LIHUE — Seichi “Champ” Ono, a loving father, educator, World War II veteran and a legendary coach who won seven straight championships at Kauai High School, died of natural causes on Oct. 6.
He was 93.
His son Mark Ono said his father’s nickname stuck after a track and field event in grade school.
“My father won the age group for Maui,” he said. “So they just called him Champ.”
It’s one that eventually became his legal name and the name Seichi eventually fell off, he added. But besides his athletic achievements, Mark Ono said his father will be remembered for being a loving, patient and kind man.
“He didn’t always agree with our choices, but he always supported it,” Mark Ono said. “He’s my father, he was not my coach.”
He called him a caring man who only spoke when he had something positive to say.
“It was not about what he said, it was more about what he didn’t say,” Mark Ono said.
During World War II, Ono joined the historical Varsity Victory Volunteers in 1942, a group of 169 boys that were part of University of Hawaii’s JROTC. Many of the VVV later went on to become part of the famed 442 Regimental Combat Team.
Champ Ono moved to Kauai after World War II, where he became such a popular coach, even during retirement, former students constantly wanted to see him. One nurse at Ono’s retirement home described an incident where a former student moved into the room next to Ono’s. He told her he never thought he’d see the day he’d live next to one of his students.
“Each coach has their own coaching style,” 76-year-old Matthew Kaluahine said.
Ono coached Kaluahine between 1955 and 1958 and the coach left a lasting impression.
“He was an excellent coach,” Kaluahine said. “He was a person with talent and knowledge about football. He tried to balance and make everyone feel good. He was a friend to everybody. I really respect and honor him.”
Ono coached the Red Raiders in the late 1940s and early 1950s for nine years, his son said. During that time, they won seven titles in a row.
Ono also coached basketball, track and baseball and became the athletic director at KHS.
After his stint as coach for Kauai High, Ono served as principal for several schools, including Kaumakani School, Koolau School and Kekaha School.
Mark said his father valued community service and education, but wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere without Mark’s mother, Tsuneko “Sue” Ono.
“Whatever he did, their accomplishments, they are not just his alone,” Mark Ono said. “Whatever he was doing, she was taking care of everything at home. If he was out coaching, she was raising us.”
Ono was born in Wailuku, Maui on March 5, 1922. He leaves behind his wife, son, three daughters, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service for Ono is set for Nov. 7 at Lihue Christian Church.