Hawai’i Pacific University Hall of Fame softball coaching legend Howard Okita died Friday morning after a sudden and brief battle with leukemia. Okita was 81.
A member of HPU’s second Hall of Fame class, Okita posted a record of 630-276-3 in 20 seasons as a college head coach with Hawai’i Pacific (1994-2008) and Hawai’i Loa (1988-92, merged with HPU in 1992). He totaled more than 800 wins when adding his high school and youth coaching.
“Coach O was a building block of the HPU Athletic Program,” said HPU Executive Director of Athletics Vince Baldemor. “He has done so much for the HPU Ohana and for softball on Oahu and the state of Hawai’i. He was a true gentleman and great ambassador for HPU. His passing is a terrible loss and our hearts and prayers go out to his family.”
Okita started the softball program at Hawai’i Loa, leading it to a 125-65 record in five seasons including the 1991 NAIA National Championship. He was named the NAIA Coach of the Year. When HLC merged with HPU after the 1992 season, Okita joined the then Sea Warriors as an assistant for the 1993 campaign. He was named head coach for the 1994 season.
Okita stepped down as head coach following the 2008 season with an HPU mark of 505-211-3, helping HPU to PacWest Championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011, along with the 2010 NCAA Division II National Championship. He remained an assistant coach through the 2013 season when he retired to a volunteer coaching role.
The HPU softball field, which he help build in 1994, was renamed Howard A. Okita Field in 2009 for his service to the university.
“Howard had a vision to build a ‘field of dreams’ without the thought of it being named after him,” said HPU head coach Bryan Nakasone, who coached alongside Okita since 1993, became co-head coach with Okita in 2002 and succeeded him as head coach in 2009. “His dream was not only grass and dirt, but it was all the players. And to get them to dream big and work hard to see it through.”
But retired could be a loose term, as Okita was known for spending hours working on “his” field, helping schedule non-conference games for the Sharks and working with the players during the season.
Okita’s 1999 HPU team won the very first PacWest Conference Championship, followed with PacWest Pacific Division titles in 2000 and 2001, and PacWest Championships in 2007 and 2008. He led HPU to five NAIA Tournament appearances and four NCAA Division II Tournament appearances.
As a head coach 12 All-Americans and six All-America Scholar-Athletes, 29 All-Region performers, 31 All-PacWest players, three PacWest Players of the Year, and two PacWest Pitchers of the Year.
In addition to the 1991 NAIA Coach of the Year, Okita was named PacWest Coach of the Year three times, was part of the NFCA West Region Coaching Staff of the Year three times and the NFCA National Coaching Staff of the Year in 2010.
His 1997 Sea Warriors set a school record with 49 wins (49-8) in a season where they had achieved a No. 1 ranking in the NAIA. That record was later eclipsed by the 2010 NCAA Division II National Championship team that won 50 games (50-8). The 1999 team set the HPU record for fewest losses in a season with six (44-6-1).
Okita was individually inducted into the HPU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012, and was part of the class of 2017 when his 1991 HLC National Champion Softball Team was inducted.
Prior to entering the college coaching ranks, Okita created a monster softball program at Kailua High School that dominated the Hawai’i state prep leagues in the 1980s. His Surfrider teams won six State Championships, eight OIA championship and every OIA East Division crown from 1981-1989 as he posted a 181-24 record. In addition to his softball titles, Okita also posted two Little League Baseball Major Division State Championships.
“There is a tremendous void in the softball ohana without Coach O.,” said Nakasone. “All my Aloha my friend.”
Okita is survived by his loving wife Nina Okita, his daughters Renee Kiyabu, Donna Okita and Wanda Okita, along with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, his sister Sheila Murakami,and brothers Denis Okita and Lew Morris.
Arrangements are pending.