.  And we were all sportscasters.  I mean, we were all sportscasters.  And even when my brother lived in Mililani, had a little pool, we used to play games, and we used to announce the games.  And you had to come up there as a new guy with a new bat, and a new way of doing things, and describe what was going on.  So, he was able to make a living at it, and he was able to, you know, push it out.  And then, he went into Armed Forces Radio in Los Angeles, and we went with him, then we came back.  And the first time that I had done it, or I did it, was a boxing tournament in Schofield Barracks at Conroy Bowl.  He had pleurisy; he said I can’t do it.  Pleurisy, liquid in the lungs.  And he—This is your pass to get in.

 

How old were you?

 

I was fifteen.  I was a sophomore at St. Louis.  Okay?  So, he says: This is your ticket to get in, this is your ticket to get into the arena. This is the equipment; you plug in this, there’ll be a radio thing down there, you plug in that, and then you’ll hear the engineer, and then you talk to him again.  I did it.  I went, I got in, I went there.  And you know, it sounded fifteen-ish.  You know, it was like: There’s a hard right to the body, there’s a hit to the head, the referee.  Oh, he may be down.  You know, yeah.

 

But you were accurate the whole way?

 

I was pretty accurate.  You know, I was pretty accurate.  I could tell who won.

And uh, then, you know.

 

Fifteen; you went there on your own without a buddy or—

 

Nope; just me.

 

–chaperone, or anything?

 

Just me.

 

Wow.

 

So, that started it off.

 

But that’s live.  You sink or swim in live.

 

Live.

 

Yeah; no retakes.

 

No.  Yeah; that’s right.  And people that come up to me and said: You know, I’m gonna do my first game.  I said: Well, you have to know the players, you have to study the statistics, you have to know the trends that are going to happen.  You have to study the language, you have to read, read, read.  And you don’t have to read sports all the time; you read other words that you can compare and contrast for the theater of the mind, the people that listen, the people that you’re providing the picture for.  So, I said: That’s what you have to do.  And usually, they get right through the opening, the lineups, everything is good.  Tipoff; now, all of that is gone.  All of that research is gone, and it’s your mind and your talent.  And I’ve always believed in three things.  One is, always be yourself.  Always be yourself.  You’ve been given this talent.  Don’t imitate anybody else.  Two, never tell a lie.  Never tell a lie when you’re in play-by-play.  And three—and you’ll get this; never, ever trust broadcast management.

 

Never trust them.

 

Never trust myself; no.

 

Never trust them; yes.

 

No, no; of course not.

 

And it’s not their fault; it’s not their fault. They look at the broadcast, they look at games in a different way.  How many people will listen, how many sponsors will we get, how much do we have to pay the announcer, how much do we have to, you know, pay for the rights, and all kinds of stuff.  So, theirs is different.

 

Different parameters.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But don’t trust ‘em.  Don’t come buddy-buddy with ‘em.  No.

 

Okay; you say that.  But when you’re asked who are the people who’ve influenced you most, two of them are from broadcast management: Bob Sevey and Rick Blangiardi.

 

Absolutely; absolutely.  Bob Sevey; let me tell you the story of Bob Sevey.  Bob Sevey was my idol, Bob Sevey was my mentor, Bob Sevey was—well, you worked for him too.

 

And you did trust him, apparently.  He was the news director.

 

Well, he was the news director, but he also had to present the news every day.  And he had to say things like: I want three sources on this story before we put it on the air; I’m not gonna go with this, I want three sources.  So, he had the best crew in Hawai‘i, and you were one of them, that supplied that for him.  For me, he says: Don’t say U-nited Airlines, it’s United Airlines.  I said: What’s the difference?  He goes: You can tell the difference if you’re a pro.  I go: Well, I gotta be a pro.  You know.  I was teaching school at Campbell High School in ‘Ewa Beach.  He came to see me.  So, he came in, and he came into my classroom and he sat down, and he said: Can I talk to you?  And I go: Sure; how you doing?  You know.

 

 

So, he looks at me and he says: Joe Moore is leaving for Channel 2 to do the news; we want you to do the sports at six and at ten. And I told him: No.  He says: What?  What?  He says: How much do you make?  I say: Seventeen thousand dollars a year teaching school, and I like it.  And he says: I’ll double it.  Now, it’s up to thirty-four thousand.  And he says: I’ll double it.  I say: No, I don’t want that.  I’ve been in this part-time, and I don’t like it, it’s kind of a phony business.  You know.  And he’s looking at me kind of funny, he’s looking at me kind of funny. And I said: Look, I live in this community, I ride my bicycle to school every day.

 

Okay; but Channel 9 was the biggest station of its time.

 

Oh, it was.  It was.

 

But still, were you negotiating at this point?

 

No, no, no, no.  There was no negotiation here.  No, no.  What I was trying to say is that I liked my job, I liked where I was, and I liked what I was doing as a teacher.  He says he’ll double it.  I say: No, because I like it.  He says–and this is what got me, this is what got me: When are you going to think of your own children instead of everybody else’s?  Uh … uh … uh … and I knew that this offer was not gonna be there, because this is Friday, and he wants me to be there on Monday.

 

And lots of other people wanted the job.

 

That’s right; that’s right.  So, he said: And I’ll triple it.  So, I said: Well, I’ll take a sabbatical one year, see how it is. And I never went back.

 

Jim Leahey’s sportscasting career took off as he informed and entertained.  And in live sporting events for the University of Hawai‘i, he did more than call plays; he was a masterful storyteller. But he was no master of his emotions. He wore his heart on his UH sleeve.

 

He loses the ball!  Rainbows have it!  *  How sweet it is!  How sweet it is!

 

This is delicious!

 

Here comes Muhammad.  Muhammad step on the plate, he’s safe.  The Rainbows have defeated UCLA.  I don’t believe it!  I don’t believe it!

 

Jim Leahey made the job look easier than it was.  While some of it came naturally to him, he also did a great deal of homework, prepping for a game.

 

It’s a tremendous thing, and what you had to do, and the amount of hours.  Oh, I should have brought in my scorebooks, where I had to handwrite all the updated statistics for the next game.

 

You just immerse yourself in all the information.

 

And it takes hours, and hours, and hours.  And then, you know, you go and do the best you can in describing—

 

And then, how did you come up with some of the expressions you’ve used on the air? I imagine you thought about them ahead of time.  I mean, when you said at the Brigham Young game that Hawai‘i won, you know: This is better than statehood.  That was perfect.

 

You know, that just came.  That just came into my mind, because that’s how I felt.

 

Yeah.

 

That’s how I felt.

 

And the enthusiasm in your voice is just palpable.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you consciously build enthusiasm in games, or is that natural?

 

I think that you … in order to present the theater of the mind—I keep going back to that, especially in radio.  In radio, you have to describe everything.  And when you do, people have different ways of looking at it.  They have different ways of looking at the stadium, different ways of looking at the grass in the stadium, different ways of where the baseball players are playing defensively.  How does the batter look, what kind of bat does he have, what kind of stance does he use, what kind of pitch is going to come his way.  All of that have to be conveyed.  Now, on television, everyone sees the same picture.  But you still have to enhance it.  You have to enhance who these people are, what kind of record does the pitcher have.

 

With a few words, too.

 

And the words that you use come from reading, reading, reading, reading, reading.  And it doesn’t have to be sports; it can be anything else.  Because then you can compare and contrast.  That ball is aloha.  Homerun; that ball is aloha.  No one in the other forty-nine states is going to say: What?  What is that?  But the people here do.  So, you have to be very concerned with your audience, too.  You have to really be concerned with that.

 

Now, Bob Sevey was probably better known than most governors.

 

Yes.  He was a tremendous guy, and I owe a lot to him.  Really.

 

And yet, it wasn’t smooth sailing all the time.

 

No.

 

Because he was broadcast management, so you had your tiffs with him.  In fact, one time I said–I think we called you Kimo.

 

Yeah.

 

Kimo Leahi at the time.

 

Yeah.

 

What’s Kimo angry about?  And he goes: I don’t know.

 

There were a lot of guys in that newsroom that were the same.

