Lessons Learned On The Football Field

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In 1971, after completing requirements for two degrees at Arizona State University, I decided to finally take a college class I wanted to enroll in.

Up to that point, I had been taking classes that were requirements for graduation. Enough of statistics, psychology, anthropology and philosophy 101.

It was time to take a course that tickled my fancy, I decided.

So, I enrolled in a summer physical education class entitled "Theory of Coaching Football."

In that class, as non-academic as it might sound to some, I had the great fortune of having a teacher and coach who is one of the most remarkable men I have ever met.

His name is Bill Kajikawa and Saturday he celebrated his 90th birthday by serving as the Sun Devil's honorary captain in ASU's game against Central Florida.

Watching him prior to the game stirred memories of the sweltering hot summer I spent enrolled in his PE class. In those days, all ASU students recognized coach Kajikawa as the father of Sun Devil sports.

We knew he'd coached baseball, football and basketball in the years before Frank Kush, Ned Wulk and Bobby Winkles arrived on campus.

We also knew that as the Sun Devil freshman football coach he, and his wife Margaret, were surrogate parents to many of the homesick college students.

What we also learned in that class was that he was a fiercely loyal man whose integrity, both on and off the field, was beyond reproach. He was humble, but very much a teacher who inspired those around him with his enthusiasm for life and football.

In an on-the-field teaching session I will never forget, Kajikawa grew weary of two students' lackluster performance in a double team blocking drill. The double-teamers were to "post" and "lead" block a defensive lineman. But Kajikawa didn't believe the two were showing enough intensity. So Kajikawa, then about 60 years old, took a turn in the drill. He delivered a resounding blow that sent my two classmates tumbling.

Another classmate waiting in line for his chance at the drill, turned and said, "I saw a dog get hit by a car once. That's what that looked like."

One of those who was sent sprawling by coach K was a stocky, superbly conditioned baseball player who went on to play in the professional ranks.

That summer, we learned that Kajikawa came to ASU in the early 1930s and quickly molded himself into one of the Sun Devils' greatest athletes.

Tipping the scales at slightly more than 140 pounds, he won All-Border Conference honors. He also starred on the ASU basketball team.

After graduation, he began coaching and teaching physical education at ASU, but that was interrupted by World War II. When members of our class begged him, he was willing to tell us of the years he spent in his all Japanese-American combat fighting unit. He didn't brag of his war exploits, but we all knew he was proud of his service to the country. That intrigued some of us because in history classes, we had learned how the United States, in World War II, had gathered most all Japanese-American citizens living in the country and herded them into internment camps.

Many of us asked ourselves, but never him, if he realized he was fighting for a country in which his friends and family were probably imprisoned.

After the war, Kajikawa returned to ASU to coach and teach until his retirement in 1978.

In a recent ASU alumni magazine, he was named "A Man For All Seasons" and the practice field on the campus was named in his honor.

Theory of Coaching Football was certainly not rocket science, but coach Kajikawa taught us more than what goes on in football. He taught us about the game of life the hardships and the rewards.

A current ASU coach has said about Kajikawa "it is priceless to talk to him."

It certainly is. Just ask anyone who ever enrolled in Theory of Coaching Football.

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