Mourning Loss Of ‘Father Of Sun Devil Sports’

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Arizona State University and the entire state is morning the loss of teaching and coaching legend and World War II hero Bill Kajikawa.

He died Monday in Tempe at the age of 97.

Kajikawa served ASU as a player and coach for more than five decades. He took his only leave from the school to serve with distinction in the Army’s 442 Regional Combat Team, which was manned entirely by Japanese Americans. By the end of the war, it was the Army’s most decorated combat unit.

After an illustrious high school athletic career at Phoenix Union, he enrolled at what was then Arizona State Teachers College in 1933. There he lettered in football and baseball for three years and played basketball for one season.

In Bob Eger’s book, “Maroon & Gold: a History of Sun Devil Athletics,” Kajikawa described college life in the early days.

“There were no free rides in those days. We were given scholarships. But we had to work for it. We worked an average of three hours a day…I had various jobs, sweeping the streets on campus, watering the fields, dusting the books and tables in the library. At one time, I was a carpenters’ helper. I also worked with the plumbers, threading pipes. Another time I was assigned to Bob Svob who was in charge of the gardens on campus.”

All who attended Arizona State cherish our favorite memories of Kajikawa.

Mine center on the summer of 1971, just after I’d completed requirements for a master’s degree at Arizona State.

Knowing I had the degree was a relief, and I wanted to enroll in a class I would enjoy, rather than simply tolerate.

Up to that point, I had been taking classes that were requirements for graduation. Enough, I thought, of statistics, psychology, anthropology, philosophy and those befuddling teacher education classes like “Theory of adolescent development.”

I thought it was time to take a course that tickled my fancy.

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, Kajikawa, who is one of the most remarkable men I have ever met.

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, especially those from Hawaii.

What we also learned in the 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.

I vividly recall an on-the-field teaching session in which Kajikawa grew weary of two students’ lackluster efforts 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 and still quite nimble, took a turn in the drill. He delivered a resounding blow that sent two of my classmates tumbling.

Another classmate waiting in line for his chance at the drill, turned and said, “I saw a dog get hit by a semi-truck once. That’s what that looked like.”

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 in football.

After graduation, he began coaching and teaching physical education at ASU, but World War II interrupted. When members of our class begged him to tell us about the war, he shared a few details but seemed to prefer to keep those years private. He didn’t brag of his war exploits, but we knew he was proud of his service to the country.

His unwavering loyalty was intriguing because in history classes, we had learned how the United States government, in World War II, gathered up most all Japanese-American citizens living in the country, including Kajikawa's relatives, and herded them into internment camps.

We wondered how it must have been for him to be fighting for a country that had imprisoned his friends and family.

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

In an ASU alumni magazine about 10 years ago, he was named “A Man For All Seasons” and the football practice field on the campus was named in his honor.

Looking back, 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 and its hardships and rewards.

A former 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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