 

Always angry about something.  And they reported the news, I think, the best that it could be reported.  But for me, working on that particular crew—and then you have Blangiardi coming in, and his idea about taking the events of the University of Hawai‘i football team, basketball team, volleyball team, and to televise it to the Hawaiian Islands was amazing.  And he had a man who worked very, very hard at it, and that was Stan Sheriff.  And Stan Sheriff built already a big arena at Northern Iowa when he was there, before he came as the athletic director at the University of Hawai‘i.  And he fought with the politicians all the time, because the politicians were saying: We don’t need a big arena; the only good team we have is volleyball, we only need four thousand seats.  And he says: No, we—

 

Think big.

 

Think big.  Because we need fifteen thousand, because then we can have regionals, then we can have—you know, it would be national; it would be national.  That’s what he was looking for.  He was so dedicated to what he did, it killed him. Because one night after coming back from the mainland, he went to pick up his baggage and died, right there. And so, that was really a tragedy. But we kept working at it, and Blangiardi kept working at it.  And so, Blangiardi, even though he was management, he was my color man.  He was my color man in what I consider the greatest game, which was in 1989 when the Bows finally beat Brigham Young after ten years.

 

Farmer at the forty.  Farmer at the forty-five.  Farmer at the forty.  in front of it.  The thirty, the twenty, the fifteen, the ten, the five!  Touchdown!

 

I’m not sure. They say no!  And they put it on the three-yard line!  No way!  No way!

 

He has it at the fifteen.  He will score!

 

Final seconds will tick away.  And so, if you ask yourself: Is this the year?  Is this the year?  You better believe this is the year!

 

I remember the time watching that clip.  Rick Blangiardi sat at Jim Leahey’s side, providing color commentary during many live sports events.  Once the broadcast was over, though, Blangiardi’s role went back to being the boss at the TV station.

 

And he fired me twice.  And his method of firing, I mean, it was Broadway show. Get out, you’ll never work in this town again.

 

 

I chase him down the stairs to his car, make sure he leaves.  And I go: Boy, I don’t want to get fired like that.  And yet, I was.  One night, he’s gonna show the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I went … No, no; you don’t want to watch this.  I did the sports lead-in to the movie.  I said: You don’t want to watch this.  Tomorrow night, we have a better, it’s better for the kids, we have a better movie.

 

So, you were an employee of the station telling people not to watch the station.

 

Absolutely.

 

Right; okay.

 

That’s the first thing he said to me when I came in the next day.  And then following that is: You’re done, you’re finished, you’ll never work in this town again.  So, I drive home, I drive home and I tell my wife: Toni, I’m sorry, but I got fired today; I got fired by Blangiardi.  And she, being the Catholic school girl that she was, said: What did you do now?

 

Okay?  So, I said: Chainsaw Massacre.  Ring; the phone rings.  It’s Blangiardi.  Eh, this is Blangiardi.  You know.

 

And he says: We had a good one today; yeah?  And I go: Yeah, you fired me.  Ah, don’t worry about that, come back tomorrow.

 

But see, he’s like nobody else.

 

Some chances you don’t get more than once.

 

No.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah.  But the thing is, I think that now that I’ve retired, I find it very difficult.

 

Okay. This is really the nub of it. You’ve just retired from sportscasting, after more than sixty years.  Sportscasting has defined your life; you’ve loved it.  Other people have a love-hate relationship with their job, or they really lost interest a while back.  But you have always been all in, all love it.  You know, whatever you’ve had to put up with to do it, you’ve loved. So, now what?

 

Ooh; that’s a good question, isn’t it?

 

You’re supposed to think about it before you retire.

 

Yeah.  I … I did think about it, but it was like on and off, on and off, on and off.  And then, when I had my last tiff with the management of the radio station that carried University of Hawai‘i basketball—

 

Oh, that’s right.

 

I mean, baseball.

 

You’ve probably been fired from other places too; right?

 

Yeah, yeah.  I’ve been fired from other places, too.

 

So, this one, the manager says: Well, it was only a two-year deal.  I said: two-year, I never signed anything.  Where is it; show me the paper.  So, I’m telling them: Look, I can do it one more year; I know I can do it one more year.  And he goes: Well, you know, I don’t know, in one or two years, the new guys that’s coming in, they actually work here, and… And I go: Well.  And he says: Well, call me.  I hang up.  My wife is across the room, and she’s giving me the what-for.  I mean, her eyes are like, neeeee.  She says: Don’t you ever do that again.  And I said: What?  Beg people for a job.  Do you know the kinda people they are, compared to you?  What are all these awards?  What are all these; you haven’t done anything?  You’re just coming up, just starting?  No, you don’t even need ‘em.  Now’s the time for you to step away.  That’s what she tells me; now’s the time for you to step away.  Now, we have been married fifty-two years.  And when her eyes get big, I tend to take that as a signal that I’d better maybe start to think in a different way.

 

Jim Leahey’s home life was in many ways a reflection of his life as a sports fan, enjoying the give-and-take and the back-and-forth opinions, even relishing the disagreement and not wanting to give an inch.  He credits his wife Toni and their three children for opening him up to new perspectives, and making him a better person.  Those real-life spirited discussions around the kitchen table became the format for Leahey & Leahey, a show he co-hosted with his son Kanoa Leahey for nine years here on PBS Hawai‘i.

 

I would love to have been at your family’s dinner table over years, because I know it was vociferous debate many times.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

We saw it when you and Kanoa were doing the show here together.  You would take positions, and you would advocated mightily. And both of you were so articulate in doing so.  And it could get very …

 

Yes, it could.

 

So, I think you’re comfortable with conflict.

 

Yes.

 

And I think …

 

Because in conflict, if you have the right conflict, if you have the kind of conflict where you leave and you don’t like the person anymore, you know.  But if you leave with respect, you can converse, you know, all the time.

 

It’s true that you don’t solve anything unless you work it out.

 

That’s right.

 

So, what were your dinner table conversations like as a family?

 

Oh, when we disagreed with each other, it was: How can you possibly be saying that, when you called yourself a human being? You know.

 

Ooh, that sounds a little personal.

 

Well, yeah.  I mean, but the other ones were: No, no, no, that’s not right.  Because especially when they got into high school, then they could argue back, then they could really make a case.  Then they could say: Yeah, well, you don’t know anything; you don’t know anything about this.  And I didn’t like that, because … they were right; I didn’t know anything about that.

 

But did you admit it?

 

No; not then.

 

No, of course not.

 

But later on; you know, later on, you do. No; the family dinner is something that is very special.  The family dinner is something that, what happened during that day, you discuss it. And sometimes, you agree, sometimes you don’t agree, sometimes you leave it unsaid, or solutions un—

 

Is any conversation forbidden, any subject forbidden?

 

No; absolutely not.  And I think my wife watches that pretty good.  She goes: Don’t say that.  You know, that kinda stuff.

 

And everybody listens to her.

 

Yes.  I mean, she’s the one that sets the standard.  My wife and I set the standards.  Fifty-two years; fifty-two years of the greatest arguments that you will ever hear.

 

Who wins?  Who wins your arguments?

 

— vocabulary, I may say.

 

Oh, I bet.

 

Yeah.

 

She’s a teacher, and you’re a word guy.

 

I’ll tell you what.  When we go to sleep, we’re solving it.  So, when the lights go out, about a half hour after that … Sorry, I said [INDISTINCT].  And I think that’s the best way.  You can disagree, but then there’s also that it’s not permanent.  It’s not permanent.

 

And you learn something from every argument?  Is that what you think?

 

You learn most of it; you learn most of it in there.  But I wouldn’t trade her.

 

Right now, people are so polarized, and we have a hard time talking to each other about our differences.  And you feel really comfortable doing that.  It’s had some negative effects, but it’s really healthy to talk when you don’t agree.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Yes.  That’s the only way that you really make progress.  If you’re afraid not to state your views, if you’re afraid to say that what I believe … I really don’t, I really don’t think it’ll work.  You gotta go in there with some certainty.  You gotta go in there and say: Yeah, that’s a good point, and I’ll give you that, but.  And then you challenge, you challenge, you know, whatever they have to say.

 

Have you ever regretted that you spoke up or disagreed?

 

Sure.  Sure.

 

Why?

