Legendary Farrington coach ‘Skippa’ Diaz dies due to cancer

(Photo courtesy PBS Hawaii)
(Photo courtesy PBS Hawaii)

Inspirational football coach Edward “Skippa” Diaz died at his home Saturday morning.

Beloved in the local community, Diaz was known for his generous, likable spirit and a vice-like handshake that was legendary. The former Farrington High School coach and teacher was a role model, having a huge impact on thousands of young lives.

The 70-year-old Diaz had been undergoing numerous treatments for stage-four esophageal cancer for the past four years.

Diaz first made his mark in football as an all-star Interscholastic League of Honolulu player. He then went on to play for Oregon State, where he became an All-Pac 10 defensive tackle, and later played pro ball in the Canadian Football League.

When he returned home to the islands, he made a big impact on high school football when he coached at his alma mater Farrington for 17 years.

His Governors teams would show up strong at the stadium, season after season. But Skippa Diaz will be remembered for much more than his coaching skills.

“People toss around the word legend a lot, but he was,” said friend Matt Levi. “He was the real deal, you can’t replace him. He helped thousands of kids and he was old-style. He was a tough housing kid, he made it, but always stayed humble.”

His Oregon State teammate and friend Rockne Freitas said that Skippa’s upbringing made him the person he was.

“His parents taught him values and principles,” Freitas said. “He was a very intelligent person.”

My father was a high school football coach, just like Skippa Diaz, but he only spent a fraction of his time marching up and down the sidelines of a football field like this one at Farrington High School. Skippa spent much more of his time being a teacher and a mentor.

And Skippa said the people who were HIS mentors meant the world to him. “As far as I’m concerned, they were so instrumental in me scratching the earth, the way I did.”

Skippa’s teams had more than a hundred wins and many championships. Through it all, he stayed the boy from Kalihi.

“Who was it that said, the bigger you are, the smaller you need to act?,” Levi asked. “That was Skippa all the way.”

Diaz earned the respect of his fellow coaches and opposing teams because of the work he did with young people in Kalihi.

“And he came back,” said friend Mufi Hannemann, “and I think that was very important to Skippa, his roots in Kalihi. I never forgot that. And for those of us born and raised in Kalihi, make sure that whatever you do, whereever you go, make sure that Kalihi is a part of that.”

“I think Kalihi is going to lose a really important guy,” said Farrington High School athletic director Harold Tanaka, “because he grew up in Kalihi, he knows Kalihi, and he was probably the best at working with Kalihi kids, especially the troubled.”

Diaz retired from coaching and teaching in 1999. He was then appointed deputy director of the city’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation, but after a short time, left the job to relocate with his wife Mary to her family home in Wisconsin.

For nearly five years, the couple were round-the-clock as caregivers for Mary’s elderly parents and disabled adult brother.

After their deaths, the couple returned to Hawaii.

One of his last public appearances was in April in a campaign video for Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

I asked Rockne Freitas what Skippa would like for his legacy to be. After a deep sigh, Freitas said “his love for his family.”

Services for Skippa Diaz are pending.

If you met Skippa, and you were lucky, he gave you a hug — and when he hugged you, you stayed hugged.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iNDWlP-soU]
(Photo courtesy PBS Hawaii)
(Photo courtesy PBS Hawaii)

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