 

Oh, I think that I … emotionally, I leapt emotionally before I leapt intellectually.  And at the end, I think I hurt the person a little bit too much. Lady.  So, I called her up and said: If that’s an example of me, I was not up to standard.  You know. But you have to have respect for the person.  You have to have.  You know, what they say to you, you learn from that.

 

Do you think it made your kids stronger, that you’re such a strong personality, and outspoken?  And obviously, Toni is very much a part, and probably quieter and more definitive when it’s over.  But you know, your kids hear a lot from you.  Do you think it’s made them stronger?

 

I think it’s made me stronger.  I think it’s made me stronger.  Because when I talk to them on the phone or something like that and they have a point, they go boom-boom-boom-boom.  You know.  Yeah. That’s right; that’s right.  Yeah, yeah, okay.  Yeah, okay.  Yeah, that’s okay.  All right. Let me look into that.  You know, that kind of made me stronger.  At times, you know, I think it’s helped them with their problems.  Everybody has problems.  But I just think, you know, you’re Leaheys, and we have a pride, we have a way of doing things, and what you’ve said has made me stronger.  I finally understand where you’re coming from; finally understand.

 

You know what I noticed about you when you were doing a show here?  ‘Cause I got to observe you.  If a guest didn’t show, if for some reason a featured guest was not available for the taping, it didn’t concern you whatsoever.  You and Kanoa knew you could put on a half-hour program.

 

Sure; yeah.

 

Adlib it, and it would be a really good show.  And it was not necessary, even though it would have been welcome.

 

It would have been better.

 

That would be so daunting to almost anybody else.

 

No; because see, that’s who we are.  That’s who we are.  We deal with ideas, we deal with viewpoints.  We deal with things that happen.  And maybe our viewpoint is a little bit off, a little bit different, but we’re going to explain it to you.  You know, we’re going to show you.

 

What do you think about Kanoa?  When you listen to him call sports, do you hear yourself, and then do you hear things that you wouldn’t say?

 

I hear myself; I hear the same things that I’ve said in the past.  But I also hear something that … is really good.  It’s really original.  But I can still hold my own.  I can still hold my own in basketball, or have good games in baseball.  I think I’m a little bit better than he is in baseball. But don’t tell anybody.

 

Jim’s son, Kanoa Leahey, has taken his place in the Leahey dynasty as a consummate sportscaster very skilled at handling live coverage, and a sports talk show host.  Mahalo to Jim Leahey of East Honolulu for sharing your stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

A horse walks into a bar.  Tell me the joke.

 

A horse walks into a bar.  The bartender looks up and says: Hey, big fella; why the long face?

 

That’s it; that’s the joke.  She got it.

 

That was perfect.

 

That was flawless delivery.

 

How many years; how many years did it take for you to remember that joke?  ‘Cause I used to tell it every day for about three months, and you never got it right. The bartender wasn’t right, the horse didn’t have a long neck.

 

Twenty-five to thirty years?

 

It was about that.  Yeah, it was about that.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Eran Ganot

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Eran Ganot

 

Eran Ganot’s voice carries a tone of gratitude when he speaks of growing up in a blue-collar New Jersey community with his twin brother, two sisters, immigrant parents and the influence of grandparents who survived the Holocaust. Ganot would draw upon some of those childhood values when he accepted what he refers to as his “dream job” as a head coach – at a time in the spring of 2015 when the University of Hawai‘i Men’s Basketball program was mired in controversy and uncertainty.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 13, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Eran Ganot:

 

Gregg Popovich, Maya Angelou and Life Beyond Basketball

 

Leadership

 

What’s a Guy from Jersey Doing Coaching in Hawai‘i?

 

Eran Ganot Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When the University of Hawaii named Eran Ganot as the new head coach for the men’s basketball team, many onlookers were surprised. The selection committee picked a thirty-four-year-old first-time head coach to lead the program through troubled times.  Eran Ganot, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawaii’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  When you sit down and talk with Eran Ganot, you don’t think investment banker.  But Ganot studied economics at one of the most highly-regarded liberal arts colleges in the country, and had offers he seriously considered.  But while he likes business and economics, when he talks about basketball and coaching, he uses words like passion, work ethic, perspective, and balance—values he stresses with his players, whom he refers to as his extended family, values he learned from his own strong family unit growing up in a blue collar northern New Jersey community.

 

Where did you grow up?  Where did your earliest formative experiences take place?

 

Well, I mean, when you’re really young.  I was born in Philly, grew up in Jersey.  So, Philly, really too young to remember a lot of the experience there. But moved to Bergenfield, I remember, and then to Tenafly, I think when I was six.  And basically, so those were my formative years growing up.

 

And what’s Tenafly like as a town to live in?

 

It’s a suburb about fifteen, twenty minutes from New York City.  Really kind of a low-key community, really good people. You know, one of those communities where everybody kinda knows each other and have been there for a long time. So, it was a great place to grow up. You know, an older sister, a younger sister, a twin brother, great family.  Friends I got to grow up with from elementary school, to junior high, to high school.  I kinda like that, and I think you can see that even in my coaching career, not really bouncing around too much.  So, it was a place with a really loving atmosphere, a blue collar town, with people who really cared about each other.

 

Both of your parents were immigrants; one from Romania, one from Israel.

 

So, my dad actually was born in Romania, and grew up in Brooklyn.  And my mom was born and raised in Israel.

 

And I believe I’ve heard that three of your grandparents were holocaust survivors.

 

Yeah. We were born in 1981, and one of my grandfathers on my mom’s side, her father, passed that year.  So, I never had much interaction with him, obviously. And then, our other three grandparents were alive—not now, but for most of our upbringing, and when we were in Tenafly. And just to hear some of those stories when you’re growing up, you remember those.

 

Any idea about why these three people in your family survived?

 

The grit and toughness you had to have to go through that, one, to survive, and two, you know, the constant fear of what was going on, seeing things happen to your friends and family.  I can’t imagine; it’s unfathomable, and the atrocities that were going on at that time. But you know, whether you’re hearing it from three family members, or reading about it, or studying it, it’s pretty powerful.

 

You’re growing up in this suburb.  But it’s not a placid place for you and your brother, because you are tough competitors, and you’re always doing sports.

 

Well, you hear stories all the time about siblings battling each other.  And think about what it’s like for twins. So, same year, same teams.  You know, we played every sport, and it added to the competitive spirit and handling, you know, you’re gonna win or lose every other day in every other sport.  And I think our parents did a great job.  And you know, when you’re going through just growing up and you’re competing in everything.  I talk about that with our team; achievers, you know, on the court, off the court, in the classroom.  You know.

 

You would lose to your brother, you would win over your brother.  But the relationship; was that paramount, or was it the competition?

 

Oh, no; when you’re younger it’s about the competition.

 

Winning or losing. 

 

Yeah. As you get older, the relationship becomes more important.  I mean, I think we pushed each other, obviously.  But we competed in everything; not just sports.  And our parents were really good about … you know, we were, I’d like to say coachable, but we wanted to play sports, and we couldn’t do that unless our grades were good.  So, guess what?  If you hear that and you want to go play sports, your grades are gonna be pretty good, and you’re gonna get your homework done.

 

You mean, you didn’t whine and try to get out of it?

 

Oh, early.

 

And have excuses?

 

But we weren’t gonna win that battle.

 

Your parents were not buying any of that.

 

No; and they were good on that.  And it created the habits of managing your time, having good priorities.  To be honest, I mean, smart wins.  Our parents were really good about understanding the big picture.

 

What sports did you and your twin brother play?

 

Everything; and then everything changed when we got to high school.  And we actually went to from—shoot, I’m thinking for five years, maybe between ages ten and fifteen, or nine and fourteen, we went every summer to a sports academy sleepaway camp.  So, we were sent packing, basically, and you play every sport there.  So, we played everything.  And then, you know, the good thing about growing up on the East Coast, you have the seasons.

 

It snows in New Jersey.  What did you do then?

 

Well, we played tackle basketball and tackle football in the snow.  And we shoveled a lot of snow, driveways to make some extra money.  Let’s see, now.  In the winter it was basketball, in the spring it was baseball, in the fall it was soccer.  But then when we got to high school, we started to, you know, target.  And I encourage that, by the way.  I think every kid should play every sport.  It tackles different parts of your body, it’s a different kinda team chemistry.  And then you gotta find what you gravitate towards.  And eventually it became clear when we got to high school, it was basketball.

 

What about your sisters?  Did they play, too?

 

They did.  And it’s funny; we have a pretty big gap.  I mean, my sister was born in 1974, we were born in ’81, and my younger sister was 1990.  So, there was some separation.  When we left the house for college at seventeen, my younger sister was just kinda jumping into sports.  So, they weren’t as sports-motivated.  They were just as competitive in different ways.

 

It sounds like it would be hard to be as motivated as you two were in sports.  But they were competitive in what ways?

 

Well, I just think people sometimes think if you play sports, you’re competitive. But I think if you’re aggressive in the classroom.  You know, those guys, they did a great job.  One went to Boston University and one went to American University, and now you know, one’s still on the East Coast, New York; Danielle.  My younger sister Betty is, you know, doing a great job raising her family of three kids in Calabasas.  So, I just think competitiveness is just the way they attack life.  It’s not just about basketball and baseball.

 

But you can overdo competitiveness, too; right? Or do you think you can?

 

No; I think you can.  That’s why I was talking about the balance.  I mean, you have to … you know, I said this about can you find the balance between—I do this a lot with our team—between working your tail off and and enjoying the journey.  Does that make sense?  And every year, you know, the great things we talk with our staff and people I’m close with, it’s you’re always working on your philosophy, and you can’t have one without the other.  Life’s too short.  You can’t be good at anything if you’re not happy, and you’re not gonna be happy if you’re not doing with you love, where you love, with people you love.

 

And finding what one loves is often a very difficult thing.  Lot of people don’t find it for many, many years.

 

Yeah; and you could see there’s stress involved with that.  You know, we have guys who come to us at, you know, eighteen to twenty-two, and then they leave for, you know, whatever it is next.  You know, our job is to prepare them for the next step.  But I think people rush into things.  Look, I was fortunate, I feel like, I knew what I wanted to do.  And you hear stories about people trying to find that similar passion.  But it’s gotta be natural, it’s gotta be genuine.  Like, my brother is in a different line of work than me.  He’s in fashion design; he’s got his own clothing company.  And he didn’t really find that ‘til maybe five or eight years, whatever, after I found I wanted to coach.

 

So, he went from being a jock to a fashion designer.

 

Yes. We’re on different spectrums. We’re a little different personalities. Equally competitive, and obviously, similar values.

 

And he says he’s better than you at sports; right?

 

Yeah. Well, he always says, too, you gotta respect the older brother.  He’s nine minutes older than me.

 

Right? That’s a little out of hand.

 

Even that’s competitive.

 

No question.  But I just think, you know, people shouldn’t rush into finding that passion.  Like, explore.  Like, if you have it, great; chase it, go through with it.  If you don’t, find it, and take your time.  But I think when people rush into doing something, that creates that unhappiness.  And you’re just not gonna be good anything if you don’t find a passion.  So, if I tell people anything, find your passion and attack it.

 

Eran Ganot played high school basketball for four years, and was recruited by Swarthmore, a college outside of Philadelphia. A nagging back injury suffered during his high school career continued to bother him in college.  Today, he speaks from experience when he warns players about playing through the pain.

 

I remember walking into the training room, and my college coach and our trainer were sitting there and going: We think something’s going on.  And that was the first time I failed a physical ‘cause of the back.  And he had told me that when we met after. and that was a hard time for me.  It was actually the only time I missed a practice, I think, coaching or playing, because it I couldn’t practice and it was too hard for me to go and practice.  I couldn’t practice.

 

Emotionally or physically?

 

Emotionally, I just didn’t know.  You know, I was kinda lost for a stretch there, because it was something you’re so passionate taken.

 

And you worked so hard, too.  And you loved it so much.

 

I loved it.  Not just the game; being around the team.  I mean, I can talk a lot about why I play the game and why I coach the game. But when it happened, it was a difficult time for me, but something that helped me grow as a person.  I remember sitting in his office, and he was talking to me as a junior.  As much as I love what I do now, but my coach was great, telling me: Hey, maybe we should think about a coaching career.  I’m like: Wait a minute, I got one more year.  So, I spent the whole off season just getting myself healthy enough to play in my senior year.  And to be honest, I’m sure our guys will tell you, I have not played basketball since the last game of my senior year.  I had to wear a back brace.  I’d wear it under, so no one could see that I had to wear a back brace.  Think about running around with a back brace.  And in my senior year, the last game, I threw that in the trash, and that’s been it for me.

 

And yet, when you went to college, you chose to major in economics.

 

Yep.

 

At Swarthmore.  That doesn’t sound like you’re planning on playing or coaching.

 

Yeah. No; I had a background in economics. I really like business, and I think you can see some of that as I approached running our program.  When Swarthmore had recruited me, and I had known a little bit about it, it wasn’t far from home, and it was a really good academic school, I thought in the one percent chance I chose not to chase a path in coaching, I thought I’d be set up in that field.  And there were some opportunities, you know, after I graduated and I always gravitated towards kind of an investment banking background.

 

And you got a job offer in investment banking.

 

Yeah; I had some opportunities after that.  But it didn’t register or resonate with me as much as what ended up being a volunteer position at St. Mary’s.  So, people thought I was crazy.

 

Yeah; I would imagine, because it wasn’t just quick stint of volunteering.  You volunteered for three years.

 

Three years.

 

You didn’t get paid, but did you get other perks, like meals or housing, a car?

 

Oh, I joke with people.  I was able to work camps every summer.  And I had saved money in the event I was gonna get an opportunity, it might be something where I’d have to really toughen up for a couple years to make it work. But really worked hard during that stretch, I made some money in camps.  Eventually, one year, I was able to teach a basketball class on the side. And the cafeteria folks who maybe they felt bad for me when we’d come in for some meals, just make it through.  Remember, back then, I didn’t have a family.  I was just, you know, very pleased and appreciative of the opportunity, I was gonna do everything I can to hang in, hang in, hang in.  And it became tougher each year, especially my third year, but some of the coaches there helped me kinda hang in there, and then eventually got a couple breaks.

Were you hoping every year they’d offer you a paying job?

 

You know, some places, you might have an opportunity there, some places you need some movement.  You know, there was a very fixed amount of opportunities or jobs.

 

And was that the case with St. Mary’s?

 

St. Mary’s.  So, it’s funny now, looking back.  ‘Cause after I left, eventually there was some movement.  But in the meantime, I looked at it as a great apprenticeship for me, learning from a great coach.  We worked with some great coaches.  I mean, couple of the coaches I worked with then are now Division 1 head coaches.  And those guys started off as volunteers, as well.  So, I don’t know if they did it for three years, but it’s just the way it played out.

 

And you were self-financing, too.  I mean, that’s gotta be hard.  Working extra so that you could work for free.

 

Yes. And as weird as it sound, looking back, I loved every bit of it.  You know, the amount I was learning, and what was going on with our program.  You know, I just think at the end of the day, it satisfies the passion.  One of my other passions is learning and growing, and I was doing that.  So, the Bay Area was great, and just looking forward to the next break, and then I got my next one with Hawai‘i.

 

How did it change?

 

Well, I got an opportunity with Riley Wallace.  And so, that was my first part-time paying job.  At the time, that position, which is now fulltime, was a casual hire.  I think it was maybe fifteen or twenty thousand.

 

So now, you’re living in expensive Hawaii.

 

Yeah.

 

And you’re getting paid, but not much.

 

No; but compared to what it was, I thought I was a millionaire.  So, I mean, I go from New Jersey, and Randy Bennett hires me over the phone.

 

St. Mary’s.

 

At St. Mary’s; so I just fly over to the Bay, he picks me up.  And what’s funny is, then three years later, I fly over to have a conversation with Coach Wallace, and he picks me up from the airport. So, that was 2006.  I didn’t know it would lead to what it would, but I was excited about the opportunity to work for Coach Wallace, who I had a lot of respect for from afar.  I knew there was potential for it to be his last year, and the guy was a huge mentor for me in my life.  It’s all about timing, but if it was a year later, it might not have happened with Hawai‘i, and certainly not with Coach Wallace.  So, I’m very appreciative.  I think people should make their decisions, you know, like I told you earlier about passion, which it was satisfying my passion, but also about people.  So, I got spoiled.  You could get a higher paying job in a better situation maybe, with the wrong people.  That’s why I said, you gotta do what you love, where you love, with people you love. I got all three.  Maybe it didn’t satisfy things from a financial standpoint, and I was just trying to hang in there with some rough days, but I couldn’t have asked for a better start, and the people I got to meet and know, and learn from.  It was awesome.

 

Eran Ganot spent four years on Hawaii’s staff under head coaches Riley Wallace and Bob Nash.  Then, he got the call from his mentor at St. Mary’s, Randy Bennett. Ganot would return to the Bay Area and spend the next four years as an assistant coach, before moving up to associate head coach for the St. Mary’s Gaels.  Twelve years of hard work, absorbing all he could learn about coaching Division 1 college basketball.  But was Eran Ganot ready to take on a challenge even the most experienced would avoid?  Was he willing to head up a troubled college basketball program that didn’t even know yet how much trouble it was in?

 

But even when you got a great opportunity, which was you were offered the head coaching job of the UH basketball team, I mean, it came with a lot of darkness around it.

 

Yeah.

 

The NCAA violations, you were the third head coach in two years.

 

Right.

 

And there were looming sanctions.  And I may be wrong about this, but I thought many of the players really liked the interim coach, because he’d been with them through a lot.

 

I called it like the perfect storm.  First, you want to get a crack at getting into coaching, and then seeing, can I do this.  And then, it became clear, and as I got better and better that, yeah.  And then it became clear that, you know, you’re in this to run your own program.  And people always ask me, and I said this at the press conference, your dream job. And I just said I’m not throwing out—and it goes back to the investment in the sense of family and relationships. I’m not gonna throw out random schools. Like, I think your dream job, to me, was a place I coached or played before.  And it became more clear that Hawai‘i resonated the most with me in my heart.  So, when it was going through a lot of stuff, that’s why I called it the perfect storm.  There was on-court, off-court, NCA, everything you could say, and there was a looming cloud of uncertainty.  And yeah, I’m in, because there was more of a pull for me because of what I was going through.  So, a place I have so much respect for and so much love for, let’s get us one, stabilize our program and get us through this and set us up for sustained success, Hawaii deserves better.  And so, I was really excited to get that opportunity.

 

And you built relationships with the team members.

 

I mean, the first thing I did, which goes back to relationships, was there’s so much work to do when you get a job, but we made sure we met with the players, traveled to meet with their families, their relationships, didn’t skip steps, and went from there.

 

Fans were thrilled that Ganot, his staff, and that 2015-16 team took the State of Hawaii on an unprecedented ride.  A Big West Conference championship earned the ‘Bows an appearance in the post-season tournament of the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA.  And this fiercely determined group beat a talented Cal Berkeley squad, giving Hawaii men’s basketball the first March Madness victory in the history of the program, and the country’s president at the time a risky bracket win in the first round.  Eran Ganot was the third-youngest head coach among the sixty-eight head coaches at the tournament.  At the end of the season, he was acknowledged with three awards: Big West Conference Coach of the Year, the Red Auerbach College Coach of the Year, and the CollegeInsider.com Joe B. Hall Award for top first-year coach.

 

And then, year two comes around, and that’s a hard year because then, the sanctions take effect.  And didn’t you lose eight players because one of the sanctions was, no post-season?

 

Yeah. You that could be a movie.  I mean, I think going through it and looking back at it, I’m so appreciative of where we’re at now.  We could easily not be where we’re at now if we skipped some steps earlier, which we didn’t do.  And I’m proud of the players, the staff, the administration; everybody who was involved in this.  But you know, usually, I’m a guy who likes to read and study, and meet with people. And maybe there’s experience I have, or they have.  So, what we went through is very unique.  Usually, when someone gets a ban or NCA situation, it’s for that year.  Because of the timing of the decision, it was mid-December, it was for the following year.  So, who am I gonna talk to on that?  No one; no one’s been through it.  So, it became uh, a great challenge, an opportunity to see how our team sticks together.  But that second year, we returned one point per game, so you see a cloud of uncertainty which is tough to deal with. But the next couple years, we dealt with the reality of the situation.  So, I think a lot of people talk about that first year’s group.  I can’t say enough or sing enough praises for the people who’ve spent the last two years getting us to where we’re at today.

 

Well, that second year, you did lose people. How did you manage?

 

Either you hang your head and pout, or you look at it as an opportunity to talk about what you have or what you don’t, what you can do or what you can’t.  And that’s kind of been a great lesson for all of us.  Going through that experience reinforced some things, we learned some new things, but we chipped away.  We talked about stabilize; that became the big deal for our program.  When you get hired, I know I say this a lot, is you want to build, build, build.  When you get the information of what’s going on with our program, it became we gotta stabilize and build.  We can’t build if our program isn’t stable, and our program wasn’t, so it became chip away. Every year, make sure we’re improving, make sure by 2018, 19, no off-court issues, no NCA issues, academics in great shape, no NCA issues.  So, I’m really proud of the way those guys hung in there together to put us where we’re at now.  And so, how did we do it?  It’s all about people.

 

And on your side, you say that it was actually, you know, a pull, a plus.

 

Yeah.

 

There were problems here, and you wanted to get to them.  It didn’t faze you, and in fact, it actually drew you near.

 

Yeah. No; it was something that I wanted to see us through, and beyond.  And I hate to use the word I, because this was a team effort, starting with the administrators.  It’s always about the leadership in place, from the president to the athletic director, the staff we brought in, the people we brought in, you know, our support staff.  It was very much a team effort to get us where we’re at today.  But there was definitely a pull.  Like at the end of the day, let’s say basketball specifically, and team, and competing, but challenges.  You gotta love a challenge.  And I think a lot of people would look at that, and probably did and say, I don’t want to be part of this.  And we were the other way.

 

Well, does a team ever really get stable?  I mean, you know, you never know who you’re gonna have, for sure.  I mean, maybe there is no time when a college basketball team is really stable.

 

That’s what you’re trying to compete with, or trying to establish; a culture. I would say the culture can get established every year, and I think ours is firmly established.  Our program is in a rock-solid position now.  But there are certain things that happen; you’re dealing with human beings, the obstacles in our business.

 

You’re always managing around it, and navigating around it.

 

Well, we’re working off a rock-solid foundation now.

 

You know, I know you met your future wife at the UH.  And I heard her quoted as saying: You know what, he never even dated; he was just too busy, he was always busy.  How did that tradition break?

 

I mean, I think first of all, when we talked, I should have said this earlier. I have a great family.  Obviously with my immediate family where I grew up, my parents and my siblings.  But my wife and daughter are awesome.  And the support system there, and hopefully vice versa; I got it pretty good there. Barbea likes to tell the story about she just put it on the calendar.  Like, I usually follow a calendar, and she just said: Date with Barbea.

 

But we connected, and she’s got a huge heart, and we share the similar affinity for Hawaii.  We got a special young daughter in Zeza.  You know, what’s cool is that she gets to grow up in a place that we love, and people are watching her grow up right in front of their eyes.  And I just think everything’s about family, and I got a great one.

 

Zeza is an especially interesting story, because she didn’t grow up as either your wife’s daughter, or your daughter.

 

Yeah. It was a unique, obviously sad situation in September 2012.  You know, you remember things vividly.  I remember about to walk into a meeting with the team at St. Mary’s before workouts, and then I got a call from Barbea’s father, who shared the news with me about her daughter Chelsea, who was off-the-charts-awesome, who was killed in a car accident.  She was pushed into the other side of the road by someone with road rage.  And so, he shared that with me, and obviously, that’s devastating news.  But he also shared it with me so I can go home and see Barbea, and be there when she heard the news.  And Chelsea’s daughter, who was eighteen months at the time, was Zeza.

 

Eighteen months.

 

Yeah. And so, the only fortunate thing in such a tough situation, a really sad situation, is that Zeza wasn’t in the car. And so, we’ve raised her since.

 

Did you have to stop and think about that?

 

No. I mean, you know, Chelsea would visit here and there, and Zeza was in, you know, the baby carriage, and she obviously was not as active when you’re that young.  But you don’t expect certain things like that to happen.  First it was, let’s make sure Barbea and the family are okay, and what can we do.  And I remember Barbea bringing that up in that conversation, and it was: Hey, let’s go. And Zeza is very much our daughter. And you know, one of the unique things, looking back, is how whether at St. Mary’s or here, that people in the community stepped up.  She gained obviously, Barbea and myself, but you know, usually you got fifteen or sixteen players, she gained fifteen brothers, older brothers.  And if you come to watch our program now, or at a game or at a function, or whatever, and this is from my daughter, this is for our coaches’ kids, from our assistants, they’re immersed with the program.  So, we have intelligent young men on our team that are highly caring and very much understand the family aspect.  ‘Cause the Hawai‘i experience is very unique.  And this is the credit to how special Hawaii is.  If you can feel like you’re at home five thousand miles from where you grew up, it’s pretty special.  And when I come in here—you know, I think I the first time I came here in ’06, I was a twenty-four-year-old, lost and confused, and just trying to find his way.  What the great people in Hawaii usually do?  They lend a hand.  And so, it started from there, and that’s why I’m so happy to be here now.  That’s why I’m so happy to have our players here, and to have my daughter grow up here.  It’s special.

 

When we sat down for this conversation, it was the fall of 2018, and Eran Ganot was looking forward to his fourth season as head coach of UH men’s basketball.  After three seasons, his team posted fifty-nine wins and thirty-five losses, with two out of three winning seasons.  UH extended his contract through the 2023 season.  And that troubled program mired in controversy stabilized under the leadership if the young first-time head coach who told us one of the reasons he took the job was because the program was in trouble.  We thank Eran Ganot for his time.  You’ll find more of this conversation in our Long Story Short archives at PBSHawaii.org.  Mahalo nui for joining us.  I’m Leslie Wilcox for Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii. Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I was fortunate enough to be involved with Positive Coaches Alliance.  We spoke to the parents one day, and they ask me for advice, and I say this to the parents.  I’ll tell the player, with the parents there: Hey … we coach you, we don’t coach your parents.  There’s great communication with us and our parents, but not in terms of the playing time and things like that.  For the parents, I advised the group I was speaking to: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the game; we have enough coaches.  You know, and I think there’s a balance there, because I think they’re awesome parents, they want their kids to do so well. We do, too.  But what’s happening is, it’s a little bit more pressure on the kids, and we gotta remind them that we’re playing for the love of the game. And that’s a critical age, where let them struggle through some things, let them be accountable, let them fight through moments, fight through adversity, let them have fun.  And that doesn’t change, whether you’re at that age or for us, ‘cause that’s something you gotta remind yourself of.  You’ve gotta, like I said, work your tail off and enjoy the journey; have fun.  And I think we’ve gotta have that and better balance.

 

 

 

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT
Next Goal Wins

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT: Next Goal Wins

 

In 2001, American Samoa suffered a world record 31-0 defeat at the hands of Australia, garnering headlines across the world as the worst football (soccer) team on the planet. This film is an inspirational story about the power of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and an object lesson in what it really means to be a winner in life.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ted Dintersmith

 

As a child who played a lot of baseball in rural Virginia, Ted Dintersmith wanted to be a Major League Baseball pitcher. By serendipity, he says, life took him on a completely different path, when he got a job at a high-tech startup. For 25 years, he made a name for himself in the venture capital realm, before leading the charge in America as an advocate for transforming education. He is Executive Producer of the documentary Most Likely to Succeed and a co-author of the book by the same name. In the 2015-16 school year, Dintersmith visited all 50 states to meet with parents, students, educators and politicians, and encouraged communities to work collectively to re-imagine school and its purpose.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 13 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Ted Dintersmith Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

So, you start to realize, what is the point? Is the point of school to weed people out and to rank people on relatively irrelevant measures, or is the purpose of school to help every individual, every child develop their full potential? I think right now, in American education—this is not a Hawai‘i statement, but a fifty-state statement, the purpose of school is to rank kids’ potential on a very artificial limited measure that gives outsized advantage to the affluent. And we have to do better than that.

 

He’s on a personal crusade to bring about change to the American school system. Ex-venture capitalist turned champion of education reinvention, Ted Dintersmith, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. After a career as a highly successful venture capitalist, Ted Dintersmith of Virginia found a new calling as a crusader and philanthropist committed to seeing the reinvention of our education system. He’s been traveling eighty percent of the time, and dedicating millions of dollars of his personal finances to bring about change and innovation in the U.S. school system. To show how classroom education could be more effective, Ted Dintersmith produced a documentary called “Most Likely To Succeed”. Starting in 2015, Dintersmith took the film to all fifty states to encourage communities to rethink how children are educated in this country. Among the states where he’s found real promise and breakthroughs in innovation is Hawai‘i. More on that later. Ted Dintersmith grew up in a small town just twenty miles from Washington, D.C., but the family wasn’t much interested in the political scene. The family struggled to make ends meet with blue collar wages.

 

Oh, my dad, you know, for most of the time I was growing up, was a carpenter. You know, my mother stayed at home. She was really the intensity in our family. And so, she was the one who, in a fierce way, fought for her kids and wanted life to be better for us. Had a lot of good aspects to it, it had some things that might not be entirely positive. But we were just sort of, I’d say, fairly, you know, lower income, lower middle income. We didn’t have a lot of money, for sure. And you know, it was one of those neighborhoods where there were no fences. People just rolled out of the back. Every family had two, three, four, five kids. And we would just play all the time. Back then, school was maybe a third, maybe less than half of our life, and the rest of the time had nothing to do with it. You know, very little to no homework, just kinda do things.

 

You didn’t have play dates?

 

No. No. You know, it was like, it was just random. And you know, you realize the incredible value of growing up in a situation where you just are given that kind of space to go figure out yourself.

 

You learned something about your father after you grew up.

 

Yeah.

 

And it made all the difference in understanding him.

 

So, my dad was in World War II. And he enlisted in the Navy before he was eighteen years old. So, didn’t finish high school. And within a month or two, he was on a destroyer in the Pacific Rim, and he went through six combat exchanges. You know, the really bad one. People blew up around him, he came close to dying multiple times. But you name a major Pacific Rim exchange in that window, he was in it, and affected. And in number six, something happened. I obviously wasn’t there. And he was discharged with a partial nervous breakdown.

 

What was the battle?

 

I think that was Iwo Jima. And so, he came back home, and met my mother, and they got married. You know, in the postwar, you know, euphoria, they got married. And you know, then they had kids. And he was not easy to be around, growing up. You know, angry a lot. You know, my mother pushed him a lot to do more with his life. You know, there were some difficult things as a kid in that family. And my siblings, we talk about it, and I think we’d all share that perspective. You know, we grew up the whole time knowing kind of that he was in World War II, but nothing about being discharged with a nervous breakdown.

 

Even your mother?

 

She knew. But this was not to be talked about. Now, what that dynamic was, whether they both agreed never to talk about it, or whether … well, I don’t know. And only when he died, did we find—now, he died twenty years ago. So, I was forty-five-ish when he died, and then we found out. And for all of it was like, oh, my gosh. You know, like had we known growing up.

 

Had you known, what? I mean, what would you have done differently?

 

You know, as a kid, when you’re seven years old and your father is furious at you, you don’t think: Oh, so he’s got an issue going on from his past and it’s not me. You think: What did I do? Like, you know, like it ripples down generations.

 

Did you feel he thought you weren’t good enough?

 

I think I probably felt that at some level. I certainly felt enormous pressure to do well on behalf of the family. And I felt—you know, it’s like always feeling so nervous around the house, because you never knew what would trigger something.

 

Was he violent, as well?

 

Never hit; nothing ever physical.

 

Your father, you say, was a carpenter.

 

Yeah.

 

And I believe your grandfather was bricklayer.

 

He was.

 

Were you expected to follow in the family tradition of, you know, blue collar work?

 

Well, no. And I actually speak about this a lot, because I think we underestimate the power of learning by doing. We underestimate and don’t give kids a chance to do more. My vintage was vocational education or career and technical education, so I actually today have sort of come full circle. But when I was growing up, my mother was crystal clear; all of her kids were going to college, period. And in those years, right, college was, you know, kind of an equalizer. I mean, my college tuition, senior year—so, I went to a public college in Virginia. for the entire year, the tuition was two hundred and fifty dollars. Not for an hour, not for a course, not for a quarter or semester; two hundred and fifty bucks. You know, I mean, I could make that much money easily in the summer, you know, minimum wage. I bagged groceries in a grocery store. You know, today, it’s a totally different story. But for my mother, that was really an important value. And we all did go.

 

What about your dad? Did he want you to go to college?

 

Honestly, in our family, with our dynamic, my father wanted what my mother wanted. You know, it was pretty clear who the CEO of our family was. And it was my mother; no question about it.

 

So, you went to college.

 

I did.

 

And majored in?

 

I majored in, which people will say, Ah, he must be a Gemini; I majored in physics and English. I did. And I am a fierce advocate for the liberal arts. Those are great vehicles for developing the skills and the mindsets that help you later in life. I often tell people that majoring in English helped me a lot more in a career in business and technology, than the physics ever did.

 

Well, what did you do after attending your college?

 

I got into a graduate program in physics at Stanford. I said: Don’t know if I’m really gonna want to stay in physics, but California, that sounds pretty good. And they have a lot of different things, so it would give me different options. Best decision I ever made. And I got there, and I’d say within a month, I said: Uh-oh, you know, like, these people that I’m in graduate school with are way smarter than I am in physics, and far more interested than I am in physics. That’s not a good leading indicator. And I just said: I’m going to be a mediocre physicist if I stay here. Then I started just meeting and talking to other people, and I found this different program that was, for me, very interesting. It was sort of math modeling, applied math to real problems. Switched into that, got my PhD there. And I was just happy to be in Silicon Valley, where every month or two, a new building would pop up for Intel, or Apple, or you know, all these companies, many of which have disappeared at this point. And I just kind of said: You know, this high tech stuff sounds interesting, like maybe I should do that.

 

Ted Dintersmith of Virginia pursued his interest in high tech, and was hired at Analog Devices, a company at the forefront of the digital revolution. In 1981, he made the move from Palo Alto, California to Boston, Massachusetts, and at age thirty-two, Dintersmith became the general manager of one of the company’s businesses.

 

But I was miserable, and I wasn’t good at managing people, and I didn’t like it. And I did it for like, three and a half years, then I finally just said: Oh, I just can’t do this anymore. And that’s how I ended up in venture capital.

 

Well, okay, that’s not a natural. How did you end up in venture capital?

 

When I joined them, they were pretty small, Analog Devices, and they just got bigger, and bigger. I had some ideas to start a business. And then, somebody said: Oh, if you’re gonna start something new, you ought to talk to these people in Boston called Venture Capitalist. And so, I put together a little outline of the business, and used some friends and connections, and started meeting with some. And in one of the meetings, kinda like this, somebody said: You know, your business, that might be interesting, but have you ever thought about being a venture capitalist? We have a search underway to find a new associate, and you’ve got a really good background for it. It was one of those where I said to myself: Do I be honest and say, honestly, I don’t have an idea of what—I mean, I don’t know what a venture capitalist is, I know nothing, or do I say, which I did, you know, that’s always been something I’ve thought about and wasn’t sure whether this was the right time, but that would be a discussion I’d like to have.

 

It was kind of a fake it ‘til you make it.

 

Yeah, yeah; a little bit. Try not to say something totally dishonest. And I ended up joining this group. And you know, as difficult and as unhappy as I was as a manager of a business, it was just a totally different world for me in venture capital. I just loved the business. It, you know, went well, and those were great years for me.

 

So, you were shaping businesses, even though you hadn’t really owned a business yourself?

 

Right; right. Oftentimes, this is kind of the kiss of death in venture is, you fail every single time if your attitude is: I want to work with people that will listen to me and do what I tell them to do. You want to back people who know what they want to do. I mean, it’s great if they listen, and they should be open-minded, but I always said to people: If you don’t reject nine out of ten of my suggestions, I’ve backed the wrong person. Because if I’m making a bunch of suggestions to you, somebody else is as well, and somebody else is as well.

 

Talk about a judgment call on your part. Because the money is big.

 

Yeah; sometimes. And I did feel like, you know, I picked people well. I mean, if I have any claim to fame in venture, I think I did over forty early stage, kind of one to three person startups. And I don’t have these exact, it’s been a while, but eighty-five percent were successes. You know, it’s an industry where if it’s one-third that succeed at that stage, that’s pretty good. So, my hit rate, my success rate was really quite good.

 

And it’s the Charles River …

 

Charles River Ventures. And so, our eighth fund, which we raised in 1997, on a fund, not on a given investment, but we raised a hundred million bucks, and we returned twenty times that. It’s one of the best funds in the history of venture capital. And it was a cross of a bunch of different companies.

 

As a partner in the Boston-based firm Charles River Ventures, Ted Dintersmith became one of the most successful venture capitalists in America during the mid to late 90s, funding innovative startup companies. High risk, high reward; it was a great run. After a quarter century as a venture capitalist, Dintersmith shifted priorities.

 

My kids were like five and seven. And I said: You know, like, I can either keep doing what I’ve done for the last twenty-five years, and knowing that there’s way too much money in the industry and it was gonna be really tough, or I could just say I’m gonna really spend time with my kids.

 

And how old were you at the time?

 

I was about fifty.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah; fifty, fifty-five.

 

And did your kids go to public schools?

 

I figured if they charged money, they’ve gotta be better. Big mistake. They were in this private school in Central Virginia. Then I got this note to parents saying: Brown bag lunch, come listen us, we’ve got these new programs to teach your kids important life skills. And it got me thinking. Like, why do you need a new program? Isn’t it obvious that schools should be preparing kids for life? I mean, a new initiative to teach kids life skills? I mean, isn’t that what school is all about? And I went to the program, and it was about, you know, like we’ll teach kids to drive safely by showing pictures and videos of car crashes, we’ll teach kids not to smoke by showing them tar-infested lungs and people who’ve had their larynx removed. And it’s like, you know, like I get that, but you know. But I made this list, and I said, you know, like important life skills, irrelevant life skills, and started paying attention to what my kids were doing in school. And very little, almost nothing was falling into the important life skills category, and a lot was falling in the irrelevant. But I had to add a new column, which was: harming them. What was actually going to damage my kids going forward? Because I knew, having lived and breathed innovation, how kids need to be prepared for a world where everything’s changing on a regular basis. And I knew, you know, you ask a million questions, you know, learn how to learn, think outside of the box, question everything. You know, like certain things that I just had seen over and over were the success predictors for people in these innovative companies. Not that they had to start the company, but just to be part of it and on the team, and do well.

 

M-hm.

 

You need to have certain mindsets. And I said, these are all disappearing, right in front of my eyes, for my kids in this school process. And this was a school most parents thought was great, certainly was expensive. I said: Whoa, you know, if this is going on in a school people think is great, what’s going on in other schools? And that just sort of led to complete immersion. I wasn’t feeling like they were doing good things, and I went in and met with the headmaster, and sort of laid out my concerns. And to his credit, he was honest with me. He said: I agree with you completely, but if I tried to do this, my board and the parent community would fire me. And as I say, I joke, but it’s not really a joke. That’s when my life turned into a cause. You know, like a lot of the things that normal people do, certainly at a point where they could retire, I don’t do anymore. And I just sort of am, this is the issue, and I feel it’s the most important issue of our ages.

 

Ted Dintersmith of Virginia put to use the analytical skills and out-of-the-box thinking that made him a successful venture capitalist, and he observed and reimagined what he calls an obsolete American education system.

 

I think one of the most misunderstood things in education is, what’s it mean to learn something? Lawrenceville Academy, which is extremely exclusive, very expensive, feeds all the Ivy League schools, and they took kids who had done really well in courses in a year, and when they came back in the fall, they gave them a subset of their final exam questions. Just the essential concepts they thought every kid had mastered. In two years across all these students, the average grade went from a B-plus to an F, and not one kid retained every concept that the faculty thought every kid had retained. And you start to say, the best of our best students in a school that’s on most people’s list of the top twenty private schools in the country, if they’re not really remembering …

 

I’ve heard that, too, from Ivy League grads who said they retained information as long as they had to.

 

Yeah. I think the main skill that gets developed in a lot of schools is short-term memory. We don’t even give them courses on memorization techniques. A teacher in high school in Minot, North Dakota related to me this. He said he told his high school juniors, one class period a week you can work on whatever you’re interested in. He said over half the kids did a Google search: What should I be interested in? And you know, when I relate that anecdote to audiences, the pattern is always the same. Lots of laughter, and then it settles in. And people realize, my gosh, are we hollowing out all the passion and interest, and joy from the kids, all in the sake of covering every possible smidgen of content that some committee has decided they need to know.

 

And how did all of that happen with our school systems?

 

Well, I think the short version is, thoughtfully invented a hundred and twenty-five years ago to prepare people for a world of routine worked well in manufacturing, from manufacturing to paper processing and shuffling, and bureaucracy still worked well.

 

But that was a long time ago.

 

Long time ago.

 

During the covered wagon era.

 

Yeah; long time ago. And then, I’d say over the last twenty years, we sort of made a choice.   And I frame it this way. Do we do things better, or do we do better things? But instead of saying: Let’s reinvent, let’s reimagine, let’s do something really different that makes sense for a world where content is at your fingertips and where you’ve got to solve big bold problems, instead, it was a lot easier to say: Hm, test scores are flat, let’s do everything we can to get test scores to go up. Five years later, ten years later, with No Child Left Behind, they’re not budging. Oh, I know; let’s hold teachers accountable to those test scores. Ah, still not going up; what do we do? And so, doing things better, or I always say doing obsolete things better, you know, doesn’t do anybody any good. We need to reimagine education.

 

To help inspire innovation in American education, Ted Dintersmith funded and produced an education documentary called “Most Likely To Succeed”. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, and Dintersmith took the film across the nation, all fifty states, for community screenings and discussion. He wanted to convey the value of project-based learning, and yes, the need to rethink how to educate children.

 

I mean, after I came to this epiphany about life skills, and were my kids really being prepared for life, and then saying not only are they not, they actually may be damaged through this process, it may be actually harmful, I said: I gotta do something. And so, I went through a process. I said, so I’m anonymous. You know, like I’m not famous. I’m not Bill Gates; I’m like, Joe Bag of Donuts. And I said, like, I could write a book, and you know, like, yeah, maybe somebody would read it. I just sort of thought of like, I’m telling you what you guys know so well. I mean, how do you change people’s mind? Visual, something with emotion. And so, I said: This could fall flat, it could be a waste of time and money, but if we could somehow come together and produce something really remarkable, that would have a chance to sort of start changing the discussion broadly.

 

The things I think in life that give us some of the greatest satisfaction is making something that wasn’t there before.

 

I can’t wait for that moment, when it does work and I’m completely done with it. And it’s like always, it’ll be…

 

Kids have that feeling that’s transformative; I made this, and everyone’s going to look at it.

 

We filmed for two years, six hundred hours, times two, two cameras. And just got lucky with something that really does kinda get people energized about what could be done in school, and shows them kids learning in a way that doesn’t look like normal school, that they ordinarily might view as summer camp, you know, that you know, you watch these kids and they’re building things, and making things, and working in teams. And if I’d written about that, people would say, “that sounds good.” When they see it, when they see how it affects those kids, when they see teachers trusted to teach to their passions and do what they entered into the profession to do, it just makes an indelible mark on the audience. And so, we only do community screenings, we’ve done two here with you guys, which have been great. And we wanted to bring people together for discussion.

 

And you’ve had many discussions.

 

Yeah.

 

All over.

 

Over four thousand around the world, four hundred in Hawaii alone. And you know, but it’s what you guys know; right? It’s what’s so special about what your work is all about. It’s community, it’s family, it’s bringing people together.

 

In 2016, Ted Dintersmith made his first visit to Hawai‘i to show the film. He also met with local leaders, and visited a variety of island schools. He saw a fertile field for change, and he’s come back again, and again. His national crusade was intensive, and he’s not yet.

 

And so, this was not just like come there and have a meeting or two. I mean, I had for nine months, fifty states, every day from seven-thirty in the morning ‘til ten at night, meeting, after meeting, after meeting, after meeting. You know, from governors to commissioners of education, but lots, and lots, and lots of school visits, meeting with teachers, meeting with parents, meeting with students.

 

And out of those fifty states, you find yourself revisiting two states.

 

Two states.

 

Would you tell us about that?

 

The two states which are very, very different states, and I’m on the plane tonight to the second one, but North Dakota and here. And for very different reasons. But North Dakota, tomorrow I’ll be there, it’ll be the eighth time in two years. And I’ve gone all over the state, and working really closely with their governor and their superintendent of public instruction. And you know, we’re funding some things that they find helpful, and they’re just very all-in at the state level for preparing their kids for a world that’s really different. And they’ve got a lot of things that I think are great, and I think they’ve got a real chance. And I did almost every town, and we had community events. But with me on all these events were either the superintendent of public instruction or the number two, one of the top two or three from the teachers union, one of the top two or three from the chamber of commerce. You can go to a lot of states where those two people won’t even be in the same city.

 

And you bring money to the table, as well as insight?

 

I give some grants. And so, you know, I don’t charge for any—I mean, it’s always an embarrassing thing, because, you know, when I give these talks, what I know is that I’m doing it all on my own nickel, and I’m actually supporting things. And it sounds braggy to say that. But then it gets like, when you come to North Dakota or Hawai‘i, and you say: You guys can do amazing things, you know, I’d hate it if people in the audience say: Well, somebody must be just paying him to say that. You know, what drew me back here, honestly, I wouldn’t keep coming back if it weren’t for this guy Josh Reppun.

 

And he’s a former educator.

 

A former educator, and now just passionate about his state, about the heritage of the state, about what people can do about giving these kids opportunities. So, that first week was unbelievable. You know, they did a documentary on the visit. And the reason I keep coming back here, you know, the people here doing the innovative work in education—

 

In Hawai‘i.

 

In Hawai‘i. Are the best of the best. I would challenge anybody to go to any other state in the country, and I’ve been to them all, and find other examples that are better. You’ve got remarkable innovations going on in your schools here. But if you want to get really energized about education, you know, go to, you know, Waipahu. See what Keith Hayashi’s doing there. I mean, it’s just like, whoa, this is like, education at its finest.

 

And he is the principal of Waipahu High School, who, you know, left the number two position in the DOE, because he wanted to be at his school.

 

Yeah. Go to Waianae, go to Candy Suiso’s, you know, media arts program. I mean, you sit there and you talk to these students, and if you ask them: What are you working on, and why does this matter to you? They have great answers; right? Most places I go to, if you say to a student: What are you working on? They’re not even sure. You know, you go observe a lab and you say: What are you doing? They’ll say: Step 3. What’s more inspiring than what these kids have in this state? And so, I just say, like these people, they just care about it. So, for me, it’s tiring ‘cause I travel all the time, but it’s inspiring.

 

Former top venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith says he’ll continue to be a change agent for education by personally funding and gathering resources for innovative learning approaches such as those shown in his film, “Most Likely To Succeed”. Mahalo to frequent Hawaii visitor Ted Dintersmith of Earlysville, Virginia for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I was in West Maui, and I’m talking to these kids. I said: Well, tell me what you’re interested in. When I ask kids even in sixth grade that question, the question they’re often hearing is: What career should I have? And I always say: Don’t worry about that. Right? You’re in sixth grade. You know, and I tell them, you know, that I did fairly well in business, and if you’d asked me at age twenty-eight what a business was, I didn’t know.

 

 

NOVA
Prediction by the Numbers

 

Predictions underlie nearly every aspect of our lives, from sports, politics, and medical decisions to the morning commute. With the explosion of digital technology, the internet, and “big data,” the science of forecasting is flourishing. But why do some predictions succeed spectacularly while others fail abysmally? And how can we find meaningful patterns amidst chaos and uncertainty? From the glitz of casinos and TV game shows to the life-and-death stakes of storm forecasts and the flaws of opinion polls that can swing an election, “Prediction by the Numbers” explores stories of statistics in action. Yet advances in machine learning and big data models that increasingly rule our lives are also posing big, disturbing questions. How much should we trust predictions made by algorithms when we don’t understand how they arrive at them? And how far ahead can we really forecast?

 

 